Chasing Being

In this world we try to construct our being out of our doing – that’s the type of world we live in. This is the type of message we have been given right from the word ‘go’. We are encouraged to ‘do’, we are (to some extent or another) given support for our ‘doing’; we are on the other hand given zero encouragement to ‘be’, we are given zero support for our ‘being’. We’re actively penalized for ‘being’, since to be is to drop out of the social game that we are all playing, and ‘dropping out of the game’ has never been encouraged by any society.

 

‘Doing’ is very highly valued in the Western world – the implication is always that it will lead to something great, the implication is always that it will definitely need to some marvellous state of being. This is precisely where our error lies, therefore. Successful doing can of course lead to a highly desirable socially-constructed identity (just as being unsuccessful can lead to another, rather ‘less desirable’ type of socially–constructed identity), but ‘identity’ is not at all the same thing as being. It is a substitute for it, but it is not the same thing.

 

There is no being in identity! This is the same as saying that there is no being in a label, or no being in a mask – of course there isn’t! What could be hollower than a label or a mask? To chase after an identity as if this were the same thing as being is therefore the road to nowhere. No matter what sort of identity we obtain as a result of our efforts it’s not going to do it any good – all identities are the same, all identities are hollow. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a socially-approved identity or a socially-disapproved one, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a highly prized ‘winner identity’, or a not-so-highly-valued ‘loser identity’ that we have obtained for ourselves – it is hollow either way.

 

We never really look at this idea, the idea that says it is possible to be someone as a result of ‘successful doing’ (which is the idea that the idea that we can somehow find being through our doing). The pain caused by our lack of being drives us unrelentingly; it causes us to put that special emphasis on our goal-orientated activity. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with goals therefore, only that if the goal we are chasing secretly stands for our ‘missing being’ then the effort we are putting into this endeavour is always going to be wasted effort’. We are busy chasing an illusion in this case. Whenever we get too serious, too driven in relation to our goals this is because we are – unbeknownst to ourselves – trying to obtain ‘being’ as a result of our ‘successful doing’. Whenever we get humourlessly fixated in this way, then it is inevitably the case that we are actually trying to find our ‘missing being’. We are looking for it in a place there it isn’t, in a place where it never can be. How can our ‘missing being’ be tied up with the realisation of some concrete goal? Or to put this another way, how could we ever make a goal of finding our ‘missing being’ when we don’t have the faintest clue as to what this missing being is, or what on earth it would look like even if we did find it? How is this endeavour ever going to work out for us?

 

We don’t of course know that we are trying to find our missing being as a result of our tightly-focussed goal-orientated behaviour. If we knew that then we would be on the right track! We don’t know this at all – we don’t have the faintest clue as to what our real motivation is, we don’t actually have any reason to suspect that it isn’t what it declares itself to be. Our situation – therefore – is that we unconsciously believe that we can make up for our inner, invisible deficit (the deficit that comes with identifying with the mind-created image of ourselves) by engaging in the correct type of goal-orientated behaviour; a more conventional way of expressing this would be would simply be to say that we believe that we can ‘fundamentally or radically better ourselves’ on purpose, by pure effort of will.

 

In one sense (admittedly a very superficial sense) this assumption is true – by exercising and taking care of our physical body and eating well and adopting what is generally called a ‘healthy lifestyle’ we can indeed ‘improve our situation’; in terms of what really matters in life however – which is (we might say) ‘to reconnect with who we really are’ (or ‘re-engage with the authentic inner life that we have long-since forgotten about’) there are no logical/purposeful steps that we can take to bring this about. No one can make a goal of remedying their inner deficit (or rather we can do but not in a meaningful way) – no matter what goal it is we come up with, it’s never going to be more than an extension (or projection) of our own unconsciousness. Who we really are can’t be made into a ‘goal’ and so there can be no such thing as ‘the right type of goal-orientated behaviour that can somehow bring it into being’.

 

Goals are doing (just as theories and strategies and the actions that arise out of these theories are ‘doing’) and being can never come about as a result of doing! Not even the most determined, assiduous, high-intensity doing that there ever was can bring about actual being – if there isn’t any actual being at the beginning of things then there can’t be any at the end. Unreality can’t be turned into reality no matter how hard we labour at it! It is actually a deficit in being that drives all our overvalued purposeful activities – if we felt complete or full on the inside then of course we aren’t going to be ‘overly goal-orientated’. We would no longer be so very hungry, so very needy… As the mystics have been saying for thousands of years, it is the ‘unconscious or unacknowledged perception of a lack of completeness’ causes us to crave completeness without knowing what it is that we are craving. and it is this ‘craving’ that accounts for most of the everyday activity we see around us. This type of ‘displacement-motivation’ is what drives the economy – we’re looking for ourselves in the wrong place!

 

So within the mystical/spiritual traditions it might be said that we are ‘grasping at illusions’ and that it is this misguided activity that brings us so much unhappiness. This – quite possibly – may not make very much sense to us – we may object for example that that what we are busy grasping at are real things, not illusions! Who is attracted to illusions. after all? The point is however that we are not so much grasping for the things themselves but what they represent to us without us even realising that they are representing anything! The things we are grasping at, are trying to obtain, hold an extra degree of attractiveness to us because they seem to be promising us some special, magical ‘X factor’ that we can’t help being magnetically attracted to. We’re attracted but we don’t ever wonder why we’re so attracted. We just know that the object of our desire is promising us ‘something great’ and that is good enough for us! We know on some level or other that there’s ‘something good out there in the world’, something good that we don’t have, and so we are very keen indeed to get our share of the special thing (or magical quality) that we feel we are missing out on! Everyone wants a slice of the pie after all, and that’s what consumerism is all about.

 

This is why ‘doing’ is idolised to the extent that it is in our world therefore. Nothing inspires us as much as ‘the myth of the supremely successful doer’ and all we can do is to try to approximate that myth as best we can in our own lives. All we can do is try to get some of that special action kudos to work for us! We’re too fast off the starting block though – we’re too fast off the starting block because we’ve got things the wrong way around – we don’t produce being out of doing, but rather being produces doing.

 

We have put the cart before the horse and things just aren’t going to work this way! There is a parallel to this idea in Taoism and the philosophy of Eastern martial arts where it is said that action is only effective when it comes out of stillness. Very much along similar lines, D. H. Lawrence writes: “One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be a mere rushing on.” Stillness is where our good sense lies (our wisdom rather than our intellectual smartness) and if our actions don’t come out of stillness they’re not just going to be ‘ineffective’, they’re going to be painfully counter-productive (or self-defeating).

 

This is actually a pretty fair assessment of what’s going on in the world around us, the world of human affairs – lots and lots of doing that hasn’t come out of ‘stillness’ (or ‘wisdom’) at all! Our doing has become extraordinarily ‘clever’ (‘clever’ in a superficial sense, that is) and this of course makes things worse for us not better. Mankind has been self-defined as ‘the tool-using animal’ and our tools are becoming ever more sophisticated – they are in fact becoming ever more sophisticated at an exponentially-increasing rate. And the result of this is that we are now living in a world that has been created as the result of the invisible assumptions that lie behind our tools being played out (or concretized) in the form of the concrete environment within which we live. It is as if our tools bring with them unwanted side-effects that define us and our world without us even being able to see how we have been defined. We didn’t see the ‘side-effects’ coming, and we don’t see them when they arrive either – we don’t see them when they arrive because it is the ‘side-effects’ of our tool-use (which is to say, the conditioning effect of the invisible limitations inherent in our assumptions) that determine precisely what we see and cannot see.

 

Enacting the age-old principle therefore, ‘the tool usurps the user of the tool’; the servant/instrument overthrows the master and no good is ever going to come about as a result of this. This very simple principle is illustrated by the fairy tale of the Magic Porridge Pot, which can feed the hungry if it is used properly, but which will drown the whole village under six feet of run-away porridge if there is no one there who actually knows how to use this valuable tool. ‘Knowing how to use the tool’ means knowing how to stop using the tool when the job is done, and if we don’t know how to do this (as we don’t) then disaster is only just around the corner. This motif is also echoed in such tales as Why the Sea is Salt (and ‘The Master and his Pupil’). A more modern variant of this theme is of course the well-known science fiction motif of ‘Frankenstein’s monster’, typified by the Terminator series of films (see for example, ‘The Rise of the Machines’). ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ is our own ‘disconnected cleverness’, which is directly analogous to what we have been calling ‘doing without being’.

 

On a personal/individual level, we might say that this comes down to ‘reacting’ rather than consciously responding (or not responding, as the case may be). It is perfectly possible – if not more-than-just-possible) to go through the whole of our lives ‘running on reflex’, reacting mechanically without ever questioning our own reactions. Without a shadow of a doubt, this ranks as the most ‘suffering-producing’ way of living that they ever could be – we ricochet from one painful situation to another in the most senseless way imaginable, and we call this ‘living our lives’. This is after all the only type of life we know; as far as we’re concerned there is no other type and all we can do is endure it as best we can. On the collective level, it may be said that we have ‘externalised our mechanical reflexes’ and turned them into an entire environment which we inhabit – a conditioned environment which defines our lives for us. This is of course no better than the first scenario we mentioned, which is where we allow our internal reflexes of thoughts or behaviour to run our lives for us, as if there is actually some sense inherent in them!

 

Ultimately, both the internal reflexes and the external ones (i.e.the ‘Machine Environment’) are one and the same thing, which is that thing that David Bohm calls ‘the system of thought‘. The remedy either way is simply for us to learn how to turn the machine/servant off, so that it doesn’t run our lives for us. The horse needs to be put before the cart again, if the natural order of things is to be restored. Instead of ‘doing–without–being’ (or ‘disconnected doing’), we need to bring being back into the picture again. This is of course easier said than done but it is a perfectly natural process that we are talking about here (rather than some sort of artificial imposition) and all we need to do in order to work with this natural process (instead of against it) is to see how we have got everything back to front, to see how we have put the cart before the horse. We can’t stop all of this heedless, runaway mechanical doing (all of this ‘disconnected cleverness’) on purpose (‘by force’, or by ‘will power’) but what we can do is allow ourselves to see that ‘being can never come from doing’, and when we can clearly see this we will inevitably stop putting all our money on a horse that can never win. We’ll still put some money on this horse of course – we will continue to invest in our automatic behaviour patterns to some extent – but ‘the heart will have gone out of it’, so to speak. We will no longer believe that we can create being with our frantic competitive doing and so we won’t be ‘lost in that doing’ in the completely immersive way that we were before. We will start to separate ourselves from our rational thinking and our purposeful doing and it is this process of separating ourselves from the illusion-seeking behaviour (which is sometimes called ‘the process of disidentification’) that brings about our actual being, or actual presence in our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Prison of Purposefulness

Bela-Lugosi-as-DRACULA

The cruellest prison we could ever find ourselves in is the prison of purposefulness. What could be crueller than this? The funny thing is though that we are more than likely to have very little (if any) appreciation of the truth of this statement. We don’t generally have the necessary perspective on the matter to appreciate just how inimical this situation would be. We don’t tend to have the imagination to see the sheer horror of ‘having to do everything on purpose’.

 

We don’t – on the whole – appreciate the freedom of not having to do everything on purpose! Collectively, we certainly don’t appreciate it – we’re full of talk about how great it is to be in control, how great it is to set goals for ourselves, how great it is to have this skill or that skill, skills which will allow us to be more effectively in control, more certain of being able to obtain our goals. There’s never any talk of how dreadful a situation it would be to have to be in control the whole time, to have to be doing everything ‘on purpose’ the whole time.

 

We don’t give this particular scenario very much (if any) thought, despite the fact that we are constantly pushing in this direction, despite the fact that we are constantly trying to maximize ‘being in control’. It’s as if we think that the place we’re trying so hard to get to (the place where we are in ‘total control’ of everything that happens to us) is something wonderful, something incredibly beneficial, something that is going to make us very happy indeed. We do think this. This is the message that is coming at us from all sides… There is never any talk about how dreadful a situation it is to always have to be in control the whole time, to always have to be doing everything on purpose the whole time. We are – as a culture – constantly harping on about how great it is to have an increased means of control, but we have no imagination at all for how thoroughly miserable a condition it is to be addicted to control, which is exactly what we are.

 

If we gave the matter any consideration at all we would have reason to question this assumption, question this message. We just haven’t properly understood what this much-desired state of ‘being totally in control’ actually means. What it means is that I can’t ever do anything, say anything, without first having to decide to do it, without first having to decide to say it, without first having to have the ‘purpose’ in mind. Nothing comes naturally, everything has to be thought of first, and then having had the thought I the next thing is that I have to turn it into action. This is essentially a sterile situation – nothing comes naturally and so I have to cover up for this ‘lack of spontaneity’ by inventing stuff, by cranking the handle of the purposeful mind! “Maybe I’ll do this, maybe I’ll do that”, I say to myself. We all find ourselves in this situation from time to time but it doesn’t generally last very long. But suppose I have to be like this all the time? Suppose nothing ever ‘comes naturally’? Suppose I can’t do anything without first have to decide to do it, without first having the idea to do it?

 

Clearly being stuck in the purposeful modality all the time wouldn’t exactly be a barrel of laughs. Everything is deliberate, planned, calculated. It is as if I’m reading life from a script. I am reading life from a script – the script of my rational mind, the script of my thoughts. If you saw me going around in this way you would notice it – you would see the purposefulness! I would appear wooden or mechanical, somehow lacking in grace or fluidity. If you were at all observant you would notice that something is amiss (or that ‘something is missing’). What would be missing is life itself – that little insignificant detail which we always leave out of our calculations when we are in purposeful mode!
Life isn’t something that comes out of a script. It isn’t something that proceeds from a formula, from a recipe, from a method. I can’t have the idea, “I know – I’ll go and live life!” and then follow up on this. I can have the idea alright but it won’t get me anywhere. It doesn’t work like this – I can’t live life on purpose because I’m can’t make life into a goal and the reason I can’t make life into a goal is because I don’t have the faintest idea what it is! Life isn’t something I can define or formulate. I can’t ‘plan to live life’. Or rather I can plan to live but when I do this isn’t living – it’s just the thinking mind’s version of living! It’s a very crude version of living. I’m grasping clumsily at something that always slips out of my fingers…

 

We can’t live life on purpose because life isn’t a construct of the mind. Or we could say that we can’t live life on purpose because – as Alan Watts says – life hasn’t got a purpose. To say that life has a purpose is to bring it down to the level of the purpose we have in mind for it, and our purposes are only dead mechanical constructs. What would life need a purpose for? That would be like saying that a small child ‘needs a purpose’. Only adults think that they need a purpose and that is because they are out of step with life, because they are living the thinking mind’s clumsy and graceless version of life. As over-rational adults we feel that we need a purpose because our ‘purposes’ are our substitute for life….

 

Purposes exist in the future and the future is a projection of the thinking mind. When we’re purposeful we’re living in a world that is entirely made up of ‘our ideas’, in other words. Life on the other hand is what’s happening now. When we let the thinking mind take charge of life and start planning it and regulating it and managing it and so on then we’re missing the present moment entirely. We can’t ‘manage ourselves’ to be in the present moment! We can’t control ourselves to be ‘in the flow of life’ because controlling automatically takes us out of the flow. Everything we think (and everything we do on the basis of thought) takes us out of the flow, and we think all the time! Thinking is there (either in the foreground or the background) almost continuously, like a TV in an adjoining room that no one ever bothers to turn off, and so how are we ever going to be in the present moment (given that the function of thought is to take us out of the present moment)?

 

Thinking is always trying to ‘take charge of the process of life’. That’s what it does. Thinking takes charge by being purposeful – by aiming at things it says are good and trying to avoid the things it says are bad. Its purposes are its own constructs and it doesn’t trust anything that isn’t its own construct. Thinking doesn’t trust uncharted territory because uncharted territory isn’t one of its constructs. Thinking doesn’t trust uncertainty because uncertainty isn’t a construct! Uncertainty means that the thinking mind has to let go of the reins and this is of course the one thing that it doesn’t want to do!

 

Even if we were to understand that controlling ourselves and being purposeful the whole time is not a fruitful thing to do (even if we wanted to embrace uncertainty at least to some extent on our lives) the thinking mind will inevitably try to take charge of this process. It will get excited about the idea – the same that it gets excited by all of its ideas – and it will try to put into practice this new project of ‘letting go’. This will become the new policy, the new concept, the new buzzword. I will think about it, talk about it, enthuse about it. Maybe I will read a book about it or go on a course. I will make plans to instigate letting go. But none of this will bring me any closer to the actual reality of ‘letting go’ – it will actually take me further away than ever because all of this mental activity is only serving to feed the thinking mind and this thinking mind is the very thing that stands between me and letting go!

 

Somehow – as always – the purposeful mind has taken charge and inveigled itself into equation. It has – as it always does – sneakily made itself indispensible for the process. “You want to let go of the thinking mind?” says the thinking mind, “Great, let me take care of that for you. let me handle that. Let me be the project manager…” This is like Krishnamurti’s joke:

You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it.”

The simple truth is that life begins when we let go of our thinking, when we let go of our goals, when we let go of our purposes, when we let go of our plans, hopes and dreams (loathe as we are to do this). Or as we could also say, life begins when we let go of our idea of it; when we no longer imagine that we know what it is, or what it should be. Whatever we may happen to think about life, the one thing we may be sure of is that this is missing the point! That’s just the thinking mind doing its thing. That’s just the thinking mind trying to name everything, define everything, explain everything, control everything. That’s just the thinking mind trying to ‘take charge’, as it always does….

 

Thinking strangles life. This is the point that we seem so remarkably resistant to seeing. We never seem to get it, no matter how much suffering thinking brings us. If you want to spoil life, just try thinking about it! Try regulating it, try controlling it. Try planning for it. Try deliberately trying to ‘do it’. If you really want to take every last bit of joy out of life, set about ‘managing’ it! If that’s what you want then place life under the jurisdiction of the grey bureaucracy of thought and you may consider the job done…

 

There is only one beneficiary when the thinking mind is placed in charge of life and that is the thinking mind itself. This is a question of ‘jobs for the boys’. Unnecessary admin posts are set up. Pointless hoops are created that we all have to jump through. Boxes are created that we have to get ticked. Policies and procedures are put in place that we have to satisfy. The entire unholy bureaucracy of thought is created and once this bureaucracy gets a hold then the one thing we can be sure of is that it’s never going to let go. Not voluntarily, at any rate. We might as well put Count Dracula and his cronies in charge of the Nation Blood Transfusion Service and expect him to voluntarily relinquish the post! We might as well expect the government to vote itself out of power once it has gained it! We might as well expect a multinational corporation to voluntarily disband itself and give all its ill-gained billions to the poor!

 

The reason we are so extraordinarily resistant to seeing the life-denying nature of the runaway thinking mind is of course because we are always seeing everything from its point of view. We’re not seeing things clearly at all – we’re seeing everything skew-ways! The thinking mind is – we might say – a bias and when we see everything from the point of view of a bias then we ‘can’t see the bias as a bias’. We can’t see the bias at all – it is profoundly invisible to us. It’s like a guy who is highly prejudiced about something – he can’t see that his prejudiced! He just thinks that he’s ‘right’! The distortion that thought introduces is always invisible to thought, therefore – thought necessarily assumes its own position to be the correct one. When we think about things everything becomes ‘black and white’ and the one thing we are guaranteed not to get is that the clear-cut ideas of ‘right and wrong’ don’t actually exist anywhere outside of our own taken-for-granted thinking mind…

 

Operating on the basis of an ‘invisible bias’ (a bias we see as being ‘normal’ or ‘right’) creates problems. It creates a whole load of glitches that we then have to try to solve by using the very same invisible bias that gave rise to them in the first place! This is what cybernetic pioneer Gregory Bateson was pointing out way back in the sixties. The more problems come about as a result of our overly rational approach to life the keener we are to vote for the rational mind to take on extra powers for itself in order to ‘deal with the emergency’. The bigger the problem the keener we become we place ourselves under the authority of this mind since fear makes us more gullible, not less! And if this sounds like a familiar story then this should come as no surprise since the macrocosm always reflects the microcosm – what goes on in the outside world reflects what is occurring on the inside. Society is – as David Bohm says – the faithful extension of the system of thought. It’s all the same thing; it’s all the one structure…

 

What we’re talking about here – in traditional psychological language – is neurosis. Neurosis is where the self-regulatory mechanisms of the thinking mind take over completely and proceed to choke the life out of us. The self-regulatory mechanisms take over and reduce life to a mere chore. There’s a whole bunch of rules and we have to follow them. Life becomes no more than an unremitting unforgiving ‘anxiety-driven’ routine where the only point is to ‘tick the boxes’ that we’re supposed to tick. Then – having done this – the system of thought finds us a whole new lot of boxes to tick. Either this or it’s the same old boxes all over again…

 

Who doesn’t know what this feels like? In our modern super-advanced technologically triumphant world the incidence of anxiety and depression is increasing all the time. The curve on the graph is going up and up and it shows no sign of slowing down, no matter how many antidepressants we might be taking! According to the World Health Organization depression and anxiety are set to eclipse all other chronic conditions (such as arthritis or cardiovascular disease) as the biggest cause of disability by the year 2050. There is a children’s joke – “If superman is so smart then how come he wears his underpants on the outside of his tights?” In a similar vein, we could ask, “If we’re so damn clever (and we certainly think that we are) then how come we are the most neurotic generation ever to walk the face of this planet?

 

Actually, of course, the question itself supplies the answer. It is precisely because we are so clever that we are heirs to such a weight of neurotic suffering. We have cleverness coming out of our ears but it doesn’t do us any good! It’s not that ‘cleverness’ is bad news per se, but simply that we can’t live life any better by being clever about it! Life isn’t a puzzle (or a problem) to be solved after all. And it’s not just that our much-vaunted cleverness isn’t doing us any good – it is as we have been saying the very cause of our suffering in the first place.

 

And true to the pattern that always prevails wherever rationality is involved, we try to cure the problem with the very thing that caused it in the first place! We try to ‘control’ our neurotic symptoms, we drone on and on about ‘managing’ them. We make a goal of not being neurotic. We purposefully set out to free ourselves from the burden of the neurotic suffering that has been caused by our out-of-control purposefulness in the first place. We’re using thought to try to cure ourselves of the sickness that is caused by too much thinking. In a nutshell – we’re trying to escape from the Prison of Purposefulness on purpose!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside the Framework

Holomovement

There are two very straightforward statements that we can make that can – between them – revolutionize our understanding of both the world and ourselves. The first statement is this:

The only way we can obtain quantitative data, literal truths, or a definite story-line about ‘who we are and what has happened to us’ is within the context of the abstract framework which is provided by the rational mind.

 

There is absolutely no way – no way at all – that we can obtain quantitative data or literal truths or a definite narrative without the framework that has been provided for us. Quantitative data, literal truths, facts and figures, etc, simply do not exist in out there the world, waiting there to be dug up out of the ground ready-formed like potatoes! The second statement is this:

All possible frameworks are only provisional in nature.

 

‘Provisional’ means that the frameworks in question aren’t really there – they’re only there because we agree for them to be there, they’re only there because we adopt the convention that they’re there, because we adopt the convention of looking at the world in this way. Something that is ‘provisional’ is ‘accepted or adopted tentatively; conditional; probationary.’ (Dictionary.com)

 

If we put these two statements together then the result is quite strange. The only way we can know anything ‘for sure’ about the world is via the abstract framework of the rational mind and yet what we know as a result of this rational activity is only valid in relation to the framework in question, not outside of it. So if this is the case then this poses the question as to what we really know about the world, or about ourselves. It is not hard to show why it is that the thinking mind can never tell us anything about reality. The universe, as quantum physics pioneer David Bohm says, is a flow – it is an ongoing stream of change. Change – very plainly – means that ‘nothing stays the same’. The framework of the thinking mind however does ‘stay the same’ – that is after all the only way it can be a framework!

 

We can very easily say that the universe is an ongoing stream of change and that change means ‘nothing stays the same’ but when we say this the chances are that we don’t really understand the profundity of what we are saying. We don’t see how radical an idea this is. According to David Bohm, “Not only is everything changing, but all is flux.Flux, Bohm goes on the say, means –

…the process of becoming itself, while all objects, events, entities, conditions, structures, etc., are forms that can be abstracted from this process.

Nothing has any independent existence apart from or outside of what Bohm calls the ‘holomovement’

Each relatively autonomous and stable structure is to be understood not as something independently and permanently existent but rather as a product that has been formed in the whole flowing movement and what will ultimately dissolve back into this movement.

If everything is ‘the holomovement’ (or flux, as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said two and a half thousand years before Bohm) then the world that we believe in so absolutely, so unquestioningly, isn’t real. Everything changes and nothing stands still”, Plato quotes Heraclitus as saying, but our thoughts stand still.

 

The world we believe in and relate to everyday day doesn’t change, doesn’t flow. It’s a static fixture made up of autonomously existing ‘objects, events, entities, conditions, structures’, to use Bohm’s words. There are relatively stable aspects to the universe but these aspects exist within the greater context of the holomovement and it is this ‘fluid context’ that the thinking mind ignores. The world we believe in is therefore a construct of thought (we wouldn’t believe in it otherwise because we don’t believe in anything that our thinking mind doesn’t validate as real) and there is no way that thought can produce anything that isn’t static. That just can’t happen…

 

Everything we know we know as a result of using a static framework as a system of reference and the static framework isn’t real. The static framework which is the rational mind shows us an entirely false picture of reality therefore – it shows us a picture that has no flow in it! “Thought can organize the world so well that you are no longer able to see it” Anthony de Mello says. Thought organizes the world by representing the moving in terms of static categories or classes.

 

The view that the rational mind shows us can contain a type of change, but what we’re talking about here is ‘change-within-the terms-of-a-framework’ – it is in other words what is called ‘linear change’. Linear change means ‘change in accordance with a fixed rule’. Linear change isn’t really change at all when it comes down to it – the fixed rule that governs it doesn’t change so how can the linear analogue of change contain change if the rule that determines it doesn’t contain any? Rules are fixed – they never give rise to genuine change. They are the antithesis of change. The whole point of a rule is after all to make sure that there is no ‘deviation from the plan’! Anything the static framework shows us is just the static framework, and so by definition there’s never going to be any change there.

 

Another way of approaching all of this is to say that the ‘static framework’ which we have been talking about is simply the self. We see everything from the viewpoint of the self, naturally! Where I to see the world as flow (as a poet or an artist might) rather than a series of static representations then this would necessarily mean that I am ‘out of my mind’, and being ‘out of my mind’ means that I am not myself! We are all potentially poets or artists but what holds us back is our insistence in sticking within the fixed framework of the thinking mind, along with our automatic identification with the mind-created self that goes with this framework. The closed / fixed viewpoint that we call the self is – from a thermodynamic perspective – an equilibrium value and we stick to this tried and trusted equilibrium value like glue. Dynamite couldn’t blast us out of this comfortable, narrow, rule-based way of seeing the world…! And yet the universe as a whole is ‘out of equilibrium’ – an ‘equilibrium’ is a still point around which everything turns and the universe (as a whole) doesn’t contain any ‘still points’.

 

The fact that we are seeing everything from the viewpoint of the self means therefore that we cannot see the world that is really there, the world that is independent of our static or rule-based viewpoint. We can’t see the holomovement. The static FW sees everything in terms of itself; the self sees everything in terms of itself. It’s the same thing. We can expand on this point by talking in terms of ‘like and dislike’: when we are crudely identified with the mind-created self (which is the usual way to be, the default way to be) then the world we relate to is made up either of ‘stuff that we like’ or ‘stuff that we don’t like’. Anything else passes unnoticed – it’s disregarded or passed over because it’s clearly not important!

 

Or if we want to talk in terms of the rational mind, then we can say when we are constrained only to look at the world in terms of this mind, this FW, then the world is made up of stuff that is either confirmation or novelty. Confirmation means that the information we are receiving agrees with the assumptions that we have made in order to obtain a black-and-white picture of the world (the assumptions that give rise to the static FW) whilst novelty is information that does not agree, that does not fit into the slots that are there. Confirmation is what we notice therefore whilst novelty on the other hand is almost entirely filtered out. And yet what we are calling ‘confirmation’ is nothing other than the shadow of our assumed framework cast out on the world!

 

If we say that the self is an abstract framework then like and dislike, good and bad, right and wrong, etc are no more than projections of this abstract FW. We aren’t seeing the flow therefore – we’re just seeing our own static mind reflected back at us. ‘Like and dislike’, ‘right and wrong’ isn’t the flow! The flow has nothing to do with like and dislike, right or wrong. We could equivalently say that the self isn’t the flow, that the flow has nothing to do with the self. What does this tell us about the self, however? It tells us something that is not generally very palatable to us. Only the flow is real. Only the holomovement is real. [Only’ isn’t quite the right word here of course because the flow is everything. There isn’t anything that isn’t the flow.] So where does this leave the self, which is the fixed point around which everything turns?

 

Only the flow is real and yet here we are stuck in a world that is no more than a reflection of an abstract framework that we have somehow adopted as ‘the only possible way of seeing the world’. What a bizarre situation this is! The abstract FW (the static viewpoint) is the self and the self – as we have been saying – has zero capacity to see the flow, zero capacity to be in the flow. What we are calling ‘the flow’ is actually the single most threatening thing the self could ever encounter. The reason the flow is so very threatening to the self is as we have said because there can be no self in the flow. For the self to admit the existence of the flow is for it to admit its own essential non-existence and it goes against the self’s nature to admit this…

 

There’s no way around this. There’s no way that this can’t be the case – any flow at all, any genuine change at all, and the self is utterly gone. Any genuine movement at all and the self blinks out of existence immediately – it blinks out of existence as if it had never been there in the first place. That’s the way it is with static fixtures, that’s the way it is with abstract frameworks! Seeing as how this is what always happens when the self encounters any sort of genuine change, it is no wonder that it doesn’t want to have anything to do with the real world, which is the world of flow…

 

As we’ve said, we aren’t able to appreciate what is meant by ‘the flow’. It is not something that the psychostatic mind can understand. It can’t get it. We can get it, but not when we’re operating out of the thinking mind. But all there is is the flow – everything is the flow, the flow is everything, and there isn’t anything that isn’t the flow. So what are we doing? We’re making everything revolve around a fixed point (an abstract FW) that isn’t actually there.

 

There is a way in which we can have a sense of our true situation, however. The awareness is there somewhere! All we need to do is to see that what we’re really talking about here is the present moment, the now. The now is the only place we can ever be (the now is everything and everything is the now) and yet the now never stays still! It is all that there is, but what is it? We can never lay our hands on the now; we can never say what it is because as soon as we try to say what it is it’s something else. It’s moved on…

 

Reality is only ever in the now. Where else could it be? And yet the now is fleeting – it is never fixed. It is never part of any logical structure. It’s not a replication of ‘what has gone before’. The present moment is thus always ‘fleeing away from us’, so to speak – it is always moving away from the clutches of the fixed framework, moving away into the radical unknown, and yet actually it isn’t fleeing away from us, it isn’t moving away from the fixed framework. The now isn’t fleeing away from us (it isn’t moving away from the fixed framework) for the simple reason that there’s nothing fixed there to be fleeing (or moving away) from!

 

 

 

 

 

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?

If Life is an Unfolding…

Unfolding-Rose

If life is an unfolding then where is the need for control, and where is the need for the black-and-white models of reality which guide that control? If life is in essence an unfolding then where is the need for definition, for regulation, for ‘management’, for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and the rules that determine right and wrong? Where is the need for any of that?

 

If life were not an unfolding (which is to say, if life were just a repeating pattern, a mechanical ‘acting out’ of certain all-important ‘fixed truths’) then living in this world would of course be all about control and the theories or models that guide this control. Life would in this case be all about rules and regulations, right and wrong. Life in this case would simply be a matter of passing on (or perpetuating) the right rules, the right values, the ‘right patterns of being’. If this were the case then how simple it would all be! Life would then be entirely about ‘doing the right thing’. Life would then be entirely about right and wrong, ‘do’ and ‘don’t do’…

 

The astonishing thing is the degree to which to which we believe this to be the case! This is the view of life that we pretty much always do have – it’s our ‘default view’ on the matter, so to speak. We live as if it were self-evidently true that life is only a matter of finding the right system, the right set of definitions, the right pattern of being, and then adhering to it. This actually is how we live life – we have a particular set of rules and values and we do our level best to pass these rules and values on to each successive generation. If we manage to do this then we feel that we have ‘done right’; if we succesfully perpetuate the pattern then we feel that we can ‘rest easy’. This is what society is – a fixed pattern of thinking and behaving that we do our best to adhere to and pass on.

 

It’s not just society (our formalized set of interpersonal relations) that is a fixed pattern which keeps on being acted out, acted out, acted out, come what may – so too is the rational mind. The mind is the very same sort of thing. This is what David Bohm says – that the rational mind and all the structures it produces (including the designed environment that we spend most of our time living in) are all the one logical system. It is all the one seamless unit. It is all the one construct – a construct which David Bohm calls The System of Thought. If both the thinking mind and the world that this mind has created for us are all the same thing (if it is all ‘a fixed pattern which implicitly demands our unquestioning adherence, our conformity, our allegiance’) then this isn’t a very free situation for us to be in! It’s very far from being free. It’s the antithesis of ‘free’ – it is complete bondage.

 

The reason that we don’t generally see that the system we’re sewn into is completely unfree (or even that it is ‘a system’ at all) is because there is a ‘type’ of freedom that goes with it, a type of freedom which isn’t actually freedom at all. What we are offered in place of genuine freedom is the freedom to adapt ourselves ever-more-effectively to the determinate system that we exist within. We are offered the possibility of ‘optimizing our game’, in other words, so that the more we optimize the bigger the rewards are that we stand to gain. We all know this perfectly well of course, the only thing being that we take it very much for granted, and because we take it so much for granted we hardly ever think about it. We hardly ever think about it and when we do it seems perfectly OK for things to be this way. This sort of a set-up seems perfectly normal and so we never pay it any heed; it simply doesn’t occur to us that there could be another way to be in the world, that there could be another way to live.

 

To exist in a set-up where life is a game that we have to optimize our performance within (and where the only meaningful form of change seems therefore to be the type of change by which we adapt more effectively to the given system) is normal for us! It’s normal because we have made it normal. It’s normal because it’s what is going on, it’s normal because it’s what everybody else is doing. This doesn’t mean however that it is in any way good (or healthy) for us! Normal doesn’t mean healthy, by any means! If life is an unfolding then to be stuck in some kind of an ongoing, non-terminating ‘optimization strategy’ where we are working away at getting better and better at playing some arbitrary game is actually downright perverse – we’re going against our own nature here and whatever else the result of this endeavour, this experiment is, it’s certainly not going to involve us being happy! Such a set-up is simply not in our own interests – if it is in anyone’s interest it’s in the interest of the system that we’re adapting to, and this system isn’t us! This system is not us, it’s what is oppressing us!

 

If life were NOT an unfolding then everything would be so much simpler – life would come down to a matter of ‘conforming to the established pattern’ and so those who conform successfully would be ‘the winners’ and those who don’t (or can’t) would be ‘the losers’. One way is the good way, the other the bad. How simple is this? How easy to follow is this? And it is of course because this view of life is so simple that we like it so much! We don’t want to be challenged to work out for ourselves what life is all about – we want to be told. We want to be told what it is all about so that we can just ‘get on with it’. This is human history in a nutshell – it’s all about us fitting into whatever the established pattern of the time is. Very few people have had the interest or inclination to against this type of ‘equilibrium-seeking’ tendency. Going against the established way of doing things is not seen as what life is about at all. In one way it could be said that history is all about our oppression by one system or another, but we could equally well say that what history demonstrates is our need (or hidden desire) to be told what to do, to be told what to think, to be told how to see reality. We want to hand over our freedom to some external authority! We want to hand over our freedom to the agreed-upon conventions of society, to the rule-based rational mind…

 

If on the other hand life IS an unfolding then things are not so easy or so straightforward after all. This changes things in a big way. When the established and unquestioned pattern is the template that guides our thinking then all we have to do is ‘get with the programme’ and this is easy. It’s easy because it’s just repeating the same old thing, over and over again! ‘Acting out the established pattern’ is a repetition of the old so all we have to do is ‘learn’ the old, ‘fit in’ with the old. An ‘unfolding’ on the other hand is continual newness, and so how do we ‘learn’ what is continually new? How do we fit in with what never stays the same? How do we adapt to continuous change? Very clearly, there’s just no way to do this. There’s no ‘external authority’ out there that we can adapt ourselves to. If we want one then we just have to invent it ourselves!

 

If life is an unfolding then the demand that is being made on us is  – we might say – to be ‘sensitive to the new’, rather than being – as we usually are – ‘aggressively protective of the old’. As soon as we put it like this we can see that there are two possible orientations that we could take with regard to life – one is where we are sensitive to the new (or to the different) and the other is where we aggressively protect or defend the old. It’s either one or the other – it can’t be both. As it says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.”

 

If we go for the second orientation then we will automatically imagine that there are two ways for this endeavour to go – either we will be ‘successfully aggressive’ or we will be ‘unsuccessfully aggressive’. Either we will win or we will lose, in other words. Either we will get what we want or we won’t. In reality however there AREN’T two ways in which aggression can work out at all. There aren’t two ways because there can be no such thing as successful aggression – no matter what we all might think!! Aggression means ‘protecting and perpetuating the old’ but in a universe in which there is – essentially – nothing but ‘unfolding’ there is no such thing as ‘the old’! How can there be such a things as ‘the old’ when life is a continuous unfolding of the new?

 

If there seems to be such a thing as ‘the old’ (or ‘the established’) then this perception is simply an hallucination, which means that what we are doing in our aggression is protecting an hallucination! This begs the question therefore – how can an hallucination be successfully protected? There can be neither success nor failure in the endeavour of protecting something that isn’t real. There can be neither success nor failure because the endeavour itself isn’t real…

 

This brings us back to the first type of ‘orientation’ that we can take in life (the second type not being a possibility at all!) – the orientation of being sensitive to the new. In this orientation we are being sensitive to the unfolding of the new rather than being aggressive to it. We’re being courageous rather than scared! Instead of saying ‘sensitive’ we could also say ‘aware’ – we are being aware of ‘what is’, we are being aware of the unfolding of the new. In the ‘aggressive’ mode (which is our ‘default orientation’) we are protecting an hallucination and the hallucination that we are protecting is who we take ourselves to be. In the ‘sensitive’ mode we are aware of the new, aware of the unfolding, and this non-aggressive (i.e. curious) awareness is who we really are…

 

 

 

 

 

No Method

Cumulus Clouds  602691

Mindfulness is said to be various things. Often it is spoken of as a ‘life-enhancing skill’, or in terms of a ‘tool’ that we can use to help manage stress or anxiety or anger. This tends to sound pretty good – who doesn’t want to learn a ‘life-enhancing skill’? Who doesn’t want an extra tool under their belt to help manage difficult mental states? This actually sounds pretty great – it’s a product that markets itself! The thing is – however – that this way of talking about mindfulness is subtly deceptive, subtly distorting. Mindfulness isn’t a life-enhancing skill at all. If it was this would make it just like any other life-enhancing skill that we might hear of. That would make it just one more product in a world full of products. It becomes just another accessory, just another app for your phone.

SELF-REMEMBERING

When we label mindfulness in this way it sounds as if we are valuing it, as if we are saying something good about it, but really we’re ‘de-potentiating’ it. We’re neutralizing it. We’re turning it into something mediocre, something generic. Mindfulness isn’t a skill (or ability) and it isn’t a tool. It isn’t a technical accomplishment either, for all that we tend to think of it in this way. It isn’t just another thing that we can learn to do, it isn’t just one more box to tick. What mindfulness is really is something which is at the same time very much simpler, and very much harder to comprehend. Mindfulness is what G.I. Gurdjieff calls remembering ourselves! Mindfulness is noticing that we are actually here. It is ‘waking up’ out of our habitual patterns of thinking and behaving. Or we could say that mindfulness is remembering something that we – in all our busyness – have quite forgotten. Mindfulness is remembering who we are actually are …

 

This puts a rather different perspective on things. In what way is ‘remembering who we actually are’ a skill? If it is a skill, then who has the skill? Who learns the skill and who practices it? If we say that being mindful is the same thing as ‘being conscious’, then does this make ‘being conscious’ a skill? And if we say that it is, then who practices the skill of being conscious? If I’m not conscious (i.e. if I’m not present, if I don’t remember myself) then why would I want to practice it? Why would it even occur to me? If I don’t remember myself then how am I going to remember to ‘practice’ being here?

 

What’s happening when we categorize mindfulness (or mediation) as a skill, as some kind of ‘add on’ or ‘accessory’, is that we are ‘inverting’ it whilst at the same time concealing the fact that we are doing so. We’re putting the cart in front of the horse in a big way! We appear to be valuing mindfulness but actually we are only valuing it insofar as it can benefit the one who is to utilize the mindfulness. This is not an obvious point. What – we might ask – is the difference between valuing mindfulness and valuing the one who is to practice (or utilize) the mindfulness? Why can’t we just say that mindfulness is valuable because it benefits the one who is to practice the mindfulness? What’s the distinction? Surely both come down to the same thing?

 

In this view – which is the view which we are almost bound to take – it is ‘the self’ who is to benefit from practicing mindfulness. This is precisely why it is valuable – because it is of benefit to the self. How obvious is this? The only thing is, however, that this isn’t how it works at all! This is quite the wrong idea about mindfulness! If I think that practicing mindfulness is going to benefit my ‘self’ then I am very much mistaken. If I think that practicing mindfulness is in any way going to enhance or augment my everyday sense of ‘who I am’ then I have got the wrong end of the stick entirely. Mindfulness isn’t another tool in the service of the self. It isn’t any sort of a ‘tool’ at all, no matter what we might like to think. It’s not there to prop up the status quo.

 

The reason we like the notion of ‘skills and ‘tools’ so much is of course because having them enhances us – they are extra ‘muscle’ for us, extra leverage. The more skills and tools we have available to us the more amour, the more ‘fire power’ we have in the face of difficulties. What the everyday ‘sense of self’ values above all else (no matter what we might like to believe) is the ability to control, the ability to ensue that everything goes the way it wants it to go. Any skills or tools that we acquire therefore are valued by us because they represent an extension or amplification of our ability to get things to be the way we want them to be. But the point we are missing here – in a truly dramatic fashion – is that mindfulness is not going to do this for us at all!

SEEING WHAT WE DON’T WANT TO SEE

Mindfulness – of course – isn’t about being able to control better. It isn’t about getting more effective at attaining our targets, our goals. It isn’t about helping us to consolidate our position (or ‘dig in more securely’). It isn’t about helping us to get things to be the way we think they ought to be but rather it is about finding the courage (or interest) to see them the way they actually are! In order to see reality in an unbiased or un-slanted way we need both courage and some genuine, honest-to-goodness curiosity about life because what we will see when we see things ‘as they really are’ is for sure not going to confirm what we’d like to see, what we’d like to be the case. Our likes are the same thing as our biases and so seeing the world in an unbiased or un-slanted way is pretty much guaranteed to show us stuff that we don’t like.

 

What we’re actually going to observe – if we find the courage to see things straight, in an undistorted way – is that the world doesn’t agree with our biases, with our beliefs about how it should be. Reality doesn’t humour us in other words – we humour ourselves! We arrange for ourselves to see the world that we are predisposed to seeing, and then we hide all traces of us having done so. As David Bohm says, “Thought creates the world and then hides and says it didn’t do it“. Practicing awareness shows us the previously hidden activity of the thinking mind, and how it arbitrarily creates black-and-white realities for us. On another level, we could say that if we find the courage to see things straight, in an undistorted or unprejudiced way, then what we see is that we have forgotten who we really are! What we see is that ‘who we think we are’ isn’t who we really are. What we see when we disengage from the thinking mind is that we are existing pretty much as pure mechanical reflex, pure automatic self-validating habit, with very little in the way of genuine presence there at all…

 

What I see as a result of practicing mindfulness is that the comfortably reassuring picture of myself that I am expecting to have confirmed (or consolidated) for me doesn’t actually exist. In Buddhism this is called the truth of annatta, or ‘selflessness’. What I see is that I am existing as a bundle of self-validating conditioned reflexes, and that this bundle of conditioned reflexes isn’t who I am at all. In one way this is of course profoundly liberating because there is zero freedom in existing as a bundle of conditioned reflexes, but in another way it is a disagreeable thing for me to see because I am so identified with these reflexes, these habitual ways of seeing the world. I am so very used to assuming that this bundle of reflexes (or ‘rules’) is ‘who I am’, and this assumption provides me with a huge amount of ontological security.

 

So it can be seen that mindfulness is in no way going to be useful or beneficial to me when I understand myself to be this bundle of habits, this bundle of reflexes. I want to rely on this ‘conditioned identity’ as being true, as being ‘who I really am’, and mindful self-observation is going to show me the opposite of this. Far from allowing me to consolidate my established position, mindfulness is going to thoroughly undermine it! Cultivating the light of awareness of awareness isn’t in any way going to benefit the arbitrary fiction that I am this bunch of conditioned reflexes. Quite the reverse is true because mechanical reflexes lose their power when we allow the light of unprejudiced awareness to fall on them. G.I. Gurdjieff says that the everyday self – and the unconscious mental processes that prop it up – is like a type of chemical reaction which can only proceed in the dark. Shine some light on the matter and the reactions just can’t continue!

FIXING MODE

To speak of mindfulness as if it were a skill or strategy that belongs to this ‘bundle of reflexes’ which is the conditioned self is therefore highly absurd, to say the least! The everyday or conditioned self, as it makes its way through each day, invariably runs into certain sorts of problems, which it seeks to solve the best it can. This is mechanical or ‘unconscious’ life. The notion of ‘a problem’ is a funny one however – presupposed in the notion of ‘a problem’ is the idea that whatever we are trying to do (whatever it is that we are trying to achieve) is of paramount importance. This is how ‘goal-orientated thinking’ works – the goal becomes of primary importance. This is why any sort of obstacle or opposition to what we are doing annoys us so much, or worries us so much. If we assume (as we do in goal-orientated thinking) that the goal is of paramount importance then the other side of this assumption is that anything that stands in our way is automatically ‘wrong’, or automatically ‘bad’. It is simply something to be eliminated – it is simply ‘a problem to be solved’. Goal-orientated thinking is closed thinking, therefore.

 

Clearly goal-orientated thinking has its place. If the goal is important in a practical sort of a way then it isn’t helpful for me to be put off or distracted by the very first difficulty that comes along. I wouldn’t survive long if this where the case. I would become too inefficient to ever get anything done. I’d set off to do something (buy some shopping, perhaps) and something would come up and I’d get totally deflected. I’d forget about the task at hand and everyone would go hungry! But aside from this purely practical importance (which we’re not arguing about) there is a kind of way in which the purely practical importance of my goal (if indeed there is any) can be hijacked by something that we are not at all aware of. This scenario might sound on the face of it rather odd, or rather unlikely, but actually it happens all the time. We are very prone to over-valuing the importance of our goals – just as we are very prone to over-valuing the importance of our failures!

 

What happens in practice, in the general run of things, is that our goals take on a significance that goes beyond the strictly practical, that goes beyond the actual ‘stated reason’ for the goal. When this happens then any problem that comes up automatically starts to assume more importance than it should do; the problem in question ‘looms larger’ than is should do – it starts to bug us more than it should do, it starts to worry us more than it should do. The problem takes on a weight that really belongs somewhere else, somewhere ‘out of sight’. My problems run into each other: the immediate problem becomes every problem I’ve ever had; the immediate issue serves as a flagship for all issues. What is happening here therefore is that ‘solving the problem’ becomes important to me not because of what the problem is, but because of what it represents. The particular problem I am getting to grips with has become what we might call ‘a universal surrogate problem’!

 

In general terms, we can say that the ‘problem’ represents a threat to the integrity of the conditioned self, a threat to the continued existence of the ‘self-concept’, whilst at the same time the solution to the problem represents the augmentation or enhancement of the self-concept. Essentially, my will has been thwarted and this doesn’t feel good – I don’t get my own way and as a result I start to feel annoyed or slighted or undermined in some way, I take the problem as a personal affront – a kind of an insult. Skills and tools thus represent – as we have been saying – the means by which the insecure self-concept can protect and consolidate itself. When I hear of some new skill, some highly effective new technique, this is why it sounds good to me! It certainly doesn’t sound good to me because I think that this might be a way by which I can throw light on the ways which I have of ‘pulling the wool over my own eyes’ so that I don’t have to see any uncomfortable truth! How’s that going to sound good to me? How’s that ever going to be attractive to me?

ACTIVE LAZINESS

Fixing problems feels good to us because when we can fix a problem this makes us feel more secure in ourselves, more ‘unassailable’ in ourselves. It makes us feel that we are in position of power rather than a position of vulnerability. We could also say that fixing problems feels good to us because when we successful fix a problem, however small, however insignificant, we can allow ourselves to imagine that we are fixing the unacknowledged problem of our underlying insecurity. This is the problem that we really want to fix, but which we can’t allow ourselves to see that we want to fix. Being able to control effectively is a compensatory mechanism with regard to our unacknowledged insecurity, in other words. It is as if when I fix a problem, I am fixing everything that has ever gone wrong for, everything that has ever held us back, everything that has ever made me feel bad. The type of thing we are talking about here is sometimes called ‘pseudo-solution’ – I’m not addressing the issue where it belongs but rather I’m addressing it where it doesn’t belong!

 

Pseudo-solution happens all the time without us realizing it. If we realized it then it wouldn’t be pseudo-solution! A general sense of discomfort or ill-ease about life, dissatisfaction with life, fear about life, etc, can all be channeled into concrete tasks and goals. This – according to the existential philosophers – is the number one driving force in our lives. Sogyal Rinpoche calls it ‘active laziness’. We are ‘active’ because we are always doing stuff and we are ‘lazy’ because we are avoiding doing the work of seeing something that we don’t want to see. We are avoiding the psychological work involved in seeing that all of the strategies we engage in are really for the sake of ‘protecting who we aren’t’. Seeing that we aren’t who we think we are is something that we are just too afraid to see – it’s infinitely easier just to carry on with the self-deceiving game that we are playing…

 

It is because of this ongoing ‘fear displacement’ therefore that we value skills and technical means of establishing control as much as we do. We wouldn’t talk so incessantly of them if we weren’t chronically insecure! It’s not that skills and techniques can’t be very valuable in their own right – of course they can be – but the point we are making here is that they are only valuable when they are used consciously, for the reasons that we’re ‘supposed’ to be using them. When we use skills and techniques (and our positive knowledge base) for the purpose of ‘solving life’ then this is a different kettle of fish entirely. Why would we even want to solve life? What does this say about us? Where does the impulse to want to solve (or ‘control’) life comes from?

MAKING THE BAD FEELING GO AWAY

Really, therefore, we’re using our skills and techniques to ‘make the bad feeling go away’, to ‘make the dissatisfaction go away’, to ‘make the fear go away’. The more skills we learn, the more techniques and methods we have under our belt, the better off we feel with regard to this unstated goal, therefore. This is of course natural enough – who could blame us for this? Of course we don’t want to feel uncomfortable, ill at ease, insecure, fearful, and so on. Of course we want to make the bad feeling go away. But the only thing is that we CAN’T escape from this generalized sense of dread and alienation, this ‘angst’ about life. We can’t escape from this uncomfortable feeling because it stems from our relationship with reality. This bad feeling IS our relationship to reality. We can only escape it by escaping wholesale from reality, and it is our (attempted) escaping from reality that creates the alienated and insecure feelings in the first place. We are caught in an unpleasant kind of a loop, a ‘loop of fear’ that keeps on trying to escape itself, in other words, under the apparently positive-sounding guise of ‘fixing’ or ‘controlling’. We caught in the loop of trying to escape the pain caused by our own escaping and for us – whether we realize it or not – this ‘loop’ has become the whole world…

 

So we say that we want these enhanced methods, these enhanced ways of controlling, for a positive reason, but really we want them because we’re afraid. That’s we have such an appetite for methods – we want to retreat out of reality into the abstracted illusion-realm in which we feel ourselves to be ‘in control’. Wei Wu Wei (1963, p 16) says,

All methods require a doer. The only doer is the I-concept.

We could equivalently say that there is ‘no such thing as an I-concept without a method. The ‘I-concept’ isn’t who we are – it is only an idea, only a thought, only a notion. It’s who we think we are, not who we really are. Because the I-concept isn’t who we really are it is always insecure. It is insecure because it doesn’t exist! It is insecure because it hasn’t got any reality! Because the I-concept is insecure is always caught up in some kind of controlling – it always has to have some sort of strategy, some kind of game-plan, some kind of method. It has to have a ‘gimmick’ because without a gimmick it can’t exist! Without its gimmick, without the particular ‘angle’ that it is playing, the idea that we have of ourselves straightaway starts to dissolve…

 

If we are relying on methods and techniques therefore (as we do rely on them) then what this shows is that we must be identifying with the I-concept. How can a method not be about identification? If there is a method then there must be ‘something to be gained’ and ‘something to be avoided’. There must be ‘a right result versus a wrong result’ and this is identification. In identification there is never any freedom. There is no freedom at all because everything is all about ‘getting it right and not getting it wrong’ and this is not freedom! On the contrary, this is a rule. This is the absence of freedom. For this reason, it can be seen that when we try to obtain freedom by using methods (or by using ideas) we will be forever going around in circles. There can be no other outcome – circles are all we are going to get!

THERE IS NO PROCEDURAL BASIS FOR ‘BEING’

Just as there is no procedural basis for freedom, there is no procedural basis for being. How can there be a procedural basis for being? How can there be a ‘formula’ for being? How can there be a right way and a wrong way to be? How can we ask, “What are the correct steps to take in order to be?” How can we ask “What is the correct gimmick to help us be real?” If we start off from the position of being identified with the I-concept then we are starting off from a position of ‘non-being’ because the I-concept does not exist. If we start off from a position of ‘non-being’ then no matter how many steps we take, no matter how many procedures we enact, we are never going to get anywhere else other than ‘non-being’. We are going to be dragging that ‘non-being’ around with us wherever we go. ‘Non-being’ – we might say – is our ball-and-chain. It is the maze or prison from which we cannot escape.

 

If anything we do on the basis of the I-concept is carried out on the basis of something that is itself not real, how is this ever going to get us anywhere? The movement away from the I-concept is unreal just as the I-concept is! As Krishnamurti says in The Urgency of Change (1970, p 189),

Any movement away from what I am strengthens what I am.

All the I-concept can ever understand is controlling, is manipulating, and all controlling, all manipulating, starts off on the basis of a position that is not actually real, a position that does not actually exist. And if we were able to see through the I-concept’s perennial manoeuvrings we would see that all of its strategies only ever really have one aim (albeit an unacknowledged aim) and that is to validate itself. In a nutshell, the I-concept’s ‘secret aim’ is to prove to itself that it actually is real, that it actually is who we are’…

 

So to get back to the point that we were originally making, in this over-rational culture of ours we tend to get the impression that mindfulness is some form of ‘cleverness’ – a type of strategizing that we can use to help manage the difficulties of everyday life better. And yet it isn’t really anything of the sort – to be mindful is simply to be present in one’s life and there is no cleverness in this at all! To be present is simply to be there and where’s the cleverness in this? We just have to be what we already are, nothing more. We just have to be and this is not a strategy, not a gimmick.

 

‘Being present’ is not a way by which we can manage life’s difficulties. Quite the reverse is true – it is life’s difficulties that help us to be present! When a difficult situation comes along it can either be a ‘trigger’ or a ‘reminder’ – either it will trigger us to react automatically to control it (to fight the problem or run away from it) or it will remind us to be present. In the first case we move into unreality (the unreality of the world that is created by the thinking, manipulating mind) and in the second case we find ourselves more fully in reality, we partake more wholeheartedly in reality. This – we might say – is ‘the art of being there’.

 

Practicing ‘the art of being there’ allows us to be present when, the over-riding urge, the constant habitual temptation, is to be absent, is to be not there