Looking For Freedom Outside Ourselves

It isn’t just that who we are (or the way that we are) is in itself ‘good enough’, and so on this account we don’t need to be constantly striving to ‘better ourselves’ or ‘improve ourselves’ (and be constantly recriminating against ourselves if we can’t do so) but rather that who we are (or the way that we are) is our only possible means of liberation, our only possible way to freedom and happiness! We need look no further than the way we actually are – right at this very moment, in other words.

 

The chances are of course that most of us would immediately dismiss this bold assertion as being utterly nonsensical. How could anything be that easy? How could ‘being the crappy old way that we already are’ be enough to release us from our suffering? If nothing else, we would probably say, this will prove to be a recipe for total self-indulgent laziness. Another thing that we might say is that we know lots of people who already think that they are ‘fine just the way they are’ and that this complacent attitude of theirs hasn’t done them any good at all. People who think that they are great the way they are generally jerks, after all!

 

The first thing that we could say about these objections is that ‘accepting ourselves’ is not an easy thing at all – it’s actually the hardest thing we could ever do. Climbing Mount Everest is easy in comparison! The second thing we could point out is that people we might know who seem to think that they’re perfectly fine just the way that they are – and consequently make no effort at all to change – aren’t accepting themselves at all. They might seem to be but what’s really happening is that they have some kind of image of themselves which seems acceptable (or even pretty wonderful!) but which is completely illusory, completely unreal. They aren’t accepting themselves at all therefore – they’re accepting their illusion of ‘who they would like to believe they are’ and obviously this can’t be beneficial to anyone.

 

We usually don’t come anywhere close to seeing ourselves as we really are, never mind ‘accepting ourselves’. We have a concept about ourselves, an idea or image of who we are, and we relate to this instead. There is therefore a ‘gap’ between ‘us as we actually are’ and ‘us as we perceive ourselves to be’ and this gap tends to grow bigger and bigger with time. In this ‘image-based’ world of ours we ‘grow into the false idea of ourselves’ because that’s what we are presented with – we are given an identity that matches the type of world we happen to find ourselves in. This is convenient for sure when it comes to operating within that world, but still isn’t who we are. We have ‘convenience’ instead of truth, therefore, but convenience only goes so far.

 

Another aspect of this process is that we become more and more separated from the painfully ‘underdeveloped’ aspect of ourselves as a result of social adaptation and this separation grows bigger with time because the pain associated with that neglected part of ourselves can only ever grow as long as it remains neglected. In the consensus reality we get rewarded (or validated) for developing in line with what society requires from us, and disincentivized from developing our true nature, which has consequences that are beneficial from the point of view of society but profoundly ‘non-beneficial’ from the point of view of the individual. The pressure to adapt to the social world is the same thing as the pressure to turn our backs on our core nature and this systematic neglect causes pain that we don’t want to look at. It’s painful to see what we have done, in other words, and our keenness to run away from this pain means that the gap between us as we are and us as we’d like to imagine we are just keeps on getting bigger. The rejection of the pain that stems from betraying our true nature forces us and more into the societal world because this is the only place we’re going to obtain validation for the false ‘image of who we are’.

 

We might naively think that it’s a fairly straightforward thing to ‘accept ourselves’ but nothing could be further from the truth. If we could find it within ourselves to ‘be ourselves as we actually are’ then we have already – just in this humble act – done something completely tremendous. Our instinct is to go completely the other way and strain to achieve some ideal, some idea we have (or society has) about how we should be. Our instinct is always to do the very opposite of ‘just being ourselves’ and this is because we fundamentally believe that there is no good at all to come from ‘just being ourselves’. As we are (we believe) we are ‘unredeemed’; we are ‘awaiting salvation’. We might not know that this is what we believe but we believe it all the same – our ‘orientation’ is pointing fundamentally away from ourselves, and this is true for almost all of us. It’s the prescribed way to be…

 

What we are saying here is therefore that – on a subconscious level – we don’t believe that there is any great value in us being the way that we actually are. The way that we actually are doesn’t have any possibilities in it; it is disregarded, dismissed without even the slightest consideration. Our personal reality ‘as it is’ is dismissed as being intrinsically worthless (even though we don’t see ourselves doing this) and we are constantly ‘reaching out’ to somewhere else where we think the advantage must be. Everything worthwhile – we imagine – lies in ‘the realm of what is yet to be achieved’ (i.e. ‘the realm of improvement’) and this keeps us in a constant state of anticipation. Either we are hopefully anticipating the result that we want or we’re anxiously anticipating the result that we don’t want. We’re always ‘directed externally’ – our attention is always on whatever advantages or disadvantages might come from the outside.

 

This brings to mind Jung’s often-repeated quote ‘Who looks outside dreams; who looks within awakes’. Our ‘dream-state’ is to be hypnotised by the false perception that ‘how we are in ourselves’ can be either improved or disimproved by events occurring on the outside of us (or – as we could also say – by the erroneous belief that the possibility for change lies outside of how we actually are, within the domain of control). We all want to be happy and lead fulfilling lives and we imagine that this can be achieved by successfully controlling things – and by things we include ourselves. We might not be foolish enough to think that we can buy a happier or more meaningful state of existence but we do nevertheless have this deep-seated belief that if we try hard enough in the right way we can improve ourselves to become the sort of person we’d like to be. Essentially – as we have said – we straining towards some sort of mental image, and we imagine that this projected ‘image’ can actually become a reality for us. We’re looking for salvation ‘outside of ourselves’. We’re looking for freedom outside ourselves…

 

Isn’t ‘looking outside of ourselves’ what self-help books and online seminars are all about, after all? Isn’t this what therapy is all about? If I go to therapy then in most cases what happens is that I’m presented with a certain set of ideas and theories and techniques that I can use – with the support of the therapist – to improve my situation, to make it less painfully conflicted or blocked than it was before. That’s why I’m going to therapy, after all. This idea makes plenty of sense – it makes complete sense to us in fact. Whether it ‘makes sense’ to us or not makes no difference however because what we are trying to do is completely absurd! It is completely absurd because our orientation is all back-to-front – it is (as we have been saying) orientated away from ourselves and towards the ‘realm of improvement’. It’s quite natural that we should be orientated in this way – our state of being is a painful one after all, and the nature of pain is that it makes us want to move away from it!

 

It’s perfectly natural that we should be orientated away from pain (away from the way that we actually are) and towards the possibility of escaping this pain, but for this to be somehow seen as a legitimate therapeutic modality, for this orientation be actively encouraged by those whose job is it is to be of help to people who have suffering from ongoing emotional or psychological pain is something of an irony. No one should tell us or imply to us that we ought to ‘stay with the pain’, but at the same time it is not our job as mental healthcare workers to encourage people suffering from mental pain to try to escape from it, via whatever so-called ‘legitimate methods’ it is that we are supplying them with. If we do this then we are simply adding ‘delusion on top of delusion’; if we do this then we are adding a whole new level of neurotic avoidance to the mix – a ‘legitimised’ or ‘officially-correct’ or ‘societally-sanctioned’ form of avoidance…

 

The trouble is that we are being aggressive  either way – if I say to someone that they should ‘sit with the pain’ (because that’s the right or helpful thing to do) then this is pure counter-productive aggression on my part, and if I go the other route and say that it is their responsibility to do ‘X, Y, and Z’ and thereby work constructively with their difficulties so as to improve their situation this is still ‘pure counter-productive aggression’! I’m being violent either way, and ‘violence’ (i.e. ‘trying to force things to be the way we want them to be’) always adds to the underlying suffering rather than lessening it in any way. The root of the dilemma that we are in (both both as ‘the therapist’ and ‘the sufferer’) is therefore that we’re ‘hung up on making the right choice’. No matter what choice we go with we’re still trying to wrestle with the situation and change it from being the way that it actually is – either we try to making ourselves stay with the pain, or try to make ourselves get away from the pain. Either way we are at loggerheads with ourselves, either way we are having an argument with reality! Aggression always comes out of thought – if we are being aggressive or controlling with reality then this is always because we are ‘thinking about it’; it’s because we are trying to work out what ‘the right answer’ to our situation is. If this is what we doing then we will be doing it forever; we’ll be ‘doing it forever’ because if we’re trying to find out what the right answer is then this means that were stuck in our heads, stuck in our thinking, and thinking is never more than a crowbar which we are using to try to change things.

 

It’s so very hard for us to see this! If we could see it then straightaway we’d laugh at the utter absurdity of what we trying to do! We’re trying to use the ‘crowbar of thought’ to change the way reality is. We trying to use the crowbar of thought to change ‘the way things are right now’ to be ‘some other way’, and yet what is ‘thinking’ other than coming up with a particular way of describing the world to ourselves and then acting on the basis of that description? When we try to change ourselves (or control ourselves) we first have to describe (or ‘model’) ourselves, therefore. This, as we all know, works very with some things – technical understanding gives rise to the possibility of controlling what we understand – but we can’t turn this trick  on ourselves because (counter-intuitively, in this rational culture of ours) we cannot gain a ‘technical understanding of ourselves’!  We are in some way that we completely fail to see ‘our own blind-spot’; as Alan Watts says – the eye cannot see itself, the tooth cannot bite itself and the tongue cannot taste itself.

 

Nobody can control their own state of mind because controlling would only work if we first had a complete understanding (obtained from some kind of theoretical external viewpoint) of ourselves – which is something that we believe to be totally possible since we aren’t able to see the limitations of thought or the logical mind. The problem is this however – if it were possible for us to ‘completely understand ourselves’ from some external (or ‘abstract’) theoretical viewpoint then ‘who we are’ would be no more than a logical extension of that external, abstract viewpoint. This is what creates the blind-spot because who we really are – which is neither ‘external’ nor ‘theoretical’ nor ‘abstract’ – has now been left out of our calculations. ‘Who we really are’ has been forgotten about in the course of the rational game we are playing – the rational game we are playing and can’t help playing!

 

What we can’t see is that ‘what’s happening is just what’s happening!’ What could be simpler than this? This is actually too simple for us – we have to add the complication (or the ‘twist’) of thinking about it. We have to ask ourselves ‘what the right answer is’, or ‘what the right way to look at things is’, and this confuses us. This confuses us right from the word ‘go’ because it implies that there is such a thing as ‘the right answer’ or ‘the right way to look at things’ and that’s just plain nonsense. What’s happening is just what’s happening – our descriptions or deliberations aren’t necessary! When we try to shove thought in there, in order to gain some kind of advantage or foothold, all we gain is ongoing confusion and paralysis.

 

When we ask what the right way to be with ourselves is therefore what we are doing is adding another level of complication, another level of neurotic avoidance. We are banjaxing ourselves just as soon as we ask this question because we are approaching everything from the point of view of the thinking mind and, as we have just pointed out, this has the immediate and distinctly unhelpful effect of placing us ‘outside of ourselves’.  We’re stuck in some kind of disconnected (or ‘alienated’) abstract mental space. We are ‘on the outside looking in’, and who doesn’t know what this feels like? This is ‘neurotic hell’ in a nutshell, and everyone knows what neurotic hell is like…

 

The way the world is is the way the world is and the way we are is the way we are…  It’s as simple as that. If someone waves hello at us then they’re waving hello, if a dog barks then a dog barks, if a gust of wind blows your hat off then a gust of wind blows your hat off. If we’re happy then we’re happy and if we’re sad then we’re sad! This isn’t ‘fatalism’ or anything ridiculous like that (fatalism is just an artificial mind-created attitude, after all) – it’s just ‘being in the moment’ and the moment is only place we can be. There is no choice there; there’s no ‘right or wrong way’ in it! Instead of choice, there’s actual freedom. It’s a mark of our own colossal stupidity if we think that there is ‘a right way and a wrong way’ to be in the present moment!

 

At the very core of all our confusion is therefore this very profound inability that we have to understand what freedom is. We’re clueless about freedom, even though we keep on talking about it. We’ve got the wrong idea about it entirely. We have – very foolishly – confused freedom with ‘choice’ and ‘choice’ – as we have said – is just ‘thought trying to shoehorn its way into the picture’. It’s ‘the thin end of the wedge’. Choice after all can only exist between ‘known alternatives’; it can only be found within the realm of the rational mind. so if we can never really know ‘what’s going on’ (because the unfolding present moment is always fundamentally unknowable) then how can we ‘choose’? What kind of foolishness is this? What is this great ‘hang-up’ about control that we have anyway other than ‘the neurotic refusal to live life unless we can first ‘know’ it’??!

 

Bizarrely, we imagine that freedom is something that exists within thought, within the closed and artificial domain of the thinking mind, whilst the truth of the matter is that freedom only exists where there is no thought. Freedom is freedom from thought; freedom is freedom from ‘known alternatives’…

 

Art: Eduardo Martinez, taken from creativebloom.com

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

Wherever there is Attachment…

dali

Where there is attachment there is unconsciousness. Attachment means that we hope for something good to happen, and at the same time we are watching out in case something bad happens. We’re on the look-out for the favourable outcome and we’re also on the look-out for the unfavourable one, and we’re all geared up accordingly. We’re prepared either to be pleased or disappointed…

 

Favourable outcomes and unfavourable ones are projections, which is just another way of saying that they don’t exist. How can they exist – they’re only favourable or unfavourable in relation to me after all, they’re not ‘favourable’ or ‘unfavourable’ in themselves! To put this another way, when we personalize the world (i.e. when we see it in terms of ourselves, in terms of our likes and dislikes, our desires and fears) then we don’t see the world as it is in itself at all. We only see our own unreal projections superimposed on it, which we don’t see as being unreal. We don’t see the world we perceive as being ‘personalized’ – we just see it as ‘the world’.

 

If we’re not aware of the world as it is in itself, but only in terms of the private meaning that we are superimposing upon it, then very clearly there can be no consciousness. ‘Consciousness’ implies some sort of relationship with reality! If I’m not relating to the world but only to my own unrecognized projections then I am not conscious. I’m trapped in a loop, trapped in a blind loop of conditioned consciousness that is forever reacting to itself and this ‘blind or self-referential loop’ has replaced reality. It’s there instead of reality.

 

Attachment means that I am living in a world that is made up of my own hopes and fears reflected back at me; I am living in a world made up of hopes and fears, advantages and disadvantages, favourable outcomes and unfavourable ones, and this world does not exist.  How could the world be made up of ‘advantages and disadvantages’ after all? What a ridiculous way of looking at things! The advantages and disadvantages which tie up my awareness so thoroughly are purely a function of my greedy / fearful way of looking at the world. They are the result of me making the world all about me, when it isn’t. My hopes and my fears are of course all about me (who else do they belong to?) and this means that I am living my life in a claustrophobically closed little universe that is made up of nothing but myself. As Jung says,

Projections turn the world into a replica of one’s own unknown face.

When I’m looking for favourable outcomes in the world around me, when I am preoccupied with possible advantages / disadvantages, then I am abstracting something out of the world that isn’t really there. If I am thinking about any sort of outcomes at all then I am ‘skipping ahead’ – I’m ‘skipping ahead’ because those outcomes don’t actually exist in the present moment. I have an image in my mind about this outcome and the impact (either pleasant or unpleasant) it would have on me and I am focussing all my awareness on this projected image. I am focussing exclusively on this image (or idea) because it is so very important to me that I should have a pleasant experience and not an unpleasant one! It is my aversion to discomfort and my attraction to comfort that causes me to be obsessed with outcomes the whole time, therefore. This aversion / attraction, this lack of equanimity, is what causes me to be forever skipping ahead and not staying in the present moment…

 

If I were to stay in the present moment then advantages and disadvantages would not come into it – there are no advantages to be had in the present moment any more than there are disadvantages to be avoided! The present moment isn’t about advantages versus disadvantages. Or as we could also say, there is no ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in the now! There’s no winning or losing because winning and losing are all to do with the narrow little world of the self and the thing about being in the present moment is that this represents an expansion of consciousness beyond the claustrophobically-closed universe made up of ‘nothing but me and my projections’. The present moment is always an expansion of consciousness. Oddly enough (as it may seem) the present moment – which is of course the only reality – has nothing whatsoever to do with the self and its concerns. To be present in the moment is to be absent from the self – to be present in the moment is to be absent from the self because there is no self there in the present. It has no foothold, in influence here… It cannot spin its web there.

 

We might feel that all of this is a bit unfair, a bit harsh. We might feel that we’re not looking for advantages (or scanning for disadvantages) the whole time. Generally speaking, it doesn’t usually seem to be the case that we are. This however is only because we are so very used to the ‘attached’ modality of existence that we take this fundamental orientation as being ‘the only way things could be’. We don’t notice the fact that we are relating to the world almost exclusively in terms of advantage versus disadvantage; we don’t notice the way in which we are relating to our environment almost exclusively in terms of how it can either work for us or against us. Another way of putting this is to say that we’re almost always in ‘control mode’, we’re almost always hoping for things to be a certain way and are holding onto the illusion we can wangle this if we try hard enough or are lucky enough. Yet another way of putting this is to say that we’re ‘addicted to promoting the illusory self’, the ‘self that doesn’t exist in the present moment’. We addicted to promoting the interests of an unreal thing; we’re addicted to promoting the interests of ‘a fundamentally dissociated mental abstraction’…

 

If we want to know whether we’re stuck in control mode or not (or whether we’re looking at the world in terms of advantage versus disadvantage or not) then all we need to do is to pay attention to whether we’re thinking or not. If we’re caught up in thinking then this means that we’re caught up in control mode because the only purpose of thought is to increase the degree of control that we have (or rather, the degree of control that we imagine that we have). We think in order to gain purchase on the world, in order to get some kind of a foothold in the world. What the pie is we’re not sure, but we do know that it’s good and we want to make sure we want to get our hands on a slice of it and this is the reason we are constantly getting caught up in thinking. Thinking equals attachment, in other words. Thinking means ‘advantage versus disadvantage’. Thinking is the net we spin, the net with which we hope to catch the prize.

 

If we’re caught up in thinking therefore, then there is no consciousness. Consciousness comes in at the point at which we notice that we’re thinking, the point at which we notice that we’re attached to outcomes. The thinking mind is really just a survival tool, when it comes down to it. It is a survival tool that has come to be over-valued, over-used. The reason we can say that it is over-valued or over-used is because we aren’t usually in a ‘survival-type situation’ every moment of the day. It’s not about survival every minute of the day and yet we’re thinking every minute of the day, so what’s going on? The answer to this is clearly that there is something there that is surviving, or trying to survive. It’s not us however – it’s our idea of ourselves, our image of ourselves that is struggling to survive. Our idea or image of ourselves has to struggle to survive for the simple reason that it isn’t really who we are. The self-image has to keep looking for the advantages and steering clear of the disadvantages the whole time because it simply isn’t real! It has its work cut out for it….

 

The mental image of ourselves (which is who we believe ourselves to be) is inherently unstable simply because it is a mental image. It is a construct and constructs are by their very nature unstable. Because the construct which we call ‘the self’ (or ‘who I am’) is inherently unstable it needs to be continually propped up. Just as long as we are identified with the self-image we are driven night and day by the conditioned need to maintain it, and the prospect of not being able to maintain it strikes instant fear into our hearts. We’re afraid on behalf of the self-image. We’re not only afraid on behalf of the self-image, we’re also hopeful on its behalf. We control on its behalf, we strategize and plan on its behalf, we make goals on its behalf. When we feel pleased we are being pleased on its behalf and when we are disgruntled we are being disgruntled on its behalf. When we feel comfortable it’s on the self-image’s behalf and when we feel uncomfortable it’s on the self-image’s behalf. When we despair it’s on the self-image’s behalf.

 

A more subtle way of the self-image staying in control (or trying to stay in control) is by describing the world in accordance with its own language, its own model of the way it thinks things should be. We do this by constantly evaluating both ourselves and the world around us. Evaluation and control go hand in hand: inasmuch as we are perceiving the world we are evaluating it. To perceive without automatically evaluating everything we see (i.e. without thinking, without conceptually processing) is extraordinarily difficult – one would have to be an artist or a poet or a mystic, and these aren’t ways of being in the world that usually occur without being patiently cultivated over a very long period of time. Another way to put this is to say that we can only see reality ‘as it is in itself’ when we are our true authentic selves and practically none of us are our own true authentic selves. From a very early age we’ve had that knocked out of us – we’ve been coerced and cajoled and bullied into seeing things the way everyone else does, and in the process of adapting to the group mind in this way we have lost our true selves. That’s what happens in life – we lose ourselves. We get socially conditioned and to be socially conditioned is to lose sight of both ourselves and reality.

 

It’s not just a matter of becoming free from social conditioning, either. Even if we did get free from social conditioning we’d still be conditioned by the rational mind. It is impossible to look at the world from a particular viewpoint (which is what the rational mind is) and yet not be biased towards seeing this viewpoint as being the right one. Whatever way we have of seeing the world that is our prejudice and if we are prejudiced (as we absolutely are) then this is the same thing as existing in the state of attachment. We’re attached to the particular arbitrary way which we have of seeing the world. Or as we could also say, operating from the basis of the thinking mind means that we always have an agenda for everything and what this agenda ultimately comes down to is maintaining the status quo and the ‘status quo’ in question is our particular way of seeing things, our particular way of understanding things. Our allegiance is not to reality therefore but to our way of understanding reality – our belief structure, our model or theory of reality. If someone were to try to make this point to us we wouldn’t understand because as far as we are concerned our model or theory of reality isn’t a model or theory at all but reality itself. We don’t know the difference. If we knew that what we were relating to via the thinking /conceptualizing mind was only a representation and not the genuine article then this would be a different matter altogether – that would mean that we are no longer attached to the particular viewpoint that we are operating from. That would mean that we are no longer unconsciously committed to validating our own beliefs or theories about ‘the way things are’. We would no longer be preoccupied with maintaining our taken-for-granted POV no matter what the cost. This unattached state of consciousness is however a very rare thing to come across. This is a pretty big deal (to put it mildly) – it is the same thing as ‘not believing that you are this concrete self’, and how many of us find ourselves in this situation? ‘Had I been free I could have chosen to be not me’ says Robert Wyatt, but the point is that we just aren’t free in this way.

 

Instead of seeing the world as it is in itself we see it in terms of the structure (or system) that we are taking for granted. Anything irrelevant to the system in question we just don’t care about. It doesn’t exist for us – we are entirely oblivious to it.  We couldn’t be more oblivious and this is the state of unconsciousness. The unconscious state – we might say – is the state in which we are fundamentally disconnected from reality itself. We’re disconnected from reality because we not interested in it – we’re only interested in what the rational / conceptual mind has to show us and the one thing the rational / conceptual mind never shows us is reality! We’re only interested in one thing and that is playing the same old game over and over again. The game that we’re playing is very easy to understand – as we have already said, we’re identified with a particular standpoint, a particular set of assumptions, and the ‘game’ we’re playing is the game of pretending that the world which this viewpoint (this set of assumptions) shows us is actual reality. The rational mind equals a particular POV, a particular set of assumptions and the game we’re playing is the game of validating this POV, validating these assumptions. This is attachment in a nutshell – we’re attached to proving that our theory is right, that our assumptions are right, for no other reason than the fact that it is our theory, that they are our assumptions…

 

The game makes perfect sense from the point of view which it takes for granted – the POV which is itself. This is of course a fairly redundant thing to say – of course the game makes sense from the POV which it itself takes for granted! This is like saying that a structure always agrees with itself, or that a literal statement always agrees with itself. That’s what makes a structure into a structure, a literal statement into a literal statement. From outside of this closed viewpoint however the game doesn’t make any sense at all! It doesn’t make any sense at all because the mechanical structure or system we’re identified with isn’t who we are, and because it isn’t who we are we are under no obligation to validate it or fulfil its needs. We are only obliged to validate it and fulfil the system’s needs when we play the game of thinking that it is ‘who we are’. And not only is this set-up, this system ‘not who we are’, it doesn’t really exist in the first place. It only seems to exist when we take it seriously, when we steadfast ignore everything that doesn’t confirm its reality. It only seems real when we ignore the real world, in other words, and only take notice of the world as it appears to be from our particular arbitrary viewpoint.

 

The mechanical structure or system that we are identifying with only seems to exist when we are playing the game that it exists. It only exists, in other words, when we keep on furthering its aims, when we keep on obeying the rules that it sets out for us. The more we play the game the realer it gets to seem for us and we play the game a lot! We play the game all the time. We actually can’t help playing this game – we’re terrified not to play it. We play it and we play it and we play it – all in the hope that everything will somehow turn out OK for us if we play it right, if we obey the rules correctly…

 

What we are essentially hoping here (although we can’t see it) is that going along with our attachments is somehow going to help us get the best out of life. But attachments are really just red herrings – they’re only really there for the sake of keeping us busy, for the sake of keeping us preoccupied. Acting on attachments keeps us caught up in the net of thought, and being caught up in the ‘net of thought’ means that we never actually get to rest in the present moment. The attachments are only there as a distraction from reality in other words; far from helping us, or in any way ‘sorting things out’, acting on attachment is only ever keeping us unconscious. Being unconscious (or ‘being driven by our attachments’) means that we are ignoring what is real and chasing after what is unreal, and this is really just a mechanism for creating suffering…

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark Father

cronus

The ‘Dark Father’ of unbridled rationality eats his own children, just as Cronos did in the ancient legend. He might not actually physically eat them as Cronos the Titan did, but by the weight of his controlling and stultifying authority he represses their psychological growth – he prevents them from ever becoming what they could otherwise be. ‘Control’ – in this context – doesn’t just mean telling people what to do and what not to do, when to do it and when not to do it, it means telling us how to see the world. But it isn’t enough simply to say this. It’s not just that we have been told how to see the world, we are told in such a way that we don’t realize that we actually have been told how to see the world. We don’t realize that we have been controlled at all – we think that the world just is that way.

 

Cronos the archetypal dark father eats his own children. He devours them before they can amount to very much, he devours them before they can get to the stage of challenging his authority. Later on, as we know from the legends that have passed down to us, he slipped up (tricked by his wife) and failed to devour the infant Zeus and this ‘slip-up’ was the beginning of the end for him. Zeus – with the help of his mother who was naturally not happy to have all of her children eaten by their infanticidal father – and was reared elsewhere, in secret. Later, Zeus returned in all his strength to defeat his father and the rest of the Titans in the war to end all wars – the Titanomachy. So in a way we can say that Cronos was right to eat his children – he knew what would happen if he didn’t!

 

Cronos devouring his children – and the war between the Gods and the Titans that followed – has immense psychological significance, which is of course what gives the myth the power that it still has. Even in the second decade of the twenty-first century we are making films about this cosmic conflict – albeit not very good ones. The myth is a universal one – in the Norse tales the Gods (Odin, Thor, Loki, and the rest) had to contend with the Ice Giants, which was an another ‘titanic’ struggle. The significance that we’re talking about here has to do with the struggle between the dark, repressive force of unconsciousness, and the emergent consciousness, which despite being fragile in its beginnings is a force that in time – if allowed to grow and become strong – will overturn the whole order of things.

 

Consciousness is born in the dark cave of unconsciousness – it emerges from this suffocating darkness and all too easily returns to it. It flickers like a newly lit candle and is very easily extinguished again. It is not just that the newly emergent consciousness is precarious – the force of what we have called unconsciousness is actively opposed to it and is implacably resolved to snuff it out as if it had never existed. Jung draws upon European fairy-tales to highlight this archetypal scenario. The precarious situation of the emergent consciousness can be seen – according to Jung – in the motif of the young child abandoned in the forest, helpless before all the terrible dangers that have their home there. The motif of the child points to the archetype of the Self and what this type of story tells us is that in order for us to realize the Self in our lives (i.e. in order for us to become who we really are) we have to brave all these dangers as the abandoned child does and yet somehow come out on the other side...

 

That the child should survive all the dangers of the wild forest (just as Hansel and Gretel survived, just as the twins Romulus and Remus survived) seems incredibly unlikely to say the least! We might quite reasonably object that this is too improbable a story to take seriously, given the number of co-incidences that are needed for it to work. The point is however that whenever consciousness does come into its own (whenever the Self does miraculously come back into being after being broken apart and scattered to the four corners of the world) this is the only way that it could have happened – through an extraordinarily unlikely ‘chain of chance’. This is the same argument we meet in relation to the huge improbability of coming across a planet possessing the exact conditions necessary for the evolution of life. How unlikely is this? But the thing is of course that it is only after life has arisen and sentient beings have evolved that we can be in the position of asking the question. We’re looking at things backwards therefore – once consciousness has arisen then we can become aware of the difficulty in it ever arising in the face of all the forces that are ranged against it!

 

We can relate this point to Cronos eating his children. The odds against surviving as a child of Cronos were always formidably great. It is very nearly a sure thing that you will be immediately be eaten. But then again it only takes one helpless infant to beat the odds and you have a Zeus on your hands! Only one helpless child has to survive the tyranny of the Dark Father and there will to be a full-scale Titanomachy for him to reckon with later on! Or as we could also say, only one Romulus and Remus has to survive (or even just a Romulus) for there to be a Rome, and not just a Rome in fact but a fully-fledged Roman Empire with all the trimmings…

 

From a psychological point of view therefore we can say that the odds are very much against consciousness surviving very long before being devoured by the forces of unconsciousness. Consciousness is always being born, just has Cronos’s children were always being born, but it is very nearly inevitable that they will meet their end very quickly indeed, as a matter of course, as a matter of mere routine, we might say. We can see this drama (the annihilation of consciousness) being enacted all around us every day – or rather we can’t see it being enacted around us every day because we’d have to be consciously present to witness it and we aren’t. This is a crime without witnesses (a ‘perfect crime’, as Jean Baudrillard says) and so it is also a crime that goes widely unreported…

 

The reason for the lack of witnesses is because if we are not conscious in the first place then none of this talk of ‘consciousness being devoured’ makes any sense at all! When we’re safely unconscious then everything seems fine, everything seems dandy. Everything is as it should be. We can’t see that there is anything amiss with the world at all – everything seems to be in the proper and correct order and so there is simply no cause to be going on about this business of ‘consciousness being unceremoniously devoured shortly after it is born’. In a world where no one is their own true Self the lack of the Self is hardly likely to be commented upon! In a world where everyone is asleep being asleep is going to be seen as the right and proper way to be. In a world where everyone is telling the same lie, then that lie has become the truth…

 

Life – for us – has become a matter of ‘fitting into the format’ (although at the same time we don’t see that we have fitted ourselves into it or that there was any ‘format’ to fit into in the first place). The format has become invisible because we have fitted into it so well. When we adapt ourselves perfectly to the format then what this means is that we’re seeing the world in terms of that format (such that there is no element of our daily experience that remains unformatted) then this situation is simply seen as ‘the correct way to be’, ‘the only way to be’. Only it isn’t exactly seen as such but assumed as such so that the only time we bother our heads about the status quo is to notice when someone isn’t fitting in and is therefore standing out to everyone else because of this ‘failure to adapt’.

 

The formatted way of things is just taken for granted – we unquestioningly accept it without realizing that we have accepted anything. This is of course simply the way that ‘formatting’ works – to believe is not to know that we believe. As soon as we know that we are believing something then this is the beginning of us not believing it. As soon as we see that we have made an assumption about reality then we are ‘conscious of the assumption’ and when we are conscious of it then it is no longer an assumption. We are no longer ‘assuming’ anything in this case. We’re no longer taking it for granted.

 

This gives us a good way of what is meant by the term ‘consciousness’ therefore. Consciousness, we may say, is when the formatting that the rational mind is imposing upon us becomes visible as formatting. Normally, as we have said, the truths that make up our shared (or agreed-upon) world are so ‘self-evidently valid’ that it would never occur to us to question them. When we become conscious however this changes everything. The so-called ‘self-evident’ truths that everyone takes for granted all of a sudden get shown up as being not so true after all. They get shown up as being lies – lies that everyone automatically believes in, lies that everyone accepts as being true…

 

Becoming aware is an act of rebellion. Becoming conscious is as Krishnamurti says ‘the only revolution’. It’s the only revolution that is worth a damn – everything else is just empty posturing. Everything else is just a smoke-screen, everything else is just a red herring. Once we understand consciousness as the capacity to see our formatting (or ‘our ability to see a lie for a lie’) then we can see why unconsciousness has to react the way it does to the emerging consciousness. It can’t afford to do otherwise – it can’t afford to have the light turned on. The lie can pass itself off very easily indeed as the truth when there is no consciousness around to see it for what it really is. When there’s no consciousness then we all just accept the lie at face-value. We all just passively go along with the formatting, no matter what the formatting is. We don’t care what the formatting is – we just care about fitting into it. We don’t care what the rules are, we just care about how well we can obey them…

 

The ‘Dark Father’ is the male (or ‘rational’) authority that our society is based upon. It is the system that defines us, and regulates us once we have been defined. It is the system that tells us what life is and how we should live it. It is the system that tells us what is real and what is not real. Psychologically speaking, the reason we can say that society is based on masculine authority is because it is the expression of the rational mind – the rational mind’s essential property being that it defines (or ‘quantifies’). It ‘lays down the law’, which is the masculine (Yang-type) principle at work. The rational mind says what is, and saying what is also means saying what is not. By asserting a positive ‘truth’, therefore, the thinking mind restricts us absolutely. We become trapped in the stated world, the defined or ‘positive’ world, and being trapped means that we lose the ability to see what has been denied in order that this ‘positive world’ could be created. We lose the capacity to see what assumptions have been made, in other words. We lose ‘consciousness’.

 

This is not to say that the masculine principle is inherently evil in nature but simply that when it is overvalued (which means of course that the feminine principle has been denied) then it turns malign. The balance has been lost and the result is disaster – albeit a disaster that we cannot see! This idea of an imbalance in favour of the masculine principle was – according to Jung – well known to the ancient alchemists who spoke in terms of the need (as a certain point in the alchemical process) for the ‘Old King’ to be murdered and dismembered. The Young King uses his masculine power not in denial of the feminine but in order to protect the kingdom against misfortune and enemies. His is a wise, benevolent, tolerant authority, therefore. The Old King on the other hand has become a dark force, an embodiment of ‘restriction for the sake of restriction’, ‘control for the sake of control’, ‘power for the sake of power’. The Old King has come to love the exercise of power just for its own sake, and so the only thing he cares about is hanging on to his power, hanging on to the authority he abuses… As Paul Levi says in his article on the Dark Father motif on his website Awaken In The Dream

The figure of the dark father is traumatizing to others, as it traumatizes everyone under its dominion. Because it is attached to the position of power it finds itself in, this figure is not interested in change, and therefore has become calcified and rigid.

In Tales of Power, Carlos Castaneda speaks of how the benevolent guardian all too easily morphs into the despotic guard, which is the same idea applied to the ego (the inner ruler) rather than any external figure –

We are born with the useful aspect of having an ego as our guardian. But too often a guardian becomes a guard. A guardian is broad-minded and understanding, a guard on the other hand, is a vigilante, narrow-minded and most of the time despotic.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell talks of the ‘Tyrant Holdfast’, whose name alone is enough to explain what he is about –

He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of ‘my and mine.’ The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain. This may be no more than his household, his own tortured psyche, or the lives that he blights with the touch of his friendship and assistance; or it may amount to the extent of his civilization. The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world – no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper.

 

Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflections of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-achieved independence is the world’s messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions. Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then – more miserably – within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will liberate the land.

The Tyrant Holdfast’s grip on his kingdom is absolute and nothing is permitted to thrive in it unless it serves him. The same is true for the Dark Father of our over-valued rationality – nothing is permitted breathing space unless it agrees with the unquestionable rules of the assumed formatting. Nothing is allowed unless it serves this formatting, unless it does this formatting’s work and not its own. Independence from the framework is not tolerated, under any circumstances. It’s prohibited. As soon as we are old enough to understand language we are subjected to this insidious formatting of reality, and before very long we have lost the ability to experience ourselves and the world in any other way than the way it permits. We see ourselves via the mechanical format, via the external framework and we lose ourselves in the process…

 

There can be no part of us that doesn’t make sense within the terms of the framework. Nothing that doesn’t make sense within the framework is given any credence, any credibility at all. The only part of us that is given credibility is the part that accords with our assumptions, that part that agrees with the rules of the game that we have unwittingly agreed to play. But the ‘part’ of which we speak actually isn’t a part of us at all – it isn’t actually a part of us at all because the game that we’ve unwittingly agreed to play is ‘the game of being what we’re not’.

 

Consciousness keeps on being born into the world and the system keeps on formatting it, turning it into ‘not-consciousness’, turning it into pseudo-consciousness, turning it into a parody of consciousness. And if we think we are already conscious (and that this whole idea of over-valued rationality being the Dark Father is ridiculous) then that’s because we’ve already been devoured. That’s because the thinking mind is telling us – which it does as a matter of routine – that we’re conscious already, when the truth is that we’re not…

 

The Gift of Anxiety

Wholeness

Anxiety is a very misunderstood kind of a thing. We see it as being a problem, when really it is a teacher! Anxiety is a teacher and it teaches us something very important – it teaches us who we really are!

 

Straightaway when we hear this there tends to be a problem and that problem is that we almost always think that we already know very well ‘who we are really are’, and so on this account we don’t feel that we need anyone or anything to come along and teach us otherwise. The very idea that we don’t already know who we are comes across as being ridiculous, it comes across as being totally absurd. This however is because we have made a rather big assumption which we’re just not paying any attention to. Somehow, in our culture, it is assumed that ‘knowing who you really are’ is something that comes very easily – as easily as falling off a log in fact. This must be the case since everyone we meet automatically ‘knows who they are’, regardless of how much work they might (or might not) have put into uncovering the mystery. The way we are brought up to see it is that knowing who you are isn’t a difficult thing at all, but simply a formality, the same way we might know our national insurance number or address. It’s not considered a big deal, no matter what the philosophers of olden times might have said to the contrary! Because we believe that knowing our true identity isn’t a big deal (and that everyone automatically knows it, so to speak), the notion that anxiety could have a valuable function in helping us to learn (or perhaps remember) who we are doesn’t really make a hell of a lot of sense to us, and this is putting it mildly!

 

The thing is that when I think that I know ‘who I am’ all I really know is what I have been told or conditioned to believe about myself and this – very obviously, when we state it like this – isn’t the same thing at all. Knowing ‘who you are supposed to be in a game’ isn’t the same as knowing who you really are – knowing who you are in the game is just a matter of learning a role, it’s trivial. Thinking that you know ‘who you are’ because you believe what you’ve been told isn’t just ‘not quite the same’ as knowing who you really are – it’s the very antithesis of this. Very obviously, believing you are ‘who you’ve been told you are’ prevents you knowing ‘who you really are’…

 

The reason that anxiety manifests as such an intractable problem to us is because is because we are already so very sure that we know who we are. Or we could say, the reason that anxiety is such an intractable problem is because the lesson that it is teaching us is one that we are extremely resistant to learning. This lesson is the lesson in life we least want to learn; we are – it seems – so very resistant to learning it that we would rather put up with any amount of suffering rather than do so! The more resistant we are to seeing the truth, we might say, the more of an absolute ‘negative’ anxiety will be experienced as being, and it is pretty much undeniable that we experience anxiety as an absolute negative – we experience anxiety when it comes as an out-and-out curse, a curse with no good side to it at all.

 

So the reason anxiety is such a problem to us is because we really don’t want to know who we are. This is why we suffer so much. It is in fact no exaggeration to say that the thing we are most reluctant to learn in life (and using the word ‘reluctant’ is putting it far too mildly) is who we actually are.

 

On the face of it this sounds very strange – how could it possibly be the case that the thing we are most resistant to learning is who we are? What kind of a crazy idea is this? This is – admittedly – not the kind of idea that we tend to come across very often (if at all) in mainstream culture. We don’t come across it in the study of psychology either – there are all sorts of models, all sorts of theories that will be covered in a course on the psychology of personality but the theory that our single greatest fear is discovering who we really are is not one that sounds immediately familiar. Actually, it sounds very unfamiliar – so unfamiliar in fact that we would be unlikely to take it very seriously! And yet as an idea it isn’t entirely unheard of – it has a powerful resonance outside of the mainstream theories of psychology. The philosopher Alan Watts has explicitly referred to this curious state of affairs (the state of affairs in which we don’t want to know who we really are) in his book The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, the thesis of which is that the Number One (unspoken) social rule is that we should not be allowed to have any clue regarding our true identity and that we should all collude in covering it up as much as we possibly can by taking up some sort of prescribed role. As Alan Watts says –

Our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.

The one thing we are never supposed to go into (on pain of total social exclusion) is the question of who we really are under the opaque façade of who we are conventionally supposed to be, who we are told we are, who we habitually understand ourselves to be. It’s not of course that anyone explicitly addresses the issue, or in any way acknowledges that there is or might be an issue, but rather its something that we all just take for granted – that we all are who we think we are, that we all are who we understand each other to be. The very thought that we might not be, the thought that there might be some sort of conspiracy of silence going on here regarding ‘who we really are’ (and what life might really about) sounds totally ridiculous. We’re far too adult, far too hard-headed to tolerate any kind of airy-fairy talk like that. That just sounds plain silly to us.

 

The thing about a ‘conspiracy of silence’ – if we agree for the time being that there might be such a thing – is that if we all agree to pretend that whatever it is doesn’t exist (or isn’t an issue), and then we also agree to pretend that we didn’t ever make such an agreement. This of course means that if you ever do raise the issue (if you ever do suggest that there might be an issue here worth raising) then people will simply look at you strangely – whoever you’re talking to will look at you with that particular look on their faces that lets you know that there must be something wrong with you for coming out with such strange stuff. You will be made to feel that you are being ridiculous, and on the wider scale of things, you will be excluded from any ‘serious discourse’. So even though Alan Watts wrote the book The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are the ideas in it never reached the mainstream and never gets mentioned in any course in social psychology. This, after all, is what happens when you try to bring up something that is taboo, something that has already been decided to be ‘not a subject’ or ‘not an issue’. No one takes any notice of what you’re saying.

 

What we have collectively done – and this is fairly obvious once we get to thinking about it – is to make a very big assumption about ‘who we are’ and about ‘what life is all about’, and then we have rushed ahead without ever looking back. We aren’t interested in questioning the assumptions that we jumped to on the outset, we’re interested in what happens when we proceed on the basis of these assumptions. Looking at the assumption undermines the whole exercise that we are collectively engaged in, and inasmuch as we are all committed to the exercise (which simply equals ‘the type of life that we are all busy leading’) we don’t want to go spoiling the whole thing. And anyone who does want to go back and start looking at the flimsiness of our ‘starting off point’ is going to be very thoroughly excluded from the public discourse. That is the game we are playing after all, and this is how the game works.

 

Sociologists Berger and Luckman made this key point in their work The Social Construction of Reality – the only way to create any social structure (and the idea of ‘who we are’ and what ‘life is about’ is a social structure) is to pull a few rules or stipulations out of a hat, and then do a kind of a turnaround and say that we didn’t arbitrarily arrive at the rules or stipulations in question, but that they were there all along. We say that the rules are self-evident, that they were always there, or perhaps that God appeared in the form of a burning bush and dictated them to Moses, or something like that. Whatever way we do it we make those rules, those stipulations unquestionable – we make it so that if anyone does question them then it becomes clear to everyone that the problem is with them and not the rules! This is a type of conspiracy – it is a conspiracy of silence regarding the flimsiness of the foundation regarding the collective endeavour that we are all engaged in, the collective story of what it is we are all about, what life is supposed to be, who we are supposed to be, etc. Really what we’re talking about here is game-playing – a game is where we pick a bunch of rules at random and then act as if they weren’t picked at random, as if the rules ‘simply have to be there’ and that is that. We have to pretend that we aren’t free to question the rules or else the game just won’t work. ‘Not questioning the rules’ is what games are all about!

 

So we can say that the conspiracy of silence that we have been talking about is a necessity if we are to have any social structure to work with, but the only thing here is that the structure in question then takes over and we get stuck in it – upholding the structure becomes more important than anything else, it becomes more important than our mental health, it becomes more important than our happiness. It becomes more important than anything even though it’s only a game, even though it ‘doesn’t really need to be so’! We get so stuck in the game that we lose sight of the only genuinely meaningful quest in life – which as the philosophers and mystics have always said is the quest to know ourselves – and this loss of meaning naturally has very major consequences for us. Being locked into a way of life that is essentially meaningless (as of course all games are, outside their own frame of reference!) and which systematically denies who we really are is – very clearly – not going to be good news for us in the long run!

 

So looking at Berger and Luckman’s theory of reification and the general theory of games allows us to see how it could be that we don’t know who we really are, even though this might sound like a rather peculiar idea on first hearing. It also gives us a strong indication that there are going to be major ramifications in terms of our mental health, in terms of our ability to be happy and creative; not being in touch with our true selves is – after all – not exactly a recipe for happiness and creativity! We have said that the discovery of what has been covered up (our true selves) is not a trivial kind of thing – it is not like we can read it in a book or get told about it by some highly-trained expert. On the contrary, it is the work of a lifetime – and no one else can help us if. If they do try to help us, that will only lead us astray. There are no easy answers when it comes to discovering what the truth of our situation is – easy answers are only to be had in games, where everything is standardized, where everything has to be what it is designated to be by the rules of the game…

 

The thing that is being ‘covered up’ by the game has to be covered up for the game to proceed, and yet the other side of the coin is that from our point of view – as the actual individuals we are rather than the mere players of the game – what is being obscured is actually the only thing that truly matters in life! The journey by which we discover our true individuality is a ‘path with a heart’, as Castaneda puts it. It’s the only genuinely interesting pursuit in life – everything else is just a diversion, everything else is just a red-herring! In our culture, however, no time at all is given over to this endeavour, and instead all sorts of other tasks and duties and ‘responsibilities’ are pushed upon us, to the point where anything else gets quite buried. This is not to say that there isn’t a practical side to life that needs to be attended to – there obviously is – but no matter how important the practical aspects of life are if these ‘practical necessities’ (or ‘responsibilities’) are used as a way of stopping us ever reflecting on what this thing we call ‘life’ is all about, then something has clearly gone very wrong. And this is precisely what has happened – it is hard to imagine how anyone could deny it! First of all there are the things we have to do in life in order to attend to our material needs and then there are the things we do to entertain ourselves when we aren’t working, or when we aren’t attending to the practicalities of life, but between ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ there simply isn’t any space for anything else. When we’re not busy doing what we have to do in order to survive we’re busy entertaining ourselves – we’re watching television, or shopping, or going out drinking. This is the prescribed regime. That’s what modern life is like.

 

Jung makes the point somewhere that whilst in India there exists a tradition in which one can leave behind the life of a householder in one’s later years and turn to a life of reflection and contemplation, there is no corresponding tradition in the West. On the contrary, once we are past the ‘productive’ years of our lives (or the years in which we are still young and good-looking) we are no longer considered to have much to do in life. We hear talk of the ‘golden years’ that are to follow retirement but this is merely marketing speak designed to sell us pensions and life-assurance policies. In reality, no value is given to the second half of life because underneath all our fine talk we don’t understand life to consist of anything other than purely ‘surface-level’ matters – we have no comprehension of any psychic process, any movement in the ‘inner life’ that is the deeper meaning of our lives in this world. We only believe in externals, in ‘the image’, which is the important thing in the first half of life. No matter what we might say, as a society we don’t place any value in the inner life at all. The term itself is all but meaningless to us. Our so-called ‘inner life’ is simply the generic outer life that we have internalized, the external script or picture that we have unreflectively gone along with.

 

There is of course a good deal of lip-service paid to ‘self-development’, to this sort of therapy or that sort of therapy, this sort of healing or that sort of healing, but almost always this comes down to fixing the socially-prescribed image that we have of ourselves – almost all of it comes down to what Alan Watts calls ‘social adjustment therapy’. We go off the rails, one way or another, and the expert clinicians are there simply to help us to get back on them again! In Psychotherapy East and West Watts writes,

Whenever the therapist stands with society, he will interpret his work as adjusting the individual and coaxing his ‘unconscious drives’ into social respectability. But such ‘official psychotherapy’ lacks integrity and becomes the obedient tool of armies, bureaucracies, churches, corporations, and all agencies that require individual brainwashing. On the other hand, the therapist who is really interested in helping the individual is forced into social criticism. This does not mean that he has to engage directly in political revolution; it means that he has to help the individual in liberating himself from various forms of social conditioning, which includes liberation from hating this conditioning — hatred being a form of bondage to its object.

According to Alan Watts, a lot of our mental ‘un-wellness’ comes from the inherent contradictions of having to adapt to a system, to a way of life that restricts or denies our true individuality, and forces us to become regulated and mechanical. Simply patching us up and sending us back out onto the front-line again hardly qualifies as ‘therapy’! In Health as Expanding Consciousness, Professor of Nursing Margaret Newman speaks of ‘linear interventionism’, which is where we – as doctors or therapists – attempt return people to where they were before they became unwell. In the case of physical illness we can see that there is a lot of sense in this – if I break a leg I want to go back to being able to go walking and running again; if I get appendicitis or malaria, I want to recover so that I can go back to living my life again, and so on. But even in physical medicine there is the question of considering what elements in or aspects of my life-style predisposed me to becoming unwell in whatever way that I did, which means that healing is not just a matter of ‘us getting better so we can go back to what we were doing before we became unwell’! This may not be the case with a broken leg, or with some infectious disease, but with all of the endemic ‘life-style’ diseases that we are suffering from (such as heart-disease or diabetes) ‘going back to the way we were before we got sick’ is clearly not the answer at all. But with neurosis the idea that we can be patched up and ‘stuck back in the trenches’ is itself clearly pathological. This is the type of thinking that leads to entrenched neurotic mental suffering – the type of thinking in question being where we can’t let go of a fixed pattern of doing things even though that fixed pattern is doing us harm…

 

It’s not simply the case that we are stuck in one particular pattern that happens to be dysfunctional and that if we switched to a different pattern we would be a lot better off – neurosis is an automatic consequence of holding onto any sort of pattern! As far as mental health is concerned, there is no such thing as good pattern, there is no such thing as a good system. Mental health is synonymous with having the personal courage to let go of all patterns, to let go of all precedents, and this is the one thing that society (which is itself a fixed pattern of thinking and behaving) will never support us in doing. The rules of the game do not have any provision in them to encourage us to not play the game – the rules of society are never going to encourage us not to take them as seriously as they are asking us to! Society is a system that (like all systems) is made up of unquestionable precedents and this means that the one thing it is never going to do is play fast and loose with these precedents. That’s just not how things work, as we could very easily understand if only we could see that all logical systems necessarily have to repress the individuality (i.e. the ‘irregularity’) of the elements that comprise them.

 
So if we define mental health as fitting in with the world-view of everyone playing the game called ‘society’ we can see that linear interventionism makes a lot of sense. It is the ‘only way to go’ if this is how we understand mental health. This way of defining mental health is however really just a way of approving of our own arbitrary way of doing things – I have a certain set of prejudices about ‘how things should be’ and so then naturally I will go ahead and define good mental health as ‘subscribing to these prejudices’! I am making my way, my pattern, my system into the standard by which all things should be measured. This is clearly a cheat though because no matter what set of biases I start off with I’m going to promote this as being ‘the mentally healthy way to look at the world’. Really, therefore, I am abusing the word ‘health’ because health no longer means anything apart from what I want it to mean. It simply means conformity to the pattern to which I happen to subscribe. It is like me telling you that you are ‘sane’ if you happen to agree with what I say, or if you happen to believe what I believe, and that you are ‘mentally unwell’ (or insane) if you don’t. This way of defining mental health is clearly quite nonsensical, as well as being distinctly sinister into the bargain…

In Finite and Infinite Games James Carse differentiates between ‘society’ and what he calls ‘culture’ –

It is a highly valued function of society to prevent changes in the rules of the many games it embraces… Deviancy, however, is the very essence of culture. Whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past, is culturally impoverished. There are variations in the quality of deviation; not all divergence from the past is culturally significant. Any attempt to vary from the past in such a way as to cut the past off, causing it to be forgotten, has little cultural importance. Greater significance attaches to those variations that bring the tradition into view in a new way, allowing the familiar to be seen as unfamiliar, as requiring a new appraisal of all that we have been- and therefore all that we are. Cultural deviation does not return us to the past, but continues what was begun but not finished in the past…

To say that deviance is the very essence of culture is no different from saying that ‘deviance is the very essence of individuality’, and so we can rephrase what James Carse says above and say that ‘whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past has lost all awareness of who they truly are.’ When we follow the script, and substitute the collectively-validated ‘external life’ that we have been provided with for our inner life (without us either seeing that this substitution has taken place, or understanding what that means to us) then the unique individual self has been replaced by the generic self, which is a self made up of nothing more than theatrical appearances. The generic self doesn’t have any actual content – it can’t have any actual content because it’s ‘an externality’, because it’s a theatrical performance and nothing more. The outer life is of course made up of externalities – that’s why we are calling it the ‘external life’! The inner life, on the other hand, has no defined features or aspects that we can talk about, or readily discuss in a public forum, but instead of having generically recognizable features that can easily be talked about it is full of actual content. Hence, Carl Jung says –

Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

When we dream, and live the external socially-validated life only, then what we gain in theatrical definition we lose in genuine content and saying that we ‘lose the content’ is just another way of saying that we lose the connection with who we truly are. What bigger thing could there be to lose than this? We worry about losing all sorts of unimportant, trivial things, but we never seem to worry about losing the biggest thing of all, which is losing our awareness of who we actually are. When we lose this we lose the heart, the core of who we are and as a result of this essential ‘hollowness’ we become slaves to this desire and that desire, this belief-structure and that belief-structure, all of which have the hold on us that they do because they promise to give us what deep-down we know we are missing. They promise to return to us our Wholeness, which we do not consciously see that we are missing.

 

Society itself is a belief structure that we cling to because it promises to remedy our inner deficit, and provide us – if we play the game well enough – with the much-sought-after social validation (often called success) which is the external substitute (or analogue) for ‘being who we truly are’. This is ironic because society is motivating us with the promise of remedying the painful inner deficit which it itself has engendered in us! It’s both the ‘cause’ of the sickness and the ‘cure’ at the same time, which is something that really ought to tip us off as to what is really going on here…

 

When we lose the core of who we are and have to go ahead on the basis of what Wei Wu Wei calls the self-concept and what Krishnamurti calls the self-image then we are at a disadvantage, even though we cannot directly see or understand what this disadvantage is. We’ve been ‘wrong-footed’ right from the start. We can talk about this disadvantage (or wrong-footedness’) in terms of loss of essential being – we have lost our essential being and have to make do instead with the theatrical ‘substitute for being’ – which is image or appearance. Some of the time we can get on like this just fine – if we believe the image to be the thing then we don’t see any problem. If we take the theatrical performance of the self-image to be the same thing as ‘who we genuinely are’ (as we almost always do) then we won’t necessarily feel ourselves to be ‘at a disadvantage’. But as we get removed further and further away from any connection with our true nature – from the well-spring of our being – we’re getting stretched thinner and thinner all the time. We’re getting into a sticky situation without being able to see that we are getting into a sticky situation.

 

As we ‘forget ourselves’ and caught up more and more with a false notion of who we are we end up in a very peculiar – if unappreciated – predicament. The predicament is that we have become ‘unreal without knowing that we are unreal’ and this is akin to having suffered a very serious accident without knowing that we have done so. We have suffered the most serious ‘accident’ of all, and yet we carry on blithely as if nothing had happened, getting caught up in one trivial issue after another. We’ve lost something without which we can’t really continue, and yet we haven’t worked this out for ourselves yet…
And yet there is a way in which this lost understanding can come to us, albeit a way that we cannot readily understand. We cannot see what has happened directly, in a straightforward way, but we can see it in an ‘upside-down way’, so to speak. When being is lost, then we don’t experience this loss of being, but we do experience the neurotic suffering that comes with it – all we need to do therefore is understand this neurotic suffering for what it truly is.

 

This isn’t actually a question of ‘doing’ – there’s nothing we can ‘do’ to purposefully regain our lost being. It is after all our unconscious attempt to regain our lost being (through all our surrogate purposeful activities) that keeps us trapped in our deficit condition. We just need to be aware of our loss of being, rather than automatically trying to correct it, rather than automatically trying to make it better. When we automatically try to ‘make it better’ all we’re doing is avoiding the awareness. The challenge isn’t to strive to become ‘more confident in ourselves’ (which everyone invariably says it is) – the challenge is to clearly see our lack of confidence and understand its root. The challenge is to fearlessly observe the reality of our situation. If we do somehow manage to become confident again (just like we used to be) all this would mean would be that we have managed to go back to sleep again, immerse ourselves in the dream again. The challenge isn’t to ‘go back to how we were before we became anxious’; the challenge isn’t to ‘go back to sleep’ – the challenge is to wake up!

The Dream Environment

dream

Our default situation in dreaming is that we are 100% helpless with regard to the script, the drama, the narrative that we are being presented with. The way it usually works is that dreaming – for us – means going along with the script, going along with the drama or narrative. There is a narrow predetermined route of ‘how the dream is going to go’ and we go down that route. There is a clearly defined format for our experience in the dream and we accept that format…

 

The primary element of the script – aside from what it literally entails, i.e. ‘the defined storyline’ – is the degree of compulsivity that comes with it (which is to say, the degree to which we are swept helplessly along with it). ‘Compulsivity’ means the degree of unfree fascination that we experience with regard to the story-line that has been provided for us. It is a measure of the degree to which our attention is held by the storyline, in other words, which is a concept that is known as immersion in gaming. The more immersive the game (or the dream) the less able we are to know that it is a game, or that it is a dream. If the experience is 100% immersive, then we have absolutely no sense that it is only a game, that it is only a dream. Another way of putting this is to say that when compulsivity (or immersion) is at a maximum, then we are completely trapped in the narrative that we have been provided with…

 
We’re swept along with all dreams – that’s the nature of dreaming – but the degree of compulsivity (or immersion) does vary. Sometimes we’re more aware that we’re dreaming, other times we’re less aware. Compulsivity is what leads to ‘immersion’ and compulsivity is all about how much fear or desire we experience in the dream. Fear/desire is what keeps our nose to the grindstone, so to speak. We’re either attracted to what’s being shown to us in the storyline or we’re averse to it and this attraction/aversion is what determines our ‘compliance’ in the dream. It ensures that we will go along obediently with the storyline. Straightaway – as soon as we say this – this allows us to see what would help free us from the narrow constraints that are being brutally imposed upon us by the compulsive element of the dream. Straightaway we can see what it is that would allow us to work towards not being so ‘helplessly controlled’ or ‘driven’ in the dream…

 

If attraction/aversion is what keeps us hooked into the script, the drama, the ongoing narrative, then our natural ‘child-like’ curiosity about what is going on is what will free us, and allow us / our experience to be less defined by the script that we have been presented with. Curiosity is the perfect antidote to attraction/aversion. What almost inevitably happens is that as we get older we become less and less curious about life, more and more ‘serious’ in ourselves. This is pretty much what ‘being an adult’ has come to mean – it means being serious. ‘Being serious’ simply means that we don’t question the predetermined situation that we have been presented with – on the contrary, we accept it at face value. We go along with it, in other words. Or we could say that being ‘adult’ very much tends to mean that we just take stuff for granted.

 

We are presented with a structure (with society, with a way of thinking and behaving, with a whole pre-formatted world in fact) and we unreflectively adapt ourselves to it. We narrow ourselves down until we fit that way, until it wholly determines us. As the character Cristof says in The Truman Show,

We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.

It could be said that this process of adaptation to a given structure is what the whole process of ‘becoming an adult’ is all about – even though, in a healthy society, it ought to mean more than this. Another word for this adaptation process is simply training. We’re trained. We’re told that we are educated but really we’ve been trained (the difference being of course that the former broadens us whilst the latter narrows us down). This is the point being made here by Krishnamurti

Education is not merely a matter of training the mind. Training makes for efficiency, but it does not bring about completeness. A mind that has merely been trained is the continuation of the past, and such a mind can never discover the new. That is why, to find out what is right education, we will have to inquire into the whole significance of living.
To most of us, the meaning of life as a whole is not of primary importance, and our education emphasizes secondary values, merely making us proficient in some branch of knowledge. Though knowledge and efficiency are necessary, to lay chief emphasis on them only leads to conflict and confusion.

Training is all about pragmatic considerations, and pragmatic considerations are all about continuing the pattern of the past, as Krishnamurti says. The more ‘narrowed down’ our sense of ourselves is the more committed we are going to be to perpetuating the structure that we have been presented with – when we’re totally defined by the training process then we going to be 100% committed to perpetuating the given pattern, the given template, and this is of course just what the ‘given pattern’ (i.e. society) wants. This is what all defined patterns of organization want – to be perpetuated!

 

So to go back to this notion of ‘child-like curiosity’ – we can say that this quality still exists in all of us even if it isn’t visible. If it didn’t exist, then we’d really be in trouble! Our innate curiosity about the world might have been covered over by the false sophistication of the adult mind but it’s still there – essentially, it’s who we are. It’s our true nature. We aren’t the dry format that has been imposed on us, we are that which has been formatted. We aren’t what has been written on the page, we are the page. We aren’t the message – we’re the medium by which the message (i.e. ‘the conditioning’) is transmitted.

 

What this means is that the ‘narrowing down’ process of adaptation can be reversed, although not as easily as it happened in the first place. Becoming free from habits of seeing, habits of thinking, habits of behaving in the world is never going to be as easy as acquiring those habits! With regard to the matter of being ‘swept along with the dream’ – in a purely passive modality of being – we can say that being curious is what frees us up and gives us more space to be ourselves within the narrow, predetermined confines of the dream. Curiosity, we could say, is how we come back to ourselves and cease to be wholly defined by the mechanical forces that are operating in the dream.

 

Being curious within the dream means being present enough to notice where we are, and what is it that is really happening. Moving in the direction of becoming more present means becoming who we truly are, and this means becoming curious. To be genuinely present in the world is the same thing as having an unsophisticated interest in where we are and what it is that is going on with us but this isn’t the same thing as being ‘interested’ in an adult way, which is all about looking at how we can get better at exploiting our environment. As sophisticated adults, we don’t care about what the world is, we just care about how we can use it! Our normal way of being in the world is to be forever concerned with how we might benefit from our situation (or ‘perform optimally’ in our situation) and this isn’t being interested at all – this is just attraction/aversion, this is just ‘the need to control’…

 

A small child isn’t looking to control the situation that they find themselves in – that would be ridiculous. Only adults do that. A child is caught up in the wonder of the world, not consumed with the need to control it. A child (or the child-like part of us) is not coldly calculating and devious, but immediate and straightforward. So when we tap into our inner ‘child-like’ nature we straightaway find ourselves reconnected with the essential wonder of the universe. We tend very much to think that it is only possible to experience wonder under ‘special’ circumstances, but wonder is there all the time, under all circumstances – it’s just our interest in the wonder that varies. That we exist (or that there is anything at all) is a wonder, and so any situation that might arise on the basis of this existence is also a wonder – even if we can’t at the time see it. The reason we can’t generally see it because we’re stuck in the artificial mind-created context which relates everything to the self, so that everything we perceive is perceived in terms of this self, either in terms of how it is either going to be of benefit or be of danger. This way of looking at the world straightaway removes all wonder – it makes everything banal! When we look at life without this artificial self-referential context, however, then everything is a wonder, even our own pain, as Khalil Gibran says in this line from The Prophet

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

The artificial context that takes the wonder or mystery out of everything is as we have implied the everyday rule-based mind – it is the ‘adult’ way of thinking that we are all so caught up in. It derives as we have said from our agenda to optimize our situation, to either obtain something or escape from something, which is attraction/aversion.

 

Attraction/aversion drives out any sense of wonder – there is zero possibility of wonder existing within the framework of fear and desire. This is the realm of grim seriousness, not wonder or curiosity. Yet even though attraction/aversion drives out all sense of wonder, it is all the same always possible to bring our natural curiosity about the world back into play. Even if I can’t experience any wonder or curiosity about my environment I can still experience curiosity over the fact that I am not curious about my environment. This is a very curious thing, after all! If I notice the fact that I have no sense of wonder about that fact that I exist (about the fact that anything exists) then this itself is a wonder!

 

Another way of putting this is to say that even when we are in the grip of attraction/aversion (even when we are experiencing 100% immersion in the drama) we are still free – at any time – to notice that this is the case. We are always free to notice our own immersion in the drama and when we do notice our immersion then – by definition – we are no longer immersed! There is a kind of rule or principle that comes into operation when we obey the compulsivity of the dream. This rule/principle has to do with the ‘narrowing’ process that we have already alluded to in relation to the adaptation process.

 

We can explain this principle as follows:

The more we go along with the compulsivity the more we let it define us and it is the defining that narrows us.

 

Fear defines us just as desire does but what this ‘defining’ business entails may not be immediately apparent. We may not see what is so very bad about ‘being defined’! Definition is, after all, generally seen as a good thing when it comes to the question of identity, when it comes to the question of ‘who I am’…

 

It is true that it feels good – in a particular sort of a way – to assert our identity in a positive way. It feels good to say “I am this!” or “I am that!” but the reason this feels good is because in doing so we are obeying an external compulsion (even though we can’t see this). By asserting our identity in a positive way we are ‘obeying the script’. It feels good (in a particular sort of a way) to be this defined identity, this defined self, but only because of the security that it represents. And security feels good precisely because it is a defence against fear! When we opt for security then we are obeying fear therefore. When we aggressively assert our identity (personal, tribal, cultural, religious, national, or whatever) then we are obeying fear. And when we act on desire and ‘add to ourselves’ by acquiring property, wealth, status; influence, etc., then we are also obeying fear. We are obeying fear when we operate on the basis of desire because we are strengthening our defences, adding to our security, consolidating our position, and our need for defences, security or a solid position is of course nothing else other than fear.

 

What we don’t see amidst all this business of adapting to the game, adapting to the compulsiveness of the dream is that who we are isn’t some ten-a-penny defined identity! We are vastly more than that. Who we are is not a defined thing at all because to define is to limit. By obeying attraction/aversion we lose ourselves, therefore, we lose ‘who we really are’ and become something else, something limited, something that has been defined for us by ‘the rules of the game’. This is what Jung means when he says that by heedlessly following ‘the passions’ we become ‘Everyman’. Everyman is the generic man, the generic human being, and when we obey the passions of greed, lust, envy, jealousy, rage etc., (which are the ‘generic emotions’) then we allow ourselves to be defined by them and this means – as we have said – that we lose who we truly are, which is unique not generic. When we don’t automatically obey attraction/aversion then the reverse is true -we come back to ourselves, we regain ourselves. We don’t regain ourselves by what we do, therefore, but by what we don’t do! Purposeful doing is just attraction/aversion. The part of us that doesn’t obediently follow the script that has been laid down for us – the part of us that doesn’t let itself be defined or determined by mechanical compulsions – is the unique part of ourselves, which is who we truly are under all the habits, under all the generic conditioning. We recover ourselves (not just our independence but who we actually are) by not automatically getting sucked into the narrative that we have been presented with in the dream. The degree to which we do not engage in the dream-drama is the degree to which we actually are, therefore!

 

This isn’t just true for the dreams that we have when we’re asleep in bed at night – it’s true for everything. Actually, to be present in our dreams is the hardest thing to do – we generally have least presence in our dreams. Dreams ‘just happen’. The point is that everything we have been talking about applies equally well to our ‘waking’ life and the predetermined scripts that we automatically follow in that life. The same principle holds true across the board, under all circumstances, in every possible situation that we might find ourselves in. The principle is that all we need to do in order to come back to ourselves (or ‘wake up’) is to see that we are unreflectively ‘obeying a compulsion’. This simple act of observation makes all the difference in the world! This is a very basic manifestation of curiosity – the curiosity as to whether or not we are free!

 

For example, if I am angry and I am acting out this anger in some way then I get curious about what is happening here and I take the trouble to notice whether I am free to not act out the anger. If I notice that I am not able to ‘not be angry’ then I take an interest in this observation! I am interested in this awareness that has just come my way – the awareness that I am not free. Or to give another example, if I desire some outcome or other then I take the trouble to notice whether I am free to not want whatever it is that I want. If I discover that I am not free to do anything else other than obey the desire then I am interested in this awareness. I am curious about the unfree nature of my situation…

 

Very curiously, the normal state of affairs is that we do not manifest this basic level of curiosity! We’re not curious about whether or not we are free – all we’re interested in is how we can best obey the compulsions that are driving us, how we can best accommodate ourselves to the mechanical forces that are determining the reality of our existence. Beyond this, we have no interest! We have no interest in challenging the status quo, we have no interest in discovering that it is possible to challenge the status quo. We have therefore no interest in discovering who we truly are…

 

The situation of being totally unfree, of being totally controlled by our conditioning, by the compulsive forces that are shaping our lives, and yet not being interested enough in our own situation ever to find this out is a remarkable one. This is a wonder in itself. It is a wonder waiting to be discovered when we do start to take an interest – one wonder amongst many others…

Stepping Outside the Mind

the-matrix

The question is, are we interested in stepping outside of the mind, or are we not interested? This isn’t a loaded question. There’s no right or wrong answer – it’s not a question of what we ought to do – but it is a crucial question all the same. Do we even care what it might be like to see the world without the conceptual filter of the mind? And if not why not? The thing is that this rational-conceptual mind that we’re talking about is only a tool or an instrument, and yet it is a tool or instrument that we can rarely see beyond. Essentially, it is no different to a hair-drier or a toaster or a food mixer even though it might sound ridiculous to say this. The thinking mind might be a hell of a lot more complicated than a food mixer but it runs on exactly the same principle – it’s a bunch of mechanical processes linked together in a specific way…

 

The ‘special thing’ about this instrument (as opposed to a hair-drier or toaster or food mixer) is that is has the rather unique job of representing reality to us in a particular way, within a particular format. It does this job continuously, and yet at the same time it doesn’t tell us that it is doing so. It doesn’t have a function ‘built into it’ whereby it informs us that it is representing reality to us in a particular way. It isn’t required to do that. This of course is rather significant because it means that the instrument of the rational-conceptual mind is invisible to us in its operation, unlike hair driers, toasters or food mixers. What it is doing is of absolutely crucial importance to us, but we can’t see what it is doing!

 

According to David Bohm, the system of thought (the logical system which is the thinking mind) points to divisions in the outside world without ever making reference to the fact that they only exist within it, not anywhere else –

Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.

As a result of this ‘omission’, we automatically take the world that the rational-conceptual mind shows us to be the whole story, the whole of reality. We take it as being the ‘final word’, the ‘ultimate authority’. This being the case, of course we don’t look beyond the mind-created world, of course we don’t have any curiosity as to what the world would look like without the filter of our concepts, without our conditioning (or ‘programming’) getting to process everything for us. This possibility simply doesn’t exist for us. It doesn’t exist because the thinking mind doesn’t tell us that it exists and we rely totally upon this mind to tell us everything that exists and doesn’t exists. Or rather, we rely on it totally to tell us what is important, what is significant, what is worth taking notice of, and anything else we simply have zero interest in!

 

So the question as to whether are interested in stepping out of the everyday mind or not is really a question about whether we are interested in reality as it is in itself, or whether we are content simply to stick with the everyday mind’s mind’s patented version of reality. And the thing here is that if we don’t know that the world we relate to every day isn’t the genuine article then how are we going to be curious about anything else? And – generally speaking – we AREN’T going to know that the world that the everyday mind shows us isn’t the same as reality as it is in itself, we aren’t going to know because the mind isn’t going to tell us!

 

This is a curious situation, therefore. The rational-conceptual mind really ought to come with some sort of warning printed on the package telling us to be extremely careful with it since the moment we start using it we are liable to get lost in it forever! The whole point is that there isn’t such a warning however. There’s no government health warning on the packet. We have to work it out for ourselves, we have to learn to be careful…

 

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t use the instrument or tool which is the thinking mind. Like all instruments, like all tools, it is very useful when used in the right situation. Everything comes down therefore to a question of what we might call ‘appropriate’ versus ‘non-appropriate’ applications – which is to say, it all comes down to understanding the difference between things that the tool can do and things that is can’t do. If we know that then we’re OK! This difference is very easily explained: the appropriate use for the rational-conceptual mind is for logical problem-solving, and the non-appropriate use is everything else!

 

Straightaway this shows us something very curious – we use the instrument of the rational-conceptual mind for just about everything. We use it for living life, and this is not an appropriate use for it! What we’re actually doing here therefore is that we’re treating life as if it were a logical problem, which is utterly ridiculous. If life is a ‘problem’ then there must be a ‘solution’ to it therefore and so what would that solution be? What would the solution to life’ look like? What would happen if we were to use it, if we were to utilize the solution? What exactly does it mean to ‘solve’ life anyway? In relation to a logical problem or puzzle the idea of a ‘solution’ is of course perfectly appropriate; in relation to life the term becomes distinctly sinister. What does life turn into after we have solved it? What’s the story then? The only thing it could turn into (after being thoroughly packed and regulated by thought) is a ‘plaything of the thinking mind’. Life will get turned into a ‘game’ in other words, and what does it mean to turn life into a game, into the plaything of the thinking mind?

 

It is evident that – for the most part – we have turned life into a logical puzzle. If this wasn’t the case then we wouldn’t be trying to ‘fix’ it the whole time and this is exactly what we always are trying to do. This is what thinking is – it’s ‘searching for a solution’. Every time we engage in rational thinking we are trying to fix something – that’s what rational thinking is for after all, as we have already said. So if we’re thinking all comment, the time (and we are thinking all the time!) then what this means is that that we’re trying to fix life. Even if we’re only naming something, or making some kind of a comment, we’re ‘looking for a solution’ – we’re trying to cure life of its inherent uncertainty, we’re trying to ‘say what it means’, we’re trying to say ‘what it is’, we’re trying to fit life into a specific, pre-made template of meaning when actually life only ever has the concrete meaning that we believe it to have because we ourselves have given it that meaning.

 

Instead of relating to the world simply as it is therefore, we are continually aggressing it, continually trying to force it to be the way that we think it ought to be. Instead of being conscious of the world as it actually is in itself we are in other words forever trying to control it, this is what the thinking mind does after all – it packages, it labels, it controls. That’s its job

 

There is a consequence to us trying to control things the whole time however – by doing this we automatically tune into a very narrow ‘band’ of reality, and we very easily fall into the trap of thinking that this narrow band of reality is all that there is. When we’re engaged in controlling we are necessarily involved in a ‘negative feedback loop’ whereby all our attention goes into registering ‘error’ and then doing our best to correct it. I notice how close I am to obtaining my goal and then I use this information to improve my performance. This means that I’m only interested in stuff that can help me optimize my performance, stuff that will enable me to reduce my margin of error, and so everything else goes out of the window. This is how things are when we are in ‘control mode’ (or in ‘purposeful doing mode’) – we have identified with the thinking mind, we have allowed it to ‘take us over’, and so we have allowed its limited perspective to be our perspective. Or rather – as we could also say – we have allowed its horizons to become our horizons, its limitations to become our limitations, its ‘blindness’ to become our blindness.

 

Perspective itself – in the true sense of the word – is the one thing we DON’T have when we are in control mode! The world ‘perspective’ really means openness – it means that we are aware of a bigger, more expansive context than whatever narrow frame of reference it is that we might be using at the time. When we’re ‘relaxed’, when we’re not in control mode (or ‘analytical mode’), then we are always going to have a sense of perspective on things. Perspective is always going to be there – perspective is naturally there. It’s there ‘all by itself’! When we’re relaxed we’re going to have a bit of perspective on our situation simply because we’re not busy screening out information, simply because we’re not narrowly focussed on a particular task. Being focussed on a particular task means – as we have already said – that we are only interested in those details that are relevant to what we are specifically trying to achieve. We are not interested in ‘the irrelevant’ and this means that we are not interested in anything outside of the frame of reference that we happen to be using at the time.

 

This therefore is what it means to be identified with the rational-conceptual mind – it means that we have no perspective, it means that we’re not aware of anything outside of the frame of reference that we’re operating within. What has actually happened here is that the virtual world associated with the particular frame of reference that we have identified with has swollen up and become the whole world, the whole of everything that is possible, as far as we are concerned. We’ve switched from an open–ended view (which is ‘perspective’) to the closed view, the view which has only the one possibility of seeing things, the view which is associated with the particular frame of reference that we’re stuck in without realized that we’re stuck in anything. We can’t know that we’re ‘stuck in the FOR’ because in order to know it we’d have to have perspective and the whole point of the closed mind-set, the whole point of the closed FOR, is that there’s no perspective in it!

 

When we switch from open awareness to the closed mind-frame which switching from a humorous, playful and unconstrained mode of being to one that is humourless, ‘serious’, fixated and essentially ‘driven’. We’re going from ‘spontaneous’ to ‘directed’. It is of course a very familiar kind of a thing that we’re talking about here – we see this type of switch-over from the one mode to the other taking place around us all the time. It happens when the thinking mind takes over (for whatever reason), to the detriment of our inner freedom, to the detriment of our ‘lightness of touch’, to the detriment of our sense of humour. It happens when we get sucked up into some kind of negative state of mind, and it also happens when we start taking some particular idea or theory more seriously than it deserves, and in the case of negative emotions, or negative mind states, it could be said that the idea we are taking too seriously is the idea of ourselves!

 

We also switch from open awareness to a closed frame of mind when we are engaged in performing some kind of a demanding logical task, which is of course something that we all need to do from time to time. Logical tasks are part of life and this goes back to what we were saying about this being the ‘appropriate’ use of the rational mind. The only thing here however being that our modern rational-technological culture demands that we spend more and more time in control mode, in fixing mode, in purposeful doing mode and the result of this is that we are very likely lose the ability to ‘switch out’ again! The odds are very much stacked against being able to do so. What happens then is that we become identified with the rational-conceptual mind on a full time basis, and we won’t realize that anything is amiss because everyone else has done the same thing as us. We’ve all made the same mistake and so it becomes normal. We’ve all got the same sickness and so it becomes healthy! It’s actually become a requirement. We are required to be in ‘purposeful doing mode’ in order to be employed, just to give one particular example of how the pressure on us to be more ‘machine-like’ than ‘human-like’ operates. Generally speaking, we’re required to ‘play the game’ in order to fit in.

 

As far as our rational-technological society is concerned the fact that we are identifying with the thinking mind pretty much on a full-time basis is very useful. It makes people much easier to direct, to predict, to motivate and to control. Actual human beings are a hell of a lot trickier to deal with – they are notoriously prone to questioning rules and refusing to conform to mechanical systems. The fundamental difficulty here being (for the mechanical system that is society) that its agenda is not going to be shared by the people that are making it up, not unless – that is – they too are rendered ‘mechanical’. From the point of view of society, therefore, it makes sense that everything we do should be based upon rules. Not just our work-time is to be spent identified with the thinking mind therefore, but also our leisure time, our recreational time. On the collective level, it makes sense that this should be the way things are. But although it makes sense for society for us to be like this, it does not make sense from the POV of the actual individual. As Jung said over sixty years ago, the needs of the collective and the mental health of the individual are two very different things – the former is not in sympathy with the latter. What is ‘healthy’ for society is most emphatically not healthy for the individual human being – society needs everyone to be thinking the same way, behaving in the same way, seeing reality in the same way, and in order for the individual to be individual (in order that we might ‘be ourselves’!), we cannot be ruled by unexamined beliefs or game-rules that are imposed upon us from the outside, from the mechanical ‘group mind’.

 

In our society – as we have said – it is normal to be identified with the thinking mind on what is practically a fulltime basis. This means that it looks right, this means that it looks in fact like the definition of ‘good mental health’. But what happens as a result of this identification is that we end up being tuned into a very narrow band of reality. We only get to know about (and care about) that part of reality which corresponds to that rule-based mind and this means that we lead a very impoverished form of existence – even though we won’t know it because to be this way is validated at every turn. We’ve lost something crucial in other words but the rules of the game are that we’re not allowed to know it!

 

Even if we do well in the social game and gain status, wealth and power as a result, we’re still impoverished. We’re impoverished on the inside – our inner life has been curtailed to the point of non-existence. Our ‘inner life’ is a reflection of the outer one and so what we’re talking about here therefore isn’t an inner life at all – it’s the outer generic one. One size fits all! All we have left to us is this ‘outer’ life, which is the one that has been designed by society, the one that has been provided for us by the mechanical group mind. When it comes right down to it, full-time identification with the thinking mind means that we lose contact with reality (since reality is at root that sense of perspective that we no longer have) and become wholly caught up in what is essentially a meaningless mechanical game – doing stuff because we think it is the right thing to do, doing stuff because we have been told it is the right thing to do, doing stuff because the unexamined rules of the game say you have to do them…

 

There is no way a fundamental alienation from reality can be seen as ‘a good thing’. When we allow ourselves to be possessed (however unwittingly) by the rational conceptual mind so that it ends up defining reality for us then we are cut off from everything that lends magic to life. We’re cut off from our own wholeness, our own happiness, our own creativity and this makes us prey to whatever sort of malign influences might happen to be at large in the world. The ‘malign influences’ have a field day in fact! Because we’re coming from such an impoverished place they can offer us this and offer us that and we’re going to go for it every time. We’re not going to be able to see it happening because we’re automatically allowing reality to be defined for us. We’re allowing our own best interests to be defined for us. We’re in the position of being infinitely manipulable by whatever collective forces happen to be out there. Because we’re coming from a place where our connection with the true self has been severed we’re at the mercy of all the threats and promises that are being used against us. We’re hoodwinked and taken advantage of at every turn…

 

And when we do go along with the narrow version of reality that we’re being offered (compulsorily offered, so to speak) things still don’t go well with us – the incidence of anxiety and depression have been increasing over the last hundred years to the point where almost one third of the population will suffer majorly from them. Our culturally-approved way of looking at such disturbances of the psyche is to say that they are due to mechanical malfunctions of the hardware. We assume that our brains have for some reason become rather unreliable in recent times and need to be given a helping hand. A better explanation is that the culprit is not nature and its failure to provide us with properly working brains (despite all those millions of years of evolution), but our tendency to spend our entire lives being operated by the run-away instrument of the thinking mind! This is the elephant in the room. How can living on the basis of a generic inauthentic identity not give rise to depression? How can the loss of the true self (and the tremendous inner resources that come with it) not cause anxiety? The only wonder is that more of us don’t experience acute neurotic distress as a result of having to live life on such a narrow and artificial basis…

 

The current popularity of meditation (repackaged as mindfulness) as a way of recovering our peace of mind might be taken as evidence that at last we have ‘come to our senses’ and have realized that the thinking mind cannot be given free rein to run our lives as it pleases. It would seem that we are starting at last to redress the balance between the psyche as a self-governing system and the faculty of the rational intellect and move in the direction of becoming more human (rather than continuing to move as we have been doing in the direction of becoming more mechanical). But if we imagine this to be the case we might be in danger of being hoodwinked yet again! The question is this: have we at last understood that the rational-conceptual mind, which ought to be the tool or instrument, has ‘turned the tables on us’ so that it is now our master instead of our servant? Or is it just that we are quick (in our narrowly clever way) to seize upon any advantage that we might come across, and are using the ‘advantage’ of meditation to offset or ameliorate the burden that living the rational-mechanical life has placed upon us (the burden that living as components in a machine, in a system, has placed upon us)?

 

If the first answer is true then this is evidence of true wisdom – which is the rarest of fruits! If it is the second that it true on the other hand then what we are seeing is no more than a case of the slave-owner trying to squeeze an extra mile or two out of his poor slave, as clever slave-owners always do. This is one of the points made by Ron Purser and David Loy in their article Beyond McMindfulness.

 

The question we’re asking here would seem to be a rhetorical one. Is there really any sign of our culture turning in its tracks, so to speak, and valuing wisdom over mere cleverness? Do we really want to change what we’re doing? Or is the runaway tool of the rational-conceptual mind simply getting better at managing us, by providing us with a watered-down version of meditation designed to improve our productivity rather than radically liberate us? Are we really interested in stepping outside of the everyday mind, or do we just want to live more comfortably within it?