The Machine Self

The biggest thing that we don’t know, but would benefit immensely from knowing, is that we are constantly turning ourselves into machines, for all the world as if there was some great advantage to be had in this! We turn into machines out of laziness and fear of responsibility on the one hand, and as a result of the unrelenting pressure of society on the other hand, which wants us to become machines. Society wants us to become machines because it – needless to say – is itself a machine. Society is a machine and it needs us to become machines too.

 

A handy definition of a machine – in this context – is to say that a machine is something that always does everything for a reason. Alan Watts says that a person who always does everything for a purpose is a ‘vulture’, which is nicely put, but we could just as well say that such a person is ‘a machine’. When we put ourselves in the position of doing everything for a purpose’ we demean ourselves – worse than just demean, we lose ourselves. The mechanical world is a world in which consciousness is completely lost, like water soaking into blotting paper. Consciousness has nothing to do with purposes, and purposes have nothing to do with consciousness. Consciousness is another realm entirely, and purposes have no meaning here – they carry no weight.

 

‘Purposes’ are always smaller than we are, and so if we live for the sake of these purposes we become no bigger than they are. We become petty, in other words. We may say that the purposes in question are serving us of course, but this is simply not true! We serve our purposes, rather than vice versa. The boot is on the other foot.

 

This ought to be obvious – generally when we have a purpose or goal we say to ourselves (or think to ourselves) that we have to do such and such, or that we ought to do such and such. This is us being ruled by our purposes; if we could say ‘I can do such and such but I don’t have to’ then that would be entirely different but all too often we can’t say this (or even if we do say it, or do believe it) it isn’t  actually true. We just prefer to see things this way; we prefer not to uncover the true nature of our situation.

 

Often – very often in fact – when we succeed in obtaining a goal we feel good because the ‘pressure’ to obtain is gone and we feel great relief because of this. We have been a ‘successful slave’. The curious thing is that we actually see this pressure (which we can’t shake off until we’ve ‘done the thing that we’re supposed to do’) as being the very same thing as our own true motivation. We say that we are ‘motivated’! It might be ‘motivation,’ but it’s not ours however!

 

Whenever we feel that we are not doing well enough, that we not ‘making the grade’, that we have ‘failed’, that we have let ourselves (or someone else) down, then this is because of this external (or extrinsic) motivation. We are being ‘bullied from the inside’, to put it bluntly and this relentless bully, this heartless ‘inner critic’, isn’t our own true motivation. It has nothing to do with us whatsoever – it’s a ‘foreign introject’. Genuine motivation isn’t like this – genuine motivation isn’t a tyrant, isn’t a bully, isn’t relentlessly punishing if we don’t manage to do whatever it is that we are ‘supposed to have done’.

 

Our own true motivation never makes us feel bad in this way; it inspires us rather than forces us to engage in the task. It’s based on curiosity and playfulness rather than ‘crude non-negotiable need’. Everyone talks about ‘satisfying our needs’ but needs for machines, not human beings. ‘Pressure is for tires’, as they say. Needs are unfree – they are rules that we have to obey. ‘Needs’ are the stick that beats us up and down the garden path, and the rewarding feeling that we get when we meet them is due more to the relief from the pain of the need as anything else. The cessation of all-pervading, all-conditioning pain equals pleasure.

 

True motivation (which is intrinsic not extrinsic) isn’t all about ‘goals’ or ‘end results’. That’s ‘machine talk’! True motivation is about the process, not the end results. It isn’t about ‘end-gaming’, it isn’t about ‘ticking the box’ so that we can feel better and then move on to the next task. It’s not driven by goals, but by the genuine heartfelt interest we feel in engaging in whatever process it is that we are engaging in. We’re doing it simply ‘because we doing it’, not because we hope to get something out of it. We aren’t being ‘vultures’, we’re being human beings. Who wants to go around being a greedy old vulture, after all?

 

It remains true of course that in some respects we are machines, inasmuch as we are generally subject to certain hardwired rules or needs. That is in our biology, that’s part of being living organisms – if we are hungry then we have to eat, and there’s no getting away from this. There are also ‘psychological needs’ like ‘the need to be accepted by the people around us’ (or ‘the need to belong’) and these needs also have their place. We don’t need to let them rule our lives, or determine everything about us, but we can acknowledge that they are there, and give them due respect on this basis. We have a ‘machine-like’ aspect, but we are also tremendously more than that. We can be ‘machine’ and ‘not machine’ at the same time, and that is the whole art of living consciously!

 

The ‘Great Tendency’ is however (as we have said) for the Machine Self to take over and become the whole of who we are. The Machine Self is a jealous god and it tolerates no other influences – if it can, it will devour us whole every day. It does devour us whole every day! This is Rumi’s ‘lower self’ – the fearsome dragon which must never be woken up. If it gets woken up it will gobble us up in a flash and then extrinsic motivation will be the only type of motivation there is and everything will become about obtaining goals, following rules and ‘doing things for a purpose’. Life will become a mere mechanical routine. As a result of falling into the mechanical mode of being we become alienated from our own humanity and it’s not just ‘easy’ for this to happen – it’s what almost always does happen. It’s a foregone conclusion. This is what society will unfailingly do to us, if we just stand by and let it. We’re willing participants in the process. We ‘do it to ourselves’, we are complicit in the conspiracy without knowing that we are. That’s what society is, after all – it’s an unconscious thing; it’s ‘us doing all of this to ourselves’. We are all busy doing this thing to ourselves; busy turning ourselves into machines without any free (or unconditioned) consciousness, for all the world as if this were ‘a good thing’….

 

Being reduced to the level of our purposes and our thoughts is as we have said a demeaning kind of a thing – it strips us of what is best of us, leaving nothing behind but a mechanical husk. Our purposes (or thoughts) end up defining our whole lives, defining who we are, and yet they have nothing to do with us really – they are trivial things, superficial things, meaningless things. Our purposes would mean something if they served our true being, if they served who we really are, but they don’t. Who we really are has been lost in all this unceasing mechanical ‘busy-ness’, which always claims to be serving some so-called ‘higher purpose’, but which doesn’t. We’re caught up in an endless circular game that has no ‘purpose’ outside of itself. It is its own goal.

 

There is no ‘higher purpose’ to the mechanical life, to ‘life as a machine’ – there is only ‘busy-ness for the sake of busy-ness’, pointless busy-ness which leads on to nothing more than yet more pointless busy-ness. We’re kept so busy with all the purposeful doing that we never get the chance to see what we have lost through it, which is our true (non-mechanical) nature. We’ve have become alienated from this nature, and so would no longer recognize it even if we came across it. We think that our well-being is something to strive for mechanically, something that needs to be obtained or won but it isn’t. It’s there already, and can only be discovered when we STOP striving and grasping all the time…

 

 

 

 

 

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Self-Reflection

When we’re in mental pain, this pain – as we experience it – has a very precise relationship to our way of understanding ‘who we are’. To put this even more clearly, the pain that we are experiencing doesn’t just have ‘a precise relationship’ to our way of understanding who we are, it is a faithful reflection of that understanding. What this means is that any idea that we have of escaping the pain, or solving the problem that it poses to us, is no more than a momentarily comforting fantasy. It’s no more than a comforting fantasy but it’s also our sole preoccupation – it consumes us.

 

We could also put this in a simpler way and say that ‘our thinking about the pain that we’re in is itself the pain’, which is a curious thing to contemplate. The more pain we are in the more we think about this pain, which straightaway creates a trap that there doesn’t seem to be any way out of. This is ‘the trap of resistance’ – the more it hurts the more we resist and the more we resist the more it hurts. The more we turn our face away from our pain, the more the pain grows and we have to put ever-more effort into ignoring it, or running away from it. In a simplistic way we might say that our course of action in this case is clear, and that all we need to do is to take note of our error and then correct it. If turning away from our pain causes this pain to grow, then the answer must be to turn towards it instead.

 

We are underestimating the subtlety of the trap however if this is what we think. What we fail to see is that any sort of ‘deliberate stance’ that we take with regard to our inner pain equals ‘turning our face away’. What’s the motivation behind the manoeuvre to ‘turn to face the pain’, after all? If we are manoeuvring then there must be a motivation behind it, there must be something that is being aimed at, and what possible aim could it be other than escaping ‘from the pain’, after all? Why else do we do anything? If we sincerely wish to accept the pain that we are in then we wouldn’t be manoeuvring at all – there would be no need for it. If we were truly sincere and wished to unconditionally embrace the pain that we are in then we would also embrace the ‘extra pain’ that we are in as a result of turning our face away from the original pain. There would be no scheming, no manoeuvring.There would be no need for anything like that.

 

This is an old point, a point that has been made many times. When we try to accept pain or face pain then this is only in order to escape that same pain – is a ‘clever ploy,’ in other words. It’s a clever ploy to do something that is actually quite impossible to do because we can no more ‘face pain on purpose’ than we can successfully avoid or escape it! If we are trying to escape the pain then that is because we’re thinking about it and if we trying to face it then this is also because we’re thinking about it. It’s the thinking that constitutes the trap, not the particular type of thinking that we are engaged in. It’s not as if there is such a thing as ‘the right type of thinking’ that will enable us to escape from the trap! No thinking is the right thinking.

 

Thinking is itself a trap because it always involves us in self-reflection. Thinking is self-reflection – thinking always traps us in our own assumptions. As we said at the beginning of this discussion it’s not just that our mental pain has a very precise relationship to our way of understanding who we are, it is actually a faithful reflection of that understanding. By reacting in any way to the reflection, we solidify it, we confirm it as being true. The pain of our situation is the pain of our predicament in thinking that ‘this sufferer  is who we are’. If we were to move any distance at all from this fixed position of self-identification then the pain that we are in would immediately change and lose its utterly oppressive nature – it only has that utterly oppressive nature because we think that we are that ‘self’, because we think that we are that ‘sufferer’. The pain that I am afflicted with is the shadow of the ‘self-delusion’ that I am caught up in. I am ‘identifying with the sufferer’;  i am identifying with my manoeuvring, with my scheming and calculating, with my endless ‘thinking’.

 

The reflection of ourselves that we see and react to as a result of our thinking is a very precarious and transitory type of thing therefore. It’s only there because of our thinking – when we think we solidify it, we confirm it as ‘the only possible reality’. We are potentially very free indeed therefore – we could ‘float freely in any direction’, so to speak, but not if we solidify the picture we have of ourselves and our situation by thinking about it, or reacting to our thoughts about it. As we have said, we are the pain and the pain is us. The specific sense of identity which is conditioned by my reactions to the pain (or my resistance to the pain) gives rise to the pain. I am my pain and my pain is me, and so the idea of ‘escape’ from it is a complete non-starter. If I am constructing myself in terms of my absolute need to escape from the pain then how can I ever go beyond this pain?

 

If I try to escape or turn away from the pain then this turning away reaffirms the concrete sense of myself that I am identifying with, and if I try instead to turn towards the pain (which I may come to see as ‘the smarter move’) then this too reaffirms the concrete sense of self. Who is it that is either ‘turning away’ or ‘turning towards’, after all? Or purposeful action reaffirms the reality of the one who is striving to enact these purposes, just as all thought reaffirms the reality of the one who is having the thought, and this is the nature of the trap that we are caught in. It doesn’t matter how much I twist and turn with my clever thinking and my goal-orientated actions, all I’m doing is digging myself deeper into the hole.

 

We can’t try to ‘do nothing’ or ‘think nothing’ either – ‘freezing’ isn’t the answer. Who is the one who has to ‘do nothing’ or ‘think nothing’, after all? If we tried to ‘do nothing’ then we would identify with the one who is trying to do it; if we try to ‘have no thoughts’ then we would be identifying with the proposed ‘non-thinker’! The trap is that we are ‘identified’ with a particular idea of ourselves; a particular idea of ourselves that has been created by our thinking (by our resistance, in other words). All of our thinking, all of our purposeful activity, comes from this particular idea of who we are and so how are these plans and strategies ever going to work? Any method (any method whatsoever) that we are presented with is always going to be used by this ‘idea of myself’ to perpetuate itself and so how is this going to help matters any? How is any method or strategy ever going to genuinely help us, rather than proving to be just another level of the trap for us to get caught in?

 

We keep on talking about ‘skills’ and ‘tools’ in the world of mental health care – but who do we imagine is going to use the skills, use the tools? Who is it really in aid of? All of this effort and technology is in the service of the mind-created self (which is to say, ‘the conditioned identity’) not in aid of who we truly are. We have no allegiance to ‘who we truly are’. We know nothing about our true unconditioned nature; we don’t even have any curiosity – we think we know everything already. All strategies, all cleverness belongs to the conditioned identity – consciousness (which is our true nature) has no need of such tricks however. The conditioned identity relies on controlling because that’s how it comes into being, because that’s how it is maintained and perpetuated, but consciousness has nothing whatsoever to do with control. If it has something to do with anything, it is honesty, which is somehow the one thing we tend to overlook in our overly-technical approach to mental healthcare. When honesty comes into the picture (instead of controlling) then the phenomenon of ‘self-reflection’ comes to an end and the door to the trap suddenly swings open…

 

 

 

 

The Exclusive Existence of the Conditioned Self

Whatever we plan for, hope for, anticipate, dread, whatever we imagine life to have in store for us, whatever we feel life to mean to us, or signify to us, we do on the basis of a conception of ourselves that is entirely wrong, entirely lacking in any truth at all. We do all of this planning, hoping, anticipating, dreading, imagining, etc, on the basis of us having some kind of ‘private’ existence, some kind of existence that is ours alone, an existence which no one else can share. “For the waking there is one common world, but when asleep each person turns away to a private one.” says, Heraclitus [Fragment 22]. This is an ‘exclusive’ type of a life therefore – it is a life that we lead in exclusion of everyone else. We live as if we alone truly have a life, as if ours alone is the only life that truly matters…

 

We will of course strenuously object to this suggestion – it sounds very much as if we are being accused of being narcissist or a psychopath, or something of that sort, and naturally this is not something that we would want to go along with. There is no kudos in being narcissistically self-absorbed and callously indifferent to the lives of all other human beings! Our objections are disingenuous however; we all know well enough that there is a core of truth in this ‘accusation’. It is very much inherent in the actual nature of the concrete self to only really value its own private or exclusive existence – that pretty much goes with the territory. That’s pretty much what everyday egoic existence is all about – that’s the nature of experience that comes with this mode of being in the world…

 

Intellectually, we know that other people exist and have lives that matter and so we are generally respectful of this to some degree or other (although not always, obviously) but this does not mean that we experience other peoples’ lives as being ‘just as real as ours’ – clearly we don’t. As we have said, the experience of ‘being this self’ is the same thing as ‘not being any other self’. This is necessarily an exclusive rather than an inclusive kind of a thing; there is no such thing as an inclusive self, a self that includes everything – there was then that wouldn’t be ‘a self’, it would be reality, which but its nature is unbounded, undivided, unfragmented. The mechanics of the self involves ‘not-self’, just as the mechanics of UP always involves DOWN.

 

All of this talk of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ and ‘psychopathy’ is therefore a bit of a red herring. The ego – by its very nature – is a purse narcissist, a pure psychopath. We just don’t to see this because we are committed to that modality of existence, and so we have to make the best of it. We have to put the best possible spin on it that we can, and part of this spin involves demonizing anyone who makes obvious to us all these less-attractive aspects of selfhood. The state of ‘being a self’ is the state of being an encapsulated and therefore fundamentally alienated narcissist and there is no point being squeamish about this. There are of course varying degrees to which consciousness gets trapped in the capsule of the self – we can be partially free from this grim prison in our everyday lives – but if we imagine (as we do) that the self could ever be ‘non-narcissistic’ or ‘non-psychopathic’ in its essential nature then we are simply fooling ourselves…

 

Once we have got this straight (and we’re not going to get anywhere until we do) then we have at the same time got another thing straight too – we are now able to appreciate the true absurdity of our position as conditioned egos, which comes about as we have said because of the way in which we have been unwittingly compelled to live our lives on a completely false basis. As we started off this discussion by saying, we are – whether we want to admit it or not – living (on some deep unacknowledged level) as if our life were the only one that is truly real, the only one that really counts. Each one of us is doing this (we’re all doing this in tandem) and that’s what conditioned existence is all about! Living life on this basis however guarantees that our so-called ‘life’ will not be real. Life lived within the closed remit of the rational-conceptual mind (which is the same thing as life lived as a compartmentalized self) is always unreal.

 

Consciousness is not exclusive, only the thinking mind is exclusive in its operation and the thinking mind is not who we are. How can the thinking mind be who we are when it is only a device that we are using, when it is only a way of arbitrarily organizing things? The thinking mind is a pattern of organization but who we are is not this arbitrary pattern but what it is that is being organized. We are the medium not the waves that are being propagated through that medium; we are consciousness itself, not the thoughts or ideas or memories that consciousness facilitates. Consciousness is always whole, never divided. Because it is always whole it has no ‘selves’ within it! It is quite ‘selfless’ in other words although using this term tends to confuse matters because it sounds like some sort of lofty moral stance that we are taking; it sounds like some kind of ‘moral attainment’. Selflessness most definitely isn’t a moral attainment however because the only one who could be ‘attaining’ anything is the one we are trying to get rid of! The only one who could be attaining anything is the self and the self can hardly be expected to attain the state of selflessness, very obviously!  This would be like a fish learning how to be ‘unfish’, as Wei Wu Wei says.

 

What this means is that the whole of what we call ‘morality’ and ‘moral behaviour’ is really just a preposterous façade. It’s a big joke that we’re just not getting. It’s the narcissist pretending to be non-narcissistic; it’s the psychopath pretending to care! This is hardly going to prove to be a very popular viewpoint on things but that’s purely because our allegiance lies squarely with the ‘comforting illusion’ rather than the inconvenient truth. This isn’t a cynical approach however – we’re not saying that people are at root psychopaths or narcissists but rather that when we operate on the basis of thought (which inevitably entails imagining ourselves to be this compartmentalized or isolated ‘self’) then we can’t really care about anything other than this ‘self that we mistakenly think we are’. It’s not that we can’t be genuinely caring and compassionate, just that we can’t be genuinely caring and compassionate at the same time as being the ‘compartmentalized’ or ‘mind-created self’!

 

The mind-created self possesses no virtues, much as it likes to imagine that it does. It has no virtues because it has no freedom – very clearly there can be no virtue without freedom. If I am being compelled to do whatever it is that I am doing without seeing that I am being compelled then nothing that I do has any ‘virtue’ because nothing that I do has anything to do with who I actually am! This is not too hard to see if we want to see it – if I am pretending to be somebody without letting on to myself that I am doing this, then how could anything that I am doing on this false basis ever be said to be truly virtuous (speaking in the Daoist sense here rather than the conventional Christian sense)? Nothing can come out of a false basis other than further falsehoods, nothing can come of a lie except more lies…

 

Virtue can only arise from who we really are, not from the mask that we are wearing without knowing that we are wearing it. The mask (or persona) cannot care and it cannot genuinely mean anything it says; sincerity is not a possibility for the persona (since it is nothing else but a pose or posture that we have arbitrarily struck) and if there is no sincerity then clearly no virtue can ever arise. We have created an arid situation, therefore. The mind-created self (which is a mere mechanism) can’t really feel, it can’t really care, it can’t ever be genuinely happy and it can never know true peace… P.D. Ouspensky says something to the effect that wherever anger, jealousy, pride, bitterness etc arise, this always points directly to the existence of what he calls ‘the false personality’; the false personality can experience only the lower emotions (‘the six poisons’ in Buddhism and Vedanta) – the higher emotions (for example, love, humour, compassion, awe, sympathetic joy) only being possible when we transcend this concrete self.

 

If there is one thing that we can be sure of it is this – the conditioned identity doesn’t want to know the truth about itself. It doesn’t want to know that it is unfree and that everything it thinks and does is simply the result of it slavishly obeying one mechanical impulse after another. To know this would be to have the bubble of apparent autonomy burst and without this bubble functioning correctly the self cannot continue believing in itself. In order to hide the unpalatable truth of our profound lack of autonomy from ourselves what we do is that we align ourselves completely with each mechanical impulse that comes along; we make the immediate fulfilment of the mechanical impulse the most important thing in the world to us and this is how we create the illusion of self! The self equals ‘the arbitrary imposition of extrinsic order upon the world’ and just as long as we refuse to question or examine just what exactly we are doing here the outrageous absurdity of our conditioned existence is kept safely invisible to us.

 

The absurdity derives from the fantasy image that we have of ourselves, as Gurdjieff. In this fantasy-version of reality we possess all the virtues (or ‘qualities’) that make life worthwhile, that make life actually liveable. We possess free volition and sincerity, we are able to feel love or compassion for other people, we have the possibility of being genuinely happy or peaceful, we have the possibility of connecting with the world around us, and with the people around us; we have the capacity of ‘behaving unselfishly’, and so on. All of this is fantasy however; as long as we are identified with the mind-created self none of this is even remotely true; it’s true for who we really are but not for who we think we are. Buying into this convenient fantasy package means therefore that we have made truth into our adversary; we can only serve one master after all – either we serve the truth or we serve the protective fantasy….

 

This is – as we need hardly point out – an utterly ridiculous situation to get caught up in. Either we live the incredibly constrained (if not to say entirely futile) life of the narcissistically encapsulated self-concept which is forever trying to prove that it is more than it actually is (and more than it ever could be) or we live a life in which we genuinely can be more than just the encapsulated bubble of the unreal private self. These are the two possibilities and – somehow – it is the first one that we have opted for, and steadfastly continue to opt for. It isn’t of course right to represent this as some sort of straightforward ‘choice that we make’ – if it was then it would be very hard (to say the least) so see why we would ever go for option number one, which is, as we have said, where we have to struggle continuously (in what is actually an entirely futile fashion) to achieve something for ourselves that we can never actually have. If this was what life was all about and there was nothing else for it but to create  – as best we can – a fantasy life for ourselves in which we can get somewhere worthwhile on the basis of ‘the encapsulated self’, then that would perhaps be a different matter. But this is not the case – we always do have the ‘option’ (so to speak) of moving towards reality (and all the ‘virtues’ or ‘qualities’ it contains) instead of moving away from it in the direction of ever-increasing futility, sterility and self-deception.

 

If this were a straightforward choice between ‘option 1’ and ‘option 2’ then it would be something of a ‘no-brainer’, as the popular parlance has it, but the whole point of conditioned (or unconscious) life is that we don’t see anything clearly, least of all the path that we have unwittingly opted to go down, which is ‘the path of suffering’.  A perfect example of our blindness is our approach to mental health, which always involves the attempt to repair and return to its proper functioning the everyday conditioned self, which is the self that it made up of nothing other than an arbitrary collection of limits which we have, out of unacknowledged fear, attached ourselves to. The life of this self – which can never honestly relate to anything or anyone, for fear of ‘bursting its own bubble’ – is always going to be prominently blighted with suffering and frustration, no matter how much we try to cover it up and live – as a pain-avoiding strategy – entirely superficially as ‘an image in image world’. This is of course the Buddha’s First Noble Truth, which states that conditioned life is suffering (or dukka); this does not means that life itself is bound to be filled with frustration and pain (which is how the ‘Truth of Suffering’ very much tends to be understood in the ego-orientated West) but simply that the life of the conditioned or partitioned self is always going to be fundamentally unsatisfactory. If we were to cease to identify ourselves so rigidly with our walls, our boundaries, our tight definitions of who or what we are, then life would become much more than it currently is – we would not be arbitrarily it and so of course it would become much more than it currently is!

 

Our whole approach in mental health is however – as we have just said – to repair the ego-self, this isolated (and therefore alienated) narrow notion of who we are. If our problem, as Wei Wu Wei says, is one of ‘mistaken identity‘, then all we’re doing is re-affirming the mistake! then All of our therapies, all of our methods, all of our technologies are about repairing the sense of ourselves as separate isolated (or ‘exclusive’) egos so that we can go back to the consensus world that we have created for ourselves, which is a world made up entirely of ‘ego-games’, a world made up of pointless games for the ego to play….

 

The bottom line is that our hidden agenda – as a collective, as a society – isn’t to heal people or support them on a journey towards their own wholeness, their own individuation. As Robert Anton Wilson says, this was never the aim of any society! Our aim or agenda as a society is always simply to perpetuate the system, to keep it going no matter what price this may require in terms of human suffering. Society has a vested interest in fixing us when we get too unhappy to be able to function in it anymore, but it has no interest at all in our actual mental health. This consumerism-based world of ours actually needs us to be narcissists in order for it to continue functioning, as many commentators (see for example Tim Kasser in this article in the Huffington Post) have said…

 

We may not be having that much fun (in any real sense) but we carry on with the insecurity-driven ego-games that we’re playing all the same and whilst this may not do us any good at all, it’s good for this thing called ‘the economy’! The point is then, that we’re not living life for ourselves (for ourselves as we really are, underneath the facade) but rather that we’re living life for the facade, and this facade isn’t actually a real thing…

 

 

Art: Auguste Toulmouche – Vanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Devaluation Of Consciousness

Consciousness is the least valuable commodity there is – we can sell just about everything else but we can’t sell this! Consciousness is garbage to us; we would not stoop to pick it off the street. It’s worse than garbage actually – consciousness is something that we have put on the banned list, it is something that we make every effort to keep at a safe distance. Consciousness is the uninvited guest at the party who will be thrown out unceremoniously by heavily armed security men if she ever dares to show her face…

 

To say that consciousness is inconvenient to us is of course to put it very mildly indeed! Consciousness is the one thing that is guaranteed to upset every apple-cart. It is guaranteed to throw all of our structures into disarray, and reduce them to rubble in moments. Consciousness destabilizes our structures to the point where they are not able to exist anymore. It falsifies all of the assumptions that our systems rest upon. How then can we possibly value consciousness, given that we are so very heavily invested in all of these structures and systems that we have created? To value consciousness is to value truth and truth is the very last thing we want to know about in this modern world of ours, no matter what we say.

 

It might seem that we live in an enlightened era which exists in stark contrast to earlier times when the human race was ruled by ignorance, prejudice and superstition, but if we think this then we’re looking at things with rose-tinted spectacles. People are not behaving very differently, when it comes down to it. What has happened (and it is admittedly very dramatic) is that we have got a lot better at controlling our physical environment and manipulating whatever we are able to manipulate. We can pull off a lot of tricks and they are quite spectacular. We have become very skilful at carrying out certain technical manoeuvres but if this skilfulness exists without any relationship to actual consciousness, then we’re in big trouble – to put it mildly. When there is no consciousness in the picture (and there isn’t) then things can hardly be expected to work out well…

 

If we have this hugely enhanced ability to manipulate the physical world but at the same time our actual level of awareness hasn’t changed very much (if at all) then we are in heading in one direction only and that is the direction of deceiving ourselves, and then enslaving ourselves with our self-deceptions. It has been said many times that when our cleverness outstrips our wisdom then we’re headed for disaster and how could this be otherwise? We don’t tend to see this because we imagine that technological prowess and understanding is the same thing as wisdom, but this is very far from being the case. The tools might be impressive but the user of the tool most definitely is not; our agenda for using all of the tools that we have access to is not impressive – on the contrary, it is distinctly uninspiring. It’s all pretty squalid. We’re only ever concerned with personal advantage; we’re only ever concerned with promoting the interests of the narrow little group that we’re affiliated with and this allegiance to the self or the group is a symptom of unconsciousness not consciousness.

 

Consciousness has no agenda whilst the rational mind always does. The rational mind cannot not have an agenda and its agenda has nothing to do with becoming conscious. The only way we can become conscious (or ‘globally aware’) is when we drop all of our rational agendas and it can be readily seen that our contemporary rational/technology culture has absolutely interest in doing any such thing. If we have an enhanced ability to control, and we are moreover very much invested in control and the outcome of controlling, then why on earth would we want to relinquish all our agendas? Actually, dropping our agendas turns out to be the very same thing as dropping the rational-conceptual mind and we definitely aren’t about to do this anytime soon! When it comes down to it, we think that we are the rational-conceptual mind and so of course we aren’t about to drop it – that would be the psychological equivalent to suicide. That would be throwing away the thing we hold most precious.

 

This – we might say – is our biggest delusion – the delusion that we are the thinking mind, that we are the same as our thoughts about who we are. As long as this is the case then it goes without saying that we won’t have any genuine interest in becoming conscious. Becoming conscious would mean sacrificing our precious illusions about who we are. Instead, we’re going to be very interested indeed in controlling because we imagine that if we get very good at controlling then we will be able to produce some especially favourable conditions for ourselves. Producing especially advantageous circumstances or conditions for ourselves is our chief interest; it’s just about our only interest. Although we may not necessarily put it quite like this, our Number One Assumption in life is the belief that if we get very good at controlling then this will mean that we will be able to bring about the ultimately beneficial situation for ourselves. Naturally enough, this (thoroughly deluded) thought has an enormous amount of appeal! It’s quite intoxicating…

 

We could hardly get things more wrong, however. We couldn’t get things more wrong – that would be an impossibility! The more we invest in controlling the more deluded we are, and the more trapped by our delusions we are. We are always looking for better and better outcomes and because of the intoxicating lure of ‘improving our situation’ we are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in cleverness and controlling. We are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in the rational mind, in other words. The more we invest ourselves in the rational mind however the more alienated from actual reality we become – our viewpoint is getting narrower and narrower the whole time as we focus more and more on the particular details that we are interested in. The more we specialize the less we are aware we are of the indefinable Whole; to know everything (or nearly everything) about one particular set of details at the expense of having any awareness or appreciation of the bigger picture is to be not-conscious. That is to be unconscious and being ‘unconscious’ is very clearly what we as a culture are all about. We’re not about the bigger picture at all – we think that our narrow rational understanding of the world is the bigger picture! We call anything else an illusion…

 

Our assumption is then that the outcome, the special conditions that we will have brought about with our skilful controlling, will be highly beneficial for us, highly advantageous for us. We are on this accounted highly attracted to the goal or outcome that we see in front of us – it exerts a tremendous magnetic effect on our attention. But how can a mind-created illusion (because that’s what it is) possibly be ‘beneficial’ or ‘advantageous’? How can it possibly do us any good? The answer is of course that it can’t do us any good; it will actually do us harm – over-valuing a mind-created illusion is bound to cause us harm because we’re neglecting what matters in favour of what doesn’t matter. Only the Whole can be beneficial, only the Whole can do us any good, but we have no regard for it. We have no regard or respect for the Whole – all we care about is our controlling and what this controlling is supposed to bring about for us. We’re obsessed with our narrow agenda and this agenda is purely toxic.

 

On the face of it, what we value is the desired goal-state, as we have just said; we value the special conditions that are going to be so beneficial to us. If we go deeper into it however we can see that this means we must also value the abstract viewpoint that gives rise to the mirage of the goal (or to which this goal seems so meaningful and so important). Without this narrow, abstracted way of looking at the world the goal means nothing at all. In simple terms – if we value the goal at which we are aiming, and which is exciting us so much, then we also have to value the state of ignorance that gives rise to it. Whether we want to admit it or not, we actually value our own ignorance and so – this being the case – of course we don’t value consciousness.

 

We either have it one way or the other therefore – we can’t have it both ways and the way that we have chosen to have it is to protect and preserve our own ignorance at all costs. The thinking mind can’t operate any other way, strange as it may sound to say this. The thinking mind has to ignore the Whole Picture because if it doesn’t then all its deliberations, all its activities, immediately become entirely meaningless. What ‘goal’, what ‘outcome’, what ‘specially-engineered situation’ can hold a candle to the Whole, after all? The ‘Whole’ we’re talking about here isn’t some kind of metaphysical fancy – it’s what actually exists. It’s the only thing that exists. The part, the fraction, the detail, only seems to exist when we pretend that the Whole isn’t there – this is the game that thought is playing. Reality itself doesn’t not contain any divisions; it does not come with any boundaries or limits.

 

The thinking mind is a jealous god and it doesn’t look kindly upon any extra-curricular activities, anything that doesn’t support the party line, anything that doesn’t have anything to do its all-important goals, anything that doesn’t support it’s all-important agenda. As we read in Saying 47 of the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said: It is not possible for a man to ride two horses or stretch two bows; and it is not possible for a servant to serve two masters, unless he honours the one and insults the other. …

Once we’re in the business of controlling then consciousness goes out of the window straightaway because consciousness is what lies outside of the framework of thought. Consciousness is what doesn’t serve the master of the thinking mind. The engine of thought and all of its devices requires a lot of investment; as we keep saying, this means that anything which has ‘no relevance’ to our viewpoint (i.e. anything that doesn’t fit with our prosaic assumptions) has to be forgotten about. We have no time for it; we have no regard for it. We’re far too busy with the endeavours that the mind sees as important. Yet what we’re forgetting about is Everything because the special goal-state we’re lavishing our attention on isn’t real. It’s not part of ‘Everything’ because it’s a mind-created abstraction. What we think is important is never ‘where it’s happening’ – on the contrary, it’s always where it isn’t happening! There’s nothing more sterile than thought’s creations.

 

We’re always looking in the wrong direction – we’re always looking in a direction that isn’t even a direction. We’re deludely convinced we’re onto something but we’re not. We’re gambling everything on the wrong thing because even if we did win the prize it wouldn’t do us any good. It wouldn’t do us any good because the prize is a mind-created abstraction and so we would have to become a mind-created abstraction too in order to believe in it, in order for it to seem substantial to us. We would have to become a ghost, in other words – we would have to become a ghost whilst still alive. Chasing the glittering images which the mind creates in such abundance means that we have turned our back on reality itself, and what possible good do we expect to come from this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accepting Our Own Non-Acceptance

One of the biggest delusions that we are up against when we start practicing mindfulness (and there are many) is the delusion that we can (and indeed ought to) ‘accept ourselves’. This erroneous belief translates into a lot of frustration, a lot of suffering. It is therefore crucially important to realize – before we move on to anything else – that accepting ourselves is not something that we can ever do on purpose.

 

The very idea that we can or ought to be able to accept ourselves (or accept anything else for that matter) is self-contradictory – if I am trying to accept myself then clearly the reason for this is that I am not accepting of myself and so what I’m actually doing here – as Alan Watts says – is that I am ‘rejecting my own non-acceptance of myself’. So what I’m actually doing isn’t acceptance at all – ‘its non-acceptance flying under the flag of acceptance’. The way that I actually am is not-accepting and rather than accepting this non-acceptance of mine and seeing it in an impartial or unbiased way I am rejecting it – I’m rejecting it because I’m trying to change it. What I am really doing here is ‘rejecting myself as I actually am’ and this is – of course – exactly what I normally do anyway. Nothing has changed therefore – I’m at my old tricks again (as usual) and yet I’m hoping that things will somehow work out differently this time.

 

Acceptance can never happen as a result of a deliberate action or strategy on our part. Deliberate or purposeful action always comes out of our thinking and anything that happens as a result of thinking always comes about as a result of our non-acceptance of the way things actually are. Thought can never accept and acceptance isn’t a thought! We only think when we are interested in changing the way things are – if we were happy with things being the way that they are then where’s the need to think, where’s the need to control? If we don’t want to change anything then where’s the need for a method or strategy? Leaving things as they already are doesn’t require any strategizing, after all. There’s no problem and so there’s no need to intervene. Things can be ‘left as they are’ and so where’s the need for striving? Thought isn’t acceptance. Thought is resistance and resistance is thought, and this is all we ever know, generally speaking. We are all ‘addicted to control’ and if there are problems we automatically assume that this is because we’re not controlling effectively enough…

 

‘Acceptance’ has nothing to do with control – the one is the antithesis of the other. We can of course try to control ourselves to accept – we can try to control ourselves to accept until we’re blue in the face but it won’t do us any good! It won’t do us any good because we’re caught up in a self-contradicting struggle; we’re in a loop – we’re trying to control ourselves to stop controlling. So what can we do then? How do we free ourselves from the self-contradiction of trying to ‘accept on purpose’? The key to this apparently impossible dilemma is simply to notice the way things are, and getting better at leaving a gap between us ‘noticing the way things are’ and our automatic reacting, our automatic attempt to ‘do something about the situation that we have just noticed’. We’re can’t create a gap on purpose because control (or purposefulness) always ‘closes the gap’ – purposefulness is all about closing the gap between the way things are and the way we want them to be. What we can do however is to take an interesting in noticing the process that is taking place when we ‘automatically react’. Normally we don’t ‘notice ourselves reacting’, we just react and that is it. All of our energy, all of our ‘interest’ goes into the reacting and there is none left over to notice anything!

 

There is always a gap there between the awareness of what is going on and our automatic reacting to it (which is our thinking) and so just as soon as we do take an interest in the proceedings we will sooner or later notice it. The noticing itself is the gap, when it comes down to it – whenever we are aware of something there must always be a gap because without a gap between the noticing and the reacting there actually isn’t any noticing! This means that we aren’t creating a gap but rather we are just taking the time to get in touch with our own awareness, the awareness that was there all the time. Our awareness is never not there – it is just hidden beneath all the thinking, beneath all the reacting, all the compulsive goal-orientated activity. Another way of making this point is to say that the ‘key to everything’ is simply to be open to the truth. We simply have to notice the truth of what is going on without needing to worry about either accepting or not accepting it. So instead me of trying to ‘accept myself’ I just see the truth of the matter, which is that I do not accept myself. I own up to the fact that I am not at all accepting of myself and so there is no contradiction here. There is no contradiction and there is no needed for any sort of straining or striving. ‘The seeing is the doing’, says Krishnamurti.

 

What is really happening here is that we are taking back our freedom not to have to be scheming and calculating all the time. Only we’re not ‘taking it back’ because we had never really lost it in the first place. We’re just reconnecting with it. Somehow what happens to us is that we get ‘taken over by our own cleverness’ (so to speak) and as a result of being ‘taken over’ in this way by the rational faculty we think that cleverness (or rationality) is the answer to everything. We don’t have anything else but our cleverness – it’s as if we are our cleverness, it’s as if we are the rational intellect, whilst the truth of the matter is that we are much, much more than this. We are far more than just our rational-computational faculty – what we really are is this ‘capacity to unconditional accept’ that we have been talking about. The rational mind is pure and simply a system of limitations, it is the ‘incapacity to unconditionally accept’, whilst who we are in our essence is unlimited. It could be said that the thinking mind is a structure, whilst who we are in our essence isn’t any kind of ‘structure’ at all but the space within which all structures exist. We are this ‘all-accepting, all-facilitating space’, not the events that happen within it…

 

It sounds peculiarly passive (and therefore irresponsible) to say that we are our true nature ‘accepts everything’ – that sounds to us like being a doormat, as the expression has it. But awareness doesn’t accept in the sense of ‘passively going along with things’, it accepts in the sense of not being afraid of anything. Whatever is there it sees unflinchingly, in other words; it has no ‘preference’ about what it sees. When we put it like this therefore we can see that being ‘all-accepting’ isn’t a sign of weakness at all but rather it is an indication of tremendous strength. Our true or inherent nature is this tremendous strength therefore – it is the quality of strength that doesn’t need to ‘do something about it’. It is our false ‘cleverness’ that always needs to be ‘doing something about our situation’, that always has to have tactics and strategies ready at hand; it is our cleverness or trickiness that is weak and which, because of its weakness, always has to ‘go along with things’. It goes along with its own need to control, its own need to ‘prop itself up’. The thinking mind accuses unconditioned consciousness of being weak when in reality it is completely the other way around! Thought is always resisting because it always has a position to defend; awareness on the other hand has no need to resist because it is not tied to any precarious position that it needs to protect.

 

If we think that we ‘have to accept ourselves’ then this impression or belief is coming out of weakness rather than strength. If I feel that I need to ‘do something about my situation’ then this feeling comes out of my weakness not my strength. It is coming from my false idea of who I am, not who I actually am! Resistance (and also fear) always comes out of a false idea of who I am! ‘How then do I overcome my weakness?’ I might ask. I most probably will ask this. But the glitch here is clear – as soon as I feel that I have to do something about my situation and try to act on the basis of this impression then I am acting on the basis of weakness. Trying to remedy my weakness is a manifestation of weakness just as trying to overcome my fear is a manifestation of fear. We’re only going around in circles here. I’m not making things better no matter what I do; I am making problems no matter what tack I take. I am compounding weakness with yet more weakness, I am trying to overcome fear with more fear and this is just not going to help me…

 

When we see this glitch everything tends to seem utterly hopeless. How can I possibly get out of this? Every time I try to do something about my situation I am acting out of weakness and if I try to do something about that then I am still acting out of weakness. And yet at the same time I can’t not react; I am powerless – it seems – not to try to ‘do something about it’. I am compelled to try to fix or correct my situation. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of cope here therefore. There doesn’t seem to be any scope – the situation shows every indication of being a dead loss! What’s ‘hopeless’ however isn’t the situation but our distorted understanding of it; what’s ‘hopeless’ is our proposed ability to purposefully get things to be the way we want them to be. That’s a ‘no go’ for sure but nothing else is. Everything else is working just fine, just as it always did, just as it always will do. The insurmountable problems only exist in our rational/purposeful understanding, in other words.

 

Who we are in reality isn’t the idea that we have of ourselves; who we really are isn’t the limited and brittle concept we have of ourselves and so it doesn’t really matter that resolving the problem in the way that the mind-created image of ourselves would like to see it resolved is a ‘no go’. That doesn’t matter at all. It seems to matter an awful lot when we are identified with the mind-created image of who we are but because the impression that the mind-created self has of the situation is entirely illusory, entirely without substance, the fact that we think that there is an insurmountable problem isn’t a genuine obstacle! It’s just the illusory appearance of an obstacle – it’s the illusory appearance of a problem that is taken very serious by the imagined idea of who we think we are. The view that the self-concept has of the situation is illusory (just as that imagined self is) and this brings us to the crux of the matter. The concept of ourselves which is who we think we are can’t accept anything unconditionally – it simply doesn’t have the capacity to do so since it itself is a ‘conditional’ entity. But this doesn’t matter because it was never up to this fragile sense of self to do the ‘accepting’ – only consciousness, which is who we really are, can unconditionally accept.

 

As we cease to believe so much that we are this narrow and brittle little ‘idea of ourselves’ our capacity to accept (or be present with) our situation increases. This ‘capacity’ increases because we’re not relying upon an illusion to do the accepting, because we’re not relying on an illusion to be present! Unconditioned awareness accepts everything because it is its nature to do so not because we are requiring it to do so, or because we are instructing it to do so, and this shows the essential difference between the self and awareness:

 

The self operates on the basis of being told (or instructed) what to do and its nature is to resist (or judge), whilst awareness does what is in its nature to do (without the need to be directed or controlled) and its nature is to be impartial to everything, just as the sun shines impartially on everything or just as the rain falls impartially on everything.

 

Awareness and the conditioned self ‘run on two very different principles’, so to speak.We often hear the definition of mindfulness or being mindful as ‘being aware of what is happening as it is happening without judging what is happening’ and this is fine – the only thing about this is that the self can never refrain from judging, any more than the rational mind can refrain from analyzing or classifying things. To ask the self not to judge (i.e. to require the self to ‘unconditionally accept’) is to ask for the impossible. But we can clearly see that the conditioned self can never ‘not judge’, and this is a basic psychological insight. This is something that we can ‘get’. When we do see this then it could be said that we are ‘accepting ourselves as we are’, or that we are ‘accepting ourselves for what we are’. But the point about this is that the self is not unconditionally accepting the self here (that could never happen, as we have said), but rather we are being aware of the self and its nature (without judging it for having the nature that it does have), which is a very different thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Deprogramming Consciousness

Conscious work (which is the only kind of work worthy of the name) can be very simply explained by saying that it is when we don’t exercise prejudice. Or rather, it is when we allow ourselves to see that we are operating on the basis of prejudice since there is no way to prevent ourselves from doing so! Going against our biases doesn’t undo them, it compounds them, it makes them more complicated, more convoluted. If I fight against my prejudices then all this does is to drive them underground, and at the same time give them even more power over me…

 

In meditation training we practice ‘observing the mind of like and dislike’, which is the only way to find freedom from that mind. We can’t become free from the mind of like and dislike by being prejudiced against that mind, by taking against it (or by supposedly ‘acting against it’). If we act against anything we are inevitably acting out our prejudices – all purposeful behaviour is prejudice-driven, just as all control is biased. My purposes are my prejudices; my attempt to control is the manifestation of my bias, my ‘prejudice with regard to outcome’.

 

When we exercise prejudice or bias but do not take the trouble to be aware that this is what we are doing then this is ‘non-work’. If conscious work is how we free ourselves from the mind of like and dislike then non-work is how we sign ourselves up to be its (unconscious) slaves! One way we get back our freedom, our independence, the other way we lose it (and also lose the ability to know that we have lost it). One way we come ‘back to ourselves’, so to speak, the other way we disappear under the weight of mechanical programming. The other way we get to donate our life-energy to the mechanical system, and make it stronger than ever…

 

There are only two possibilities in life – either we work consciously or we work unconsciously. Either we move in the direction of awareness or we fall deeper and deeper into the state of sleep, into the realm of fantasy. When we are involved in conscious work our fantasies are revealed to us as fantasies, and when we (unwittingly) allow ourselves to be operated by the mechanical system then these fantasies congeal and coagulate all around us, inexorably driving out anything else, anything of a ‘non-fantasy’ nature. Our fantasies solidify around us like quick-setting concrete and as a result all genuine movement (or ‘growth’) ceases.

 

We might ask why it is that there is this inexorable pull in the direction of ‘falling asleep’, the direction of ‘identifying with the mechanical system and allowing it to live out its crude ‘pseudo-life’ through us – as if this were of any value to anyone. Why do we give way so limply, so feebly, so resignedly to all the programming, instead of rebelling against it and persevering with this revolution until we had recovered our own true voice, our own true nature? Why do we let what Colin Wilson calls ‘the internal robot’ live our lives for us? Why – when a bias or prejudice gets activated – are we so keen to put every last drop of our precious life-energy at its disposal? What kind of perversity is this?

 

The point is that when we act out the bias something is being perpetuated. Something is being perpetuated that ‘wants’ to be perpetuated (so to speak). To not act out the prejudice that has been activated is to refrain to perpetuate this ‘thing that want to be perpetuated’, whatever it is. We are going against some kind of blind mechanical force. As we have already said however, we can’t actually wilfully prevent ourselves from acting out the prejudices or biases (although we might think that we can) but what is possible is for us to be aware that we are acting them out. If I take the trouble to be aware of what I am doing (instead of just automatically validating the behaviour) this makes a very big difference however. If I am aware of myself ‘obeying the rule’ this is actually the same as me ‘not obeying the rule’ because obeying the mechanical rule also means not seeing that we are obeying it. That’s part and parcel of the rule so already I am rebelling, already I am breaking free of its control. To become aware is an act of subversion; it’s an act of insubordination – we’re not supposed to be aware, we’re supposed to obediently swallow the official story!

 

There’s actually nothing we can do in order to become more conscious. It’s not a matter of ‘doing’ – when we purposefully do something it’s because there’s something we want to gain and something we want to avoid and this equals ‘a rule’, this equals ‘a bias’. Consciousness has nothing to do with rules and biases; it has nothing to do with trying to obtain one outcome rather than another. It has nothing to do with trying to reach one state of mind rather than another. If we are trying to reach some particular state of mind then this is simply the mechanical mind trying – as it always does try – to obtain what it sees as an advantage in the game its playing. Consciousness has nothing to do with trying to obtain the advantage…

 

The notion that some states of mind are closer to the truth than others is a typical delusion of the thinking mind. “The sufferings of birth and death are nirvana”, says Nichiren Daishonin… Whether a particular state of mind seems noble or ignoble, righteous or sinful, whether it is pleasurable or painful, triumphant or despairing depends entirely upon a wholly arbitrary point of view; the value we ascribe the mind-state depends upon the game we are playing, in other words. Take away the arbitrary POV, take away the game, and all states of mind are seen for what they truly are – nirvanic bliss. It’s only the biased or prejudiced viewpoint which is the self that divides everything into either good or bad, right or wrong, pleasure or pain. Whether a mental state is regarded as advantageous or disadvantageous is only so regarded from a wholly arbitrary viewpoint, the viewpoint of a self that doesn’t really exist.

 

What we may call ‘unconscious life’ is therefore driven by the compulsion to perpetuate an unreal self. When we are compelled to obey to act out our prejudices what we are really being compelled to do is to perpetuate a self that doesn’t actually exist! And by the same token, if we cease liking and disliking everything in sight (i.e. if we cease judging) then what we are really doing is that we are ceasing to promote or perpetuate this nonexistent self. As we have already pointed out however, we cannot deliberately or purposefully refrain from promoting or perpetuating the conditioned self because anything deliberate or purposeful is always done in service of the concrete sense of self. That’s what the word deliberate means – it means that the ‘me’ is doing it. That’s what ‘purposeful’ means – it means that there is a ‘me’ that has the purpose. What is possible however is for us to be aware of the judging, aware of the ceaseless activity of liking and disliking and in this gentle, unprejudiced awareness there is no ‘me’, there is no sense of there being a ‘concrete doer’.

 

No one does awareness, after all. Awareness is not a doing and there isn’t a right and a wrong way for it to happen. Being aware of the (unreal) self and its doing is work however because this awareness is not following the pre-existent pattern. Not only is awareness not following the pre-existent pattern, the established way of seeing and doing things, it is challenging that pre-existent pattern, it is going against that established order of things. The pattern cannot continue when there is awareness and so it could be said that awareness or consciousness is the enemy of the established order. This is always how it is – consciousness is always the enemy of the established order! Where there is consciousness there is change and change – needless to say – is the sworn enemy of the existing pattern, the existing way of seeing and doing things!

 

This is not to say that the mechanical mind (which is to say, the judging mind, the mind of like and dislike) is ‘the enemy of consciousness’. In one way it could of course be said that it is indeed the enemy since the mechanical system (whether we are taking about the ‘machine mind’ or the ‘machine world’ which is society) will automatically annihilate consciousness as a matter of course. It will gobble our awareness up in a flash like the big bad wolf, like Rumi’s ‘dragon in the snow’. The machine mind / machine world will, by its very nature, eliminate all traces of awareness by unceremoniously degrading or downgrading it into a system of mere mechanical reflexes. In this way the mechanical system may be said to be the enemy of consciousness, but in another way it is not an enemy at all but a helper. The mechanical order of things that does not – by its very nature – allow anything that is not itself is only our enemy when we are unaware of it, when we conform to it without knowing that we are conforming, when we do its bidding without seeing that we are. When we take the trouble to see what is happening however, the mechanical (or group) mind provides us with the necessary training ground (or gymnasium) to regain the freedom and independence that we have lost. As Paul Levi says, the mechanical system (the ‘dark father‘) then becomes the ‘worthy adversary’ which pushes us relentlessly and pitilessly to become who we truly are…

 

 

 

 

 

The Game Creator

The default situation is one in which consciousness is held prisoner by the thinking mind on a full time basis. We don’t ‘think’ that this is the default situation but it is. There are – we might say – two elements here: on the one hand there is the thinking mind (which is made up of repeating patterns) and on the other hand there is consciousness, its captive.

 

Consciousness is the fair maiden and the thinking mind the fearsome dragon! This dragon – as dragons usually are – is more than a match for any ordinary opponent. Only a hero has a chance against such a powerful adversary, and heroes are few and far between these days. They are somewhat thin on the ground – this, it is fair to say, is not an age for heroes. Consciousness, it appears, is not about to be freed from its grim prison any time soon…

 

In this age, in this modern ‘enlightened’ era, we have no understanding of consciousness as being in any way different or separate from the lumbering thinking mind. The suggestion that consciousness has its own life outside of thought and the realm created by thought does not tend to resonate particular strongly with us. It does not tend to resonate at all. Without the over-arching framework of thought (so we ‘think’!) what could consciousness possibly get up to? How could it be any use – what ends could it serve?

 

As we have just indicated, this is what we think, and the thinking mind never sees its own limitations. It never sees that there could be any life outside of it and its tiresome machinations. As far as thought is concerned everything has to be directed towards an end; if something isn’t serving some end or other then what use is it, what’s the point of it? This is the way rationality looks at things. Because we live in a world that is governed by thought, has been constructed by thought, nothing is given any value unless it serves some end. Thus, to say that something is ‘pointless’ or ‘useless’ is to roundly denigrate it; when we say this there is real viciousness, real unpleasantness in it – the thinking mind has no time for anything ‘useless’. But when we consider the bigger picture – which is something that the thinking mind cannot ever do, since it can only ever concern itself with a single slice of the pie, not the pie itself – we see that all this talk of things ‘having a purpose’ or ‘serving some end’ is quite ridiculous. When we gain a bit of perspective all of this talk becomes utterly nonsensical.

 

When we consider the whole pie (i.e. life as a whole) rather than just the slice then we see that the notion of purpose (or ‘having a purpose’) is pure foolishness. It is not simply foolish, it is deranged. ‘Uses’ or ‘purposes’ exist only in relation to the narrow view of things; they only come into being when we are looking at the relationship between the elements that we see as existing when we look at a partial  (or fractional) view of life. I can say that I am doing X because of Y, that Y is the reason for X and this works fine just as long as we are looking at the fractional view of the world (which is to say, when we are unconsciously excluding anything that does not fit into or have any bearing on this narrow viewpoint). Causality (or ‘purposefulness’) only has any meaning when we take the part to be the whole, in other words; it only has any validity when we are not relating to life / the world as a Whole, which is of course what it is.

 

Living life on the basis of ‘purposes’ or ‘uses’ is like robbing Peter to pay Paul – it only seems to work on the small scale of things. In reality – as we all know perfectly well – it doesn’t work at all!  In exactly the same way we can generate the illusion of ‘progress’ by taking a very narrow view of what’s going on , but this again is pure trickery – we’re only chasing ourselves around in circles. All we’re ever doing is keeping ourselves perpetually busy, perpetually ‘on the hop’. The thinking mind is always working towards some end or other; the thing about this however is that – in reality – there are no ends!

 

What happens when we reach one of these supposed ‘ends’? Clearly when we get to the end we stop; we stop because we have to stop, we stop because there’s nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. So we just sit there in our imaginary ‘end-point’, satisfied that we have now ‘got there’, satisfied that we have now ‘arrived’. We dig in, we set up camp; we get entrenched and start erecting heavy-duty fortifications (just in case something or someone wants to dislodge us). We’ve attained the prize and we’re not about to let someone take it away from us! So we make a meal of not moving on, of staying stuck in our so-called ‘end’ that isn’t an end at all but only something that the thinking mind has made up. We make a virtue of being stuck, aggressively ignoring or pushing away all the other possibilities that life has to offer and this is the way that consciousness gets to be held prisoner so effectively by the thinking mind.

 

This ‘imprisoning mechanism’ functions (we could say) on two levels. The first and primary level is the one that we have just been talking about: because of the way we see the arbitrary mind-created position as ‘who we are’ and then spend all of our time defending and promoting it, trying to make everything in our environment serve it, we never see that we don’t have to be doing this. We have – because of what the thinking mind is telling us – made a virtue of our stuckness, our unfreeness, which means that we are now totally and implacably resistant to hearing a word said against it. We have become stubborn, we have become obstinate and the more pressure we’re under the more stubborn and obstinate we become! This is one way which in which we are imprisoned – by being brainwashed by the thinking mind (which loves concrete categories and fixed viewpoints) into implacably resisting change, or by ‘celebrating a fixed and reality-resistant self’ (which is of course the same thing).

 

The secondary way in which consciousness is imprisoned by thought follows on from the first. The thing is that when we are identified with a fixed and reality-resistant self (i.e. when we reach the ‘terminal destination’ of who and what thought says we are) then we find of course that we suffer greatly from our stuckness. Stuckness is suffering, ‘stuck’ is another word for suffering. We have become sterile, we have become barren of possibilities – all we can do is to keep on going through the same old manoeuvres, the same old stale and tortuously familiar routines. The compulsory repetition of the old, the familiar is torture, even if we are at the same time perversely fond of it, so at this point, rather than being about ‘exploring the new’, life becomes all about entertaining ourselves so as to distract ourselves from being aware of our terminal stuckness.

 

Our modality of entertaining ourselves follows exactly the same pattern we started off with when we identified with the fixed or final viewpoint that is the conditioned self – we pick out an arbitrary position as being ‘an end in itself’ and then work as hard as we can towards attaining or realizing this end. Once we have an ‘end’ in mind then everything else becomes subsidiary to it; nothing exists for us or has any relevance unless it has some sort of relation to the goal we are trying to attain. We develop ‘tunnel vision’, in other words, and this tunnel vision over-simplifies reality for us so that everything becomes about either succeeding in our task or not succeeding. This is a profoundly unreflective state of mind- we are in no way interested in asking questions about why it is so great if we attain the goal, or so bad if we don’t. All our attention goes into the ‘how’ of the situation not the ‘why’. Then when we have attained the goal we move on to the next, and the next, and the next, ad infinitum.

 

This terminal unreflectiveness is precisely what ‘consciousness’s prison’. This is what makes up the jail that we are perpetually languishing in – the compulsion that we do not see as a compulsion, but our own free will. The compulsion that we are talking about here is the compulsion to obey the rules of the game that has been set up for us to play, without ever questioning them. The game that we are playing is our prison, in other words. We think we’re playing the game but we’re not – the game is compulsory, which is to say, the tables have been turned without us realizing it and the game is playing us!

 

The thinking mind is the game creator. If we were to know the thinking mind for what it is, we would know it as the creator of games! It doesn’t let us know it as such however – it veils its true nature from us better than anything is ever veiled. We never see the mind’s productions as games! To suggest to someone that their thoughts are merely games, and that the mind-created picture they have of themselves and the world is also a game is to invite incredulity, if not outright hostility. Our thoughts are serious; our idea or beliefs about ourselves and the world are deadly serious – wars are fought over these arbitrary mental constructs. Actually, all the wars that have ever been fought are ultimately over ideas that we refuse to see as just ‘ideas’, thoughts that we take as seriously as can be. All aggression, all violence, all cruelty comes from taking the productions of the thinking mind seriously, and never ever looking beyond them to their mechanical creator, the rule-based mind.

 

When we do see beyond the humourless productions of the thinking mind then this is consciousness escaping from its prison of seriously, its prison of ‘a game that it cannot see to be only a game’. A game, as we have said earlier, is where we have a tunnel vision of reality. What attracts us to the tunnel vision of reality is the very thing that strangles and suffocates us – it’s closure. We are attracted to having everything decided for us, everything determined for us, because it is safe, because there’s nothing there that is ever going to take us by surprise, because we never going to learn that what we previously took to be true isn’t actually true at all. That really isn’t the type of surprise we want to have! What we’re forever chasing after are definites, outcomes that makes sense within the accepted framework, outcomes that reflect the values of the accepted framework, outcomes that are the concrete manifestation of the accepted framework. We don’t like to have the uncertainty of not knowing whether we should chase after these outcomes or whether we should not – we like to have all of these details ‘decided for us’ by the game. [We don’t like freedom, in other words.]Then all we have to do is put all our efforts and attention into achieving the designated goals, the designated outcomes.  All we have to do is ‘successfully obey the rules’…

 

So playing the game ensures that we will never have to be reflective, and this means that everything is going to be ‘safe’. ‘Safety’ comes out of never being reflective, which is the same thing as never being conscious. We could also say therefore that the thinking mind keeps consciousness in prison by constantly finding tasks for it to do. We are kept constantly busy; we are constantly tied up with petty tasks. Hence Socrates says, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” It doesn’t matter what game we are playing, or what the goals are – that’s not the point. The point isn’t the real point. The real point is to keep us busy, to keep us tied up. That is the point behind all games. The ‘horror’ is pointless never-ending self-validating busy-ness therefore and this is exactly what our culture or ‘civilization’ provides us with on a full-time basis. That’s what our culture is all about – empty distractions, empty entertainment, futile tasks, all dressed up and made somehow glamorous. We are in thrall to Norton Juster’s The Terrible Trivium.

 

The prison is unremitting concrete purposefulness. Purposefulness is the prison because when we’re caught up in it (i.e. when we’re taking our purposes seriously) – then we’re just not there. We’re absent.There is no consciousness in concrete unremitting purposefulness and yet consciousness is who we are.

 

What happens if we stop being busy? We notice the world around us with all its wonders. What happens if we don’t stop, if we stay locked up in our sterile games? Then we notice neither the world around us nor ourselves….