Hooked On Controlling

Mindfulness – we might say – is where we aren’t fighting with ourselves, managing ourselves, controlling ourselves, repressing (or ‘soothing’) ourselves the whole time. It isn’t quite right to say this though because when we practice mindfulness we don’t try to stop ourselves from fighting ourselves, controlling ourselves, repressing or soothing ourselves – if it was the case that we were trying to stop ourselves from doing all this then we’d still be controlling ourselves!

 

And yet the other side of the coin is that when we really are trying to control ourselves, manage ourselves, et cetera, then all of our focus is on the goal of ‘being in control’, the goal of ‘successfully managing ourselves’, and whenever our attention is wholly upon this goal – or upon any goal – we not being mindful, we are not being aware. When our eye is ‘on the goal’ then it’s all about ‘how great it will be if the goal is attained’ or ‘how terrible it will be if it isn’t attained’ and this is the very antithesis of being mindful, being aware!

 

Mindfulness is so very often confused with ‘soothing the mind’ (or ‘quietening our thoughts’) but this then is merely another form of goal-orientated behaviour. When we’re engaged in attempted ‘self-quietening’ then we are not actually being aware at all because we are – as usual – fixated upon the two extremes of ‘getting it right’ and ‘getting it wrong’! To successfully soothe or quieten our minds equals ‘getting it right’ and not to do so equals ‘getting it wrong’; we’re busy controlling in other words, and when we’re busy controlling then there is never any time for awareness. There’s no time for life itself, when it comes down to it – ‘life is something that will happen when we successfully control, when we get to the end of our control sequence’, or so we think! First we have to ‘tick all the boxes’, in other words, and then we can live…

 

It’s not that we think this consciously – is just a kind of a thing we are automatically assuming without ever realising what it is that we have automatically assumed. We imagine that when everything is properly managed, when we get ‘all our ducks in a row’, then we will be better able to let go of our controlling and then ‘kick back and enjoy life’. We imagine that we’ll finally be able to ‘chill out and let our hair down’… We’re assuming, in other words, that ‘controlling/managing’ is somehow a good preparation for ‘letting go’, which is clearly not the case at all. Controlling no more prepares us for ‘letting go of control’ than taking heroin twice a day prepares us for giving up the heroin at some future date!

 

Quietening our minds isn’t a good preparation for being mindful therefore; it’s just another form of controlling and controlling is a slippery slope to yet more controlling. It’s certainly not a pathway to giving up controlling! And yet if we deliberately try to stop managing our own thinking then this too is ‘managing’, this too is ‘controlling’. So how do we get out of this trap? How do we let things happen naturally? How do we get back into the flow? The key is not falling for the trick that our mind is always playing on us, which is getting us to believe that when we control successfully, then we will somehow be free.

 

This really is the ‘big illusion’, the illusion that keeps us ‘hooked on controlling’. Controlling is an unfree state of mind – it’s unfree because we are constantly tied up by the need to make sure that the good outcome happens rather than the bad outcome. This doesn’t leave us any space (or ‘freedom’) to do anything else, or to be ‘aware’ of anything else. The goal (i.e. the ‘good outcome’) represents freedom for us and that’s why we chase it as avidly as we do! We are the greyhounds and the mechanical hare is the goal which represents our release from the mechanical (or ‘unfree’) situation that we are unhappily trapped in. The goal is unconsciously associated with ‘the end of all our problems’, in other words, which is clearly ‘wishful thinking’ on an epic scale!

 

To actually see the absurdity of this is to be free from the power of the illusion, therefore. This simply means ‘seeing things clearly’, or ‘seeing things for what they are’ – our belief is that if we control tightly enough, then through this feat of controlling we will eventually become free, even though controlling (i.e. being constantly subject to the need to control) is the very antithesis of ‘being free’. I’m doing the very thing that prevents me from ever being free, yet I imagine this by investing in it enough (and ‘enough’ here means 100%) then everything is somehow going to work out for me. I imagine, in other words, that the payoff for my dedication, the payoff for my investment, will be the prize of ‘freedom’.

 

Practicing mindfulness means that we are aware of our mechanical nature (i.e., our constantly controlling or managing or striving) without fighting against it. It’s one thing to have a momentary awareness of the mechanical forces that are controlling us and to immediately try to fight against them, and quite another to be aware, and yet not fight. We are living the unconscious (or mechanical) life, and yet we are at the same time aware in it. We’re living our run-of-the mill everyday life, as who we actually are, in accordance with the way that we actually are, but we’re doing it consciously, with great sensitivity and without lying to ourselves or turning a blind eye to anything. And the ‘key ingredient’ here is that we no longer have this flat unconscious belief that our mechanical behaviour is one day going to ‘pay off’ for us! There is a world of difference between being 100% committed to the mechanical way of life (without even knowing that we are) and ‘going through the motions’ of mechanical existence whilst no longer being 100% invested in the logic of that type of existence.

 

Normally – as we have said – we have total belief in the efficacy of purposeful or controlling activity to deliver the outcome that we want. Even if we aren’t particularly confident about our own ability to control, we still unquestioningly believe that controlling is the right road to go down, that ‘the instrument of thought’ and the purposeful activity that comes out of it can deliver us the outcome that we want. Even when we are anxious, and have a deep-seated doubt in our own ability to control effectively, and get things to turn out the way we want them to, we are still no closer to ‘doubting the doubt’, which is to say, doubting our unexamined belief that purposeful or controlling activity is the right tool for the job no matter what that job might be. I might be rubbish as a controller, which will I believe will have very bad consequences for me, yet I still don’t doubt that ‘controlling is the way to go’. I don’t doubt that ‘controlling is the way to freedom’. I only doubt myself.

 

This belief in the power of thought/control is pretty much absolute in everyday life and this is what keeps us unconscious (which is to say, ‘completely under the power of illusionary appearances’). To see with perfect, unstrained clarity that what is most important – which is to say, stillness or ‘inner connectedness’ – can never be attained through thinking or through purposeful activity completely changes things therefore. We are no longer ‘putting all our money on the wrong horse’, which is what is keeping us in the trap of the thinking mind. By pure habit we will of course still be putting a lot of money on that horse, but no longer all of it and that slight difference makes all the difference in the world! That in itself completely changes the dynamic of what’s going on – a little bit of light has entered the picture and nothing will ever be the same again…

 

Our normal way of being in the world is one in which we are constantly trying to achieve by purposefulness’. To be operating on the basis of the thinking/conceptualising mind is to be contingent constantly striving’, constantly trying to get things to be the right way’. That’s how the thinking conceptualising mind functions, that the way that it has to think to function. Thinking ‘strives’ just as a wheel rolls, just as the pendulum swings, just as an escalator escalates! Certainly it is true that some things need to be controlled, but the most important thing of all – as we have just said – can’t be arrived at via control or via purposeful doing, and this is stillness. We might wonder what is so great about stillness (which is obviously something that isn’t particularly valued in our society!) and the answer is simply that it is through stillness that we connect with who we really are. How important is that? This doesn’t mean that we have to be passive or withdrawn or disengaged – it just means that we aren’t constantly clutching at (or striving for) something the whole time. We’re not striving to attain the whole time, and this isn’t a mark of weakness or indifference! We can act all the more effectively when we are not constantly clutching or straining or striving – the action is much more spontaneous, much more fluid, much more ‘appropriate to the moment’ when we are not driven by ‘attachment’.

 

We can’t manipulate stillness, we can’t avail of it as part of our ‘overall strategy’ or ‘design’, we can’t make a goal of it any more than we can make goal of freedom. Particular goals are worth may be worth strategising for striving for, but life itself isn’t! Not only is life itself something that we can’t strain for or attain by skilful actions) it’s actually the case that we miss it every time when this is our approach, and when we are operating on the basis of the thinking mind then this – as we have just said – is inevitably going to be our approach. Thought can only ever grasp!

 

When we’re living life (or rather trying to live life!) on the basis of thought (or on the basis of control, which is the same thing) then we’re constantly ‘missing the mark’, we are constantly in a state of frustration, and this is why the Buddha states in his First Noble Truth that conditioned existence is dukkha, or ‘suffering/frustration’. Of course living on the basis of constant striving (or living on the basis of constantly ‘trying to attain’) is going to result in suffering and frustration – if the most important thing of all cannot be attained by striving, by controlling, by ‘managing’, then we’re actually working against ourselves the whole time, even though we think that we’re doing something to ‘help ourselves’…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Self-Reflection

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Free Consciousness

We almost never know free consciousness in our everyday lives – all we know is the ‘trapped variant’ of it, the ‘distorted version’ of it. ‘Free consciousness’ is consciousness that isn’t attached to a story (or consciousness that isn’t defined by a story) and that hardly ever happens. All we ever know is ‘consciousness-with-a-story’ and this is a different type of thing altogether. It is a different type of a thing because consciousness-with-a-story is consciousness that is ruled by a factor that exists outside itself. It is ‘consciousness that always obeys an external mechanical force’. It is trapped consciousness.

 

It has often been said that how we feel depends upon how we perceive our circumstances. ‘There is nothing good nor bad, but thinking makes it so’, says Shakespeare in the second act of Hamlet. Another way of putting this is to say that how we feel is determined by how we think our story is going. No matter how we feel however (whether we feel good or bad, hopeful or worried, confident or afraid) this is not free consciousness. This is something else entirely – this is consciousness determined by an external factor, this is consciousness intertwined with an ongoing narrative structure. The crucial point we are making here is this: there is nothing the ongoing narrative can ever tell us – no matter how ‘positive’ it may sound to us – that can ever free us from the narrative…

 

We could also say that there is nothing the narrative (or ‘our thinking’) can tell us that can make us feel at peace. Peace comes from within, not from some factor that exists outside of us. Peace cannot come about because of the existence of rules that tell us that ‘we must be at peace’, in other words. We cannot be free because we are instructed to be free, or at peace because we are told to be at peace, or happy because our orders are to be happy and all the narrative can ever do is ‘instruct’ or ‘tell’ or ‘order’. Consciousness that is intertwined with the ongoing narrative of who we are and what is going on with our life can never be at peace therefore and this is a terrible thing to consider. It is a terrible thing to consider because – as we have said – the only form of consciousness we know is conditioned consciousness. Because it is the only form of consciousness we know we are prepared to ‘make do with it’ (we don’t really have any choice, obviously) and this means that we shall never know peace. And because we will never know peace, we will also never know joy or happiness since there is no way to know joy or happiness unless we can first know peace. Instead, we will have to make do with the conditioned version of freedom and peace and happiness (and so on), which is where the thinking mind tells us that we are free or unfree, at peace or not at peace, happy or not happy…

 

The external factor that is the mind-created narrative is our master therefore and as such it determines whether we are going to feel good about ourselves or feel bad. We are completely dependent upon this ‘master’ and this means that we are dependent upon illusion to feel good rather than bad, safe rather than unsafe, validated rather than devalidated, etc. Being ‘dependent upon illusion’ for how we feel about ourselves (or how we feel about life) is another way of saying that we are fundamentally disconnected from anything real. We only value illusion. Because we are fundamentally disconnected from anything real we cannot ever truly feel at peace, or truly happy, as we have just said. So not only are we dependent upon something ‘outside of ourselves’, we are dependent upon ‘something outside of ourselves that isn’t real’, and not only are we dependent upon something outside of ourselves that isn’t real, what that ‘external factor’ provides us with (instead of happiness and peace) isn’t ever going to be real either…

 

The mind-created narrative provides us with polarities – it provides us with the polarities of good and bad, right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, and so on. This ‘oscillation between opposites’ is what we have to make do with instead of reality. The mind-created narrative is always polar in nature – it can never be ‘not polar’. The narrative is polar because it is to do with the self that is the subject of the story and this ‘self’ is fundamentally polar. The self is polarity itself. Saying that the self is fundamentally polar is just another way of saying that it is fundamentally biased, prejudiced or ‘partisan’ in its outlook – it can never be non-partisan or unbiased no matter how it tries. This is what ‘self’ means – it means that there is an essential bias there! There is ‘me’, and there is ‘you’, and the two are not the same. There is ‘me’, and there is ‘everything else’ and the difference between the two is as big as any difference ever could be. This taken-for-granted difference between ‘self’ and ‘other’ is what fuels all my purposeful activity in the world. We might imagine that there can be such a thing as a ‘moral self’ which can behave in a fair and unbiased way but this is simply ridiculous – the self can be infinitely ingenious in the disguised that it puts on but what lies underneath the disguise never changes, as Alan Watts says. No matter what masks we wear, and how well we wear them, this is never going to alter the ‘wearer of the mask’, not by one jot. Pretending to be moral never makes us moral – actually, it has the reverse effect!

 

The fundamentally biased nature of the self means that the narrative which it spins around itself is always going to reflect this bias; that’s what makes the narrative interesting to us, after all. Saying that the narrative which we embed ourselves in is ‘polar’ means that it can always go in one of two directions – it can go in the direction of ‘things getting better for us’ or it can go in the complementary direction of ‘things getting worse’. Things can go well or they can go badly, as we all know. The polarity that we are talking about here is perfectly illustrated by our very great interest in this thing we call ‘luck’; luck comes in two basic forms, as we all know – there is the good type and the bad type! We never hear any talk about luck that is ‘neither good nor bad’… The capacity of our personal narrative to go in one of two directions totally fascinates us; it never ceases to soak up our attention. Yet what we’re fascinated with here has nothing to do with life (even though it may look that way) – what we’re fascinated with is ourselves!

 

The personal narrative might be endlessly fascinating but it isn’t real; it has nothing to do with reality. It is no more real than this thing we call ‘luck’ is. The narrative that we are so obsessed with can’t be real because it is at all times fundamentally orientated towards a central point which isn’t real – this central point (or pivot) being the concept that we have of ourselves. We are of course perfectly free to have a concept of ourselves, a concept of who we are, but that doesn’t mean that it actually exists. The very fact that it is us ourselves who have the ideas or concepts that we do have shows that they aren’t real – they belong only to us, like our facial expressions or hairstyles. Or to put this another way it is precisely because we are free to have ideas about who or what we are that these ideas aren’t real. These two things – the idea we have about ourselves and the personal narrative – are of course one and the same thing. The personal narrative is the self and the self is the personal narrative and so if one is unreal then so is the other. We can’t have a real narrative about an unreal self-concept! The personal narrative is as fascinating as it is to the self that is spinning it because that narrative is (of course) all about it and the narrative-spinning self is – quite frankly – fascinated with itself.

 

What we are talking about here is therefore a clear-cut case of 100% narcissistic self-engagement. There is no free consciousness here in this situation because there is no relationship with anything real, anything outside of the self. There’s nothing going on but ‘self-adhesion’ – the unreal self is compulsively engaged with (or obsessed by) its own un-owned projections. Whatever you might like to call this situation, the one thing we can be sure of is that it doesn’t have anything to do with ‘being conscious’. There is – it is safe to say – no prison as absolute as the prison of narcissistic self-engagement. It’s like getting a sticking plaster and folding it neatly in on itself so that it forms a sealed inert unit – a self-contained package that is forever sealed off from the world. This sealed inert unit is ‘us when we’re fully engaged, fully absorbed, fully fascinated in our own story of ourselves’. The glue that keeps us stuck to our own story of what is happening to us is, what did happen to us, and what might happen to us is ‘the glue of attraction/aversion’ and the key thing that we need to understand about attraction/aversion is that there is absolutely no freedom in it. Attraction-versus-aversion creates a completely compulsive, completely coercive situation – we are powerless not to chase what attracts us just as we are powerless not to run from what repels us.

 

And not only are we ‘powerless not to chase or run away from whatever either attracts or repels us’ we are also powerless not to believe that it is our own motivation that advises us to either chase what attracts us or flee what repels us. There’s no such thing as free motivation (or free will) in the realm of attraction/aversion, however. Not only are we ‘being controlled by something that isn’t us’ therefore, we’re also unable to see that we are being controlled – we’re unable to see that when we either like something or dislike it these reactions are not truly ‘ours’ but are forced upon us by the narrow coercive world that we have adapted to. The system tells me what I like and dislike, in other words, and I am so habituated to being told what to do by some external agency that I think it’s coming from me. The external set of compulsions (i.e. the mechanical system) ‘lives my life for me’ and I never know it. As we have already said, there simply couldn’t be a more absolute prison than the prison of involuntary narcissistic self-engagement – which is the situation that we’re all caught up in just as long as we’ve got a ‘story of ourselves’ running in our heads.

 

‘Free’ consciousness is consciousness that is not attached to a story, and this is the only sort of consciousness there is. Either consciousness is unconditionally free or it is not consciousness. When consciousness gets attached to a story, a narrative, a rational account of ‘what is going on’ then consciousness becomes identical with this story, this account. There is only the story then. We become the rational mind’s definition of us and we inhabit a world that has been created for us by the same rational mind that has defined who we are. We are never more than ‘our own thoughts about ourselves and the world’, in other words. The rule-based definitions are ‘who we are’ and ‘what the world is’ and ‘what life is all about’ become limits that we never go beyond, yet none of these definitions are true. ‘The story’ simply isn’t true, therefore. ‘The story’ is duality and duality is a construct of the thinking mind with all its opposing categories of  ‘right and wrong’, ‘winning’ and losing’, ‘existing and not-existing’, ‘me and you’…

 

If we wanted to know who we really are, and what the world really is, then the only definition we can ever have is a negative definition, which is to say, all we can ever say is that we are NOT what our thoughts say we are and that life is NOT about what the official story says it is about. The story – whatever it may be – is guaranteed to be false, and that’s the only thing we can know for sure. The ‘story’ regarding what life is all about (i.e. the central all-determining narrative that the rational mind (or society) keeps spinning) is always fundamentally distorted. We can see this very easily if we just consider that the whole point of ‘a story’ is that it is always belonging to someone. Life isn’t a story however precisely because it isn’t happening to anyone!

 

I think that life is something that is ‘happening to me’ but all that’s really happening here is that consciousness is being enslaved (or imprisoned) by an illusion. ‘All there is is life happening’, as Tony Parsons says. There is no limiting ‘story’, there is no ‘one to whom everything is happening to’,  and this ‘lack of a limiting story’, this lack of an ‘isolated ego or self to whom everything is happening to’ equals free consciousness….

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game Creator

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monkey-Trap

monkey trap

What creates a sense of identity is being trapped – as soon as we cease to be trapped, we lose our identity! As Jean Baudrillard says, “It’s always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are.”

 

This is a crucial insight – it is the crucial insight – without it we aren’t getting anywhere. Or rather, without it we are going to be continually thinking that we are getting somewhere when we aren’t, and aren’t ever going to be. Without this insight we are going to be continually thinking that we actually genuinely honestly do want to ‘get somewhere’ when the unpalatable truth is that – deep down – we don’t!

 

What we’re looking at here is nothing other than the ‘jinx’ behind everyday unconscious life, therefore – the jinx that we are permanently oblivious to, permanently ignorant of. Even psychologists – who we might expect to know all about this particular double-bind – know nothing of its existence, of its invisible centrality to human life. Any mention of it is conspicuously absence from the training manuals that health services require their therapists to follow. Therapy – or rather so-called ‘therapy’ – proceeds in the absence of any awareness of this fundamental jinx.

 

Our everyday existence is fundamentally self-contradictory and we know nothing of this. We remain sublimely ignorant of the glitch that we are talking about here – we couldn’t be more ignorant of it. We are maximally ignorant of it. We take it for granted that everything is all very straightforward so when we do run into a brick wall as far as this endeavour of  ‘changing ourselves’ goes all we can do is blame ourselves for not trying hard enough; all we can do is castigate ourselves for being weak or unaccountably ineffectual. Those around us are very much inclined to hold us accountable for our lack of progress too, although they may not say it in so many words…

 

The mental health industry is rife with this type of implicit blaming! There is no way for things to be otherwise if we hold (as we do hold) that it is possible for us to change ourselves from unhappy, self-sabotaging states of mind to happy and peaceful ones just by some straightforward application of effort via some kind established method or protocol. We are simply incapable of doubting our hallowed methods or protocols – rule-based procedures are God as far as we are concerned and we will not hear a word said against them! This being the case, how can we not blame – either implicitly or explicitly – those who are subjected to the therapeutic rationale and yet fail to change their thinking or behaviour?  We have no choice in our blaming because of our belief in the unquestionable efficacy of our mechanical methods.

 

The essential problem that we aren’t addressing with all our models and methodologies is that any genuine attempt to change is always going to involve the sacrifice of our identity, which is the one thing we never want to do. There is an unacknowledged paradox at the heart of all rational therapy – the paradox being that the self is fundamentally incapable of wanting to change itself. The self can never relinquish the self. The conditioned self only has one form of behaviour and that is behaviour that is geared towards securing its own advantage. The self always acts to maintain its own essential integrity, in other words. This is its ‘essential mechanism’.

 

The fundamental ‘rational motivation’ is the motivation to preserve and extend the self, the identity, and this motivation – for reasons that we have already given – is fundamentally incompatible with a genuine wish for freedom. We don’t really want freedom, as Erich Fromm has pointed out. Freedom is actually our greatest fear! We say that we value freedom above all else but we don’t really mean it. If the sense of identity which we are trying to optimize via rational thought and behaviour is created by being trapped, being limited without knowing that we are limited, and if the only way to escape the pain that comes with being trapped or unknowingly limited is by relinquishing these self-imposed limits, then this straightaway becomes a cure that we do not want. We no longer have any appetite for the cure, if this is what it entails…

 

This then is the dilemma that we find ourselves in. We can’t bear the misery that comes with being trapped but at the same time we are fundamentally dependent upon that trap for our sense of identity, which is the most important thing in the world for us. We really are caught here therefore – there’s no way we are ever going to sacrifice our precious sense of identity, our sense of ‘being this defined self’ and so there is no real possibility of us ever escaping the yoke of suffering that conditioned existence places upon us.

 

We don’t really want to change anything important, anything major, and yet at the same time we can’t simply ‘stay as we are’. We can’t stay where we are either because seeing that there is actually no way that we will ever be free from this pain, this unmitigated misery, would be fundamentally unbearable to us. We just couldn’t carry on the way we are if we had this insight – that’s how crushing it is. The awareness of the truth of our situation would totally banjax the mechanism of the conditioned self. We solve this dilemma in the only way we can therefore – by not facing up to the fact that we don’t actually want to change.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that we solve the dilemma by being fundamentally insincere. It’s not that we ‘choose’ to be insincere – we don’t have any choice in the matter. Our nature as conditioned beings is such that we always want to be moving away from pain; this drive to avoid pain is ‘built into us’, so to speak. As we have already said, the fundamental ‘rational motivation’ is to maintain our sense of identity, our sense of being this defined self, and mental pain is pain to us precisely because it threatens this sense of self. Just as physical pain is as inimical to us as it is because it threatens our physical organism in some way, mental pain is as profoundly unwelcome to us as it is because it threats the integrity of our self-concept. Another way to put this is to say that our fundamental motivation is fear – fear is the self-concept’s relationship with unconditioned reality!

 

So we say one thing and do another. We might – as part of our strategy – go through the motions of doing whatever it is that we (supposedly) need to do in order to change but we don’t really mean it. It’s all an act that I am putting on – not so much to fool others as it is to fool myself. I need to believe that I am taking steps to better my situation, to make things more tolerable for myself. This is as we have said my basic tropism – I have to be moving away from pain (or rather, I have to believe that I am moving away from pain). Because as a conditioned being I am driven by fear in everything I do, I have no choice in doing anything other than running!

 

It’s all running as far as the conditioned self is concerned. Even if I run towards pain (or take on difficult stuff) it’s only because I believe that I can in this way ultimately reduce my pain. Even my moving towards pain is running, therefore! Even when I take part in therapy this is running. All purposeful behaviour is running because all purposeful behaviour is ultimately driven by the need to avoid pain (or fear). All my goals are pain-avoidance – my goals are attractive to me in the way that they are because they represent an escape from fear. My goals ARE my fear, therefore.

 

Being a slave to fear means that I have to run. But even though I am ostensibly running away from pain, at the same time, on a core level, I have absolutely no intention of ever relinquishing the pain-producing trap that I am in. All I can do therefore is to carry on living the theatre in which I am working to better my situation, and this means making sure that I remain unconscious of my true motivation. I have to split myself in two, so to speak – I have to exist on the theatrical level where I believe the cover story of what is going on, and I also have to operate on the level where I have to stick around to make sure that there is never any chance of anything ever changing…

 

This situation sounds utterly hopeless but of course it isn’t. What we are looking at here is the classic ‘monkey trap’ – the monkey is trapped because of his greed, he is trapped because of the way in which has greed will not let him relinquish the precious fistful of peanuts that he has just acquired. Because he cannot let go of the peanuts he cannot withdraw his hand from the narrow neck of the bottle in which he found the nuts; because of his stubborn refusal to let go of the prize the monkey cannot bring himself to free himself! Escaping from the trap is the easiest, most straightforward thing in the world – all we have to do is forfeit the peanuts. All we have to do is value freedom more than we value the claustrophobic illusion of the self-image!

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing The Truth

maat-arte-papyrys-s

We don’t have to ‘accept ourselves’ in order to find peace – we just have to see ourselves the way we are. That turns out to be a lot less problematical! ‘Accepting ourselves’ is actually very problematical (impossibly problematical, in fact) since as Alan Watts says the desire to accept ourselves arises from our non-acceptance of our own non-accepting selves! That’s an irresolvable paradox but we don’t like to see paradoxes. We prefer to think that they don’t exist – paradoxes upset our nice, over-simplified scheme of things! And yet if we don’t confront the inescapable paradoxes that the rational-purposeful mind is founded on, how are we ever going to escape the morass of self-deception that we generally exist within? We like to think that we can accept ourselves – that we can ‘do’ this as a kind of perfectly regular and straightforward ‘volitional act’, just as we can put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. We like to think we can do this, but we can’t! What we can do however – although again not on a ‘regular straightforward volitional or intentional basis’ – is see ourselves. Seeing isn’t an intentional act on our part – it’s something that happens all by itself just as long as we don’t block it.

 

 

This of course presents a difficulty since inasmuch as we suspect or fear that we might see something that we don’t like we are going to be inclined to block the spontaneous process of awareness, of becoming aware. We are inclined (more than inclined) to block without even knowing that we are, and for the reason ‘seeing’ ourselves as we actually we are isn’t by any means as straightforward as it may sound. We have reframed the well-known formula of ‘accepting oneself’ because of the implication that this is something that can actually be ‘done’, in the same way that we might be able to tie our shoelaces or comb our hair. Actually, to tell someone (or ourselves) to ‘accept themselves’ is a meaningless instruction – it’s meaningless because it’s self-contradictory! So instead of talking about ‘accepting oneself’ we’re saying that what actually helps is to simply see ourselves just as we are in this moment. We might not like ourselves for being the way that we are, but then again if we see that we don’t like ourselves being the way that we are then this too is simply ‘the way that we are’ and so all we have to do is see this. This is a helpful approach precisely because it shows that there is no question whatsoever of us having to change ourselves, or of having any obligation or responsibility to change ourselves. We just see ourselves as we actually are, and this is NOT a self-contradictory instruction!

 

 

So the ‘original formula’ is that if you accept yourself then you will find peace, but – as we usually understand it – this ‘instruction’ it doesn’t lead to peace at all. On the contrary, if we try to follow the instruction, we end up caught in endless conflict and self-contradiction. We’re ‘up against ourselves’ the whole time if we try to accept ourselves. We’re fighting an enemy and the enemy is ourselves, and all this in the name of ‘acceptance’! Our ‘reframed’ version of the formula is therefore “If you see yourself as you really are then you will find peace’” If we’re ‘allowing ourselves to see the truth’ then clearly we are no longer struggling against the truth, and ‘not struggling against what is true’ is of course the same thing as peace!

 

 

Just to summarize one more time, what we’re saying here is that peace lies in ‘seeing the truth of our situation’ and not in some problematic (hypothetical) act of ‘accepting ourselves’. If I am deliberately trying to accept myself then this means that I believe that it is possible for me to be some other way than thee way that I actually am, by wanting to be a different way, by willing myself to be ‘other than I am’. Because I believe this, I try to accept myself in order to become ‘accepting’, which I understand – quite rightly – to be a more peaceful state than the state of non-accepting. If I didn’t believe that it was possible for me to change myself to become ‘accepting of myself’ when I am not then I wouldn’t try. Why would I try to do something that I know to be impossible? I might of course try half-heartedly (out of habit, so to speak); I might ‘go through the motions’, but I won’t ‘wholeheartedly’ try to change myself. I won’t be as invested in it as I might otherwise be because I can clearly see that it’s an insane (or self-contradictory) instruction.  Being 100% invested in the attempt to change ourselves is never a healthy thing therefore, no matter what people might say. Being ‘100% invested in trying to change ourselves’ comes out of an unexamined commitment in not seeing the truth!

 

 

All purposeful activity is ‘aggressive’ in this way, therefore. Purposeful activity comes out of having an agenda and having an agenda comes out of an unwillingness to let go of our ideas of ‘how things should be’. If we are unwilling in this way to let go of our assumptions of how things should be there is only ever one reason for this and that reason is fear. Unwillingness to let go is always due to fear; unwillingness to let go actually IS fear! This gives us a nice simple way of understanding our own behaviour – it is simple without being simplistic; it is simple without oversimplifying, as most models do. The point is that we only have these two ways of being in the world – one is aggressive and is based on fear, and the other is honestly and this is based on fearlessness. Being fearless in the way we are talking about it doesn’t mean acting bravely on the outside in terms of what we either do or don’t do (although of course it could do) – it means being able to see (to some degree) what we are doing and why. Being ‘psychologically fearless’ is all about being honest with ourselves about the way we are, therefore, and as we have just said this is not at all the same thing as wanting to change the way we are! It’s not just ‘not the same thing’ as wanting to change ourselves, it is the complete antithesis of this…

 

 

When we are straining and striving to change ourselves this is never coming out of fearlessness; it is always fear (or rather the aggression that comes out of fear). Being fearless doesn’t mean that we stop trying to change the way we are either – it just means that we are able to bring consciousness to our situation and see what we are doing. Seeing that our activity is aggressive is not itself aggressive, whilst fighting against our aggression – so as to try to stop it or modify it – is. This is almost always a very confusing thing for us to understand since struggling is second nature for us, and we always tend to see struggling (or controlling) as ‘the right thing to do’. Sometimes controlling is the right thing to do – if I am losing control of the car that I’m driving then bringing it back under control is of course extremely important. As regards how we feel, and what is going on in our heads, struggling or straining or striving or controlling is all only ‘fear by any other name’ and it is patently ridiculous to imagine otherwise! If we are ‘fighting against the truth’ then this necessarily means that we are running away from the truth (what else could we be doing), and running away from the truth equals fear.

 

 

Because struggling to control (or ‘regulate’) how we are in ourselves is only ever ‘fear in disguise’ this means that no benefit can ever come from it, no matter how good we are at struggling / striving / controlling! Regulating oneself always means unwittingly creating suffering. How can obeying fear ever possibly produce a ‘beneficial result’? How can good come out of running away from fear? Obeying fear can’t – from a psychological point of view – ever lead to a beneficial because if we’re doing this then we’re ‘stacking up suffering for ourselves in the future’ and we wouldn’t normally see this type of thing as being ‘beneficial’! Clearly there is a kind of an incentive – actually an extraordinarily compelling one – to doing this otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it and that incentive has to do with the way in which we feel good when we (temporarily) succeed at hiding from fear. Of course we feel good – hiding from what frightens us tastes sweeter than sweet! It’s sweeter than honey… So there is this immediate very welcome relief of thinking that we have got somewhere, or ‘accomplished something’ (i.e. succeeded in hiding from the fear, although we do not of course admit this to ourselves) and this relief sets us up – so to speak – from the disappointment, disillusionment and dismay that comes when we realize that we haven’t actually got anywhere, that we have in fact only been successful at fooling ourselves that everything is sorted (that everything is OK) when the truth is that it very much isn’t…

 

 

If our sense of well-being comes from believing that we have accomplished something real when we haven’t (that we haven’t just been deceiving ourselves because we’re too scared to confront the truth) then truth is going to be a very unwelcome visitor at the door. If the pleasure or sense of relief that we are experiencing is the result of fear-driven self-deception, then clearly this type of ‘good feeling’ is nothing more than a preliminary stage to profound suffering and so what this means – even though we don’t ever look at it like this – all of our efforts to obtain the short-term relief (that we don’t perceive as ‘short-term relief’) are actually efforts that are directed towards obtaining pain and suffering. Every time we chase a goal that has something to do with us feeling more in control, more secure or well set-up in the world, we are in pursuit of our own suffering. The ‘urge to control’ (when it comes to our own inner states of being, at least) is itself nothing more than a perverse tropism towards pain, a reaching out for pain, an inexorable ‘seeking out’ of pain…

 

 

This is just another way of saying therefore that when we run away from our fear we are stacking up suffering for ourselves in the future. We don’t allow ourselves to see that we are stacking up pain and suffering for ourselves in the future because we are focussed so intently on the short term goal of gaining relief – gaining that short-term relief is all we care about.  This is actually the way our minds work generally; all of our strategizing in life is short-term strategizing. We’re always working to secure comfort for ourselves in the immediate future at the cost of great hardship later on – this is our modus operandi. When it comes down to it, all strategizing is short-term strategizing. There’s no such thing as ‘a genuine long-term strategy’. This might seem like a strange thing to say but the point is that all of our understanding is incomplete since it is based only on our present, very limited way of looking at things, and so whenever we act on the basis of this limited viewpoint (this closed viewpoint) we are simply pushing trouble ahead of us, stacking in up for ourselves in the future. It is inevitable that we are storing trouble for ourselves in the future when we act out of the rational mind because this mind always acts as if it does not represent a fragmentary viewpoint on reality, when it always is. We crave the security of thinking that our viewpoint is not fragmentary, is complete (because we fear what we do not and cannot know) and the result of clutching onto this false mind-created sense of security in the way that we always do is as we have said the creating of suffering.

 

 

A more ‘essential’ way of putting all this is to say that this suffering-producing limited-or-closed viewpoint that we are holding onto so desperately (for the sake of the false sense of security it gives us) is nothing other than the everyday self. How tightly do we hold onto the everyday self? How tight is our grip? Obviously this is a rhetorical question since ‘holding on’ is what we mainly do! Our grip is pretty much absolute. That’s our stock-in-trade’ – all of our controlling is holding on, all of our goals and rational purposes are holding on, all of our theories are beliefs are holding on. All of our ‘certainties’ are holding on. And what this ‘holding on’ is doing for us is protecting us from the Big Unknown that we don’t want to let ourselves know about. And why are we so dead set on ‘protecting’ ourselves from this ‘Big unknown’? We have of course already looked at this question – ‘fear’ and ‘a false sense of ontological security’ (i.e. a sense of security where there is none) always go together. More than ‘go together’, ‘fear’ and a ‘false sense of security’ are one and the same thing. There is no separating them! We cling to a false sense of security because we are afraid and clinging to a false sense of security creates fear…

 

 

Everything we do out of the limited (or closed) everyday sense of self we do for the covert sake of proving that this sense of self is actually real, is actually genuine, that it isn’t just something that ‘comes about’ as a result of our fear-driven holding on. All attempts to control or regulate ourselves are necessarily going to be based on our limited (or closed) idea of who we are, and for this reason all theorizing, all planning, all controlling and regulating and strategizing, are always going to be for the sake of ‘propping up the illusion that we are so attached to’. This controlling / regulating / strategizing is all a manifestation of the ‘mode of being’ in which we are fighting against reality, therefore. In this mode of being we have no interest in seeing the truth; when we are in this mode of being (which is the mode of being / mode of existence most of us are in most of the time) we are very interested in not seeing the truth! Our allegiance is to the comforting illusion, even if it does so happen that this ‘comforting illusion’ is also a suffering-generating illusion…

 

 

To come back to our original point then – the everyday self cannot accept itself because its whole ethos is based on ‘not seeing the truth’ or ‘not seeing the Big Picture’. The idea of it ‘accepting itself’ is utterly ludicrous, utterly ridiculous… If it were to accept itself it would have to accept itself as it actually is, and this would involve seeing the truth! If on the other hand we did find it within ourselves to ‘allow ourselves to see ourselves as we actually are’, then this would mean that we are now seeing that in our ordinary, everyday life we are constantly being driven by the need to hide from our own fear. This would mean seeing that what we call our own ‘will’ or ‘volition’ is nothing more than fear in disguise. But if we are able to see that our everyday motivation is ‘fear in disguise’ then THIS would mean that we are no longer afraid!

 

 

 

 

We Are ‘Relief-Seeking Mechanisms’

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The best way to get a handle on the idea of ‘psychological work’ is to understand what it is not, and what it is not is our normal everyday mode of mental functioning! This ‘everyday mental modality’ – which is generally the only mode we have – can be neatly explained by saying that it is all about obtaining relief. This is not a particularly flattering way to understand ourselves but it is nevertheless a very accurate one. Despite any illusions we might have to the contrary, it doesn’t take very much at all to understand ‘what makes us tick’. Basically, the fundamental underlying motivation for our purposeful (as opposed to spontaneous) behaviour is the non-negotiable need to find relief from difficulty or discomfort.

 

It is this very simple motive that lies behind all of our purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour, and behind all our rational thinking. If I am busy performing actions, then what lies behind my busy-ness is the need to find relief and if I am busy thinking then what lies this busy-ness is also the need to find relief (in the case of thinking I am trying to find relief by analysing or problem-solving).

 

We don’t like to know this about ourselves and it is this resistance to seeing the less-than-glamorous truth that is the first obstacle to genuine self-understanding. We like to think that we are more complex, more diverse than simple pain-avoidance machines, mechanisms which are driven by nothing more interesting or heroic or inspirational than the need ‘not to challenge ourselves anymore than we can possibly avoid’.

 

This motivation is sometimes called the motivation of attachment and attachment covers both attraction (positive desire) and aversion (negative desire). In essence both attraction and aversion come down to ‘the need to seek relief from discomfort’ – when I am experiencing attraction it is difficult to be in the place where I haven’t yet obtained what I want to obtain and therefore the way that I look for relief from this demand is to try as hard as I can to succeed at obtaining whatever it is that I am experiencing attraction towards. I am automatically running away from the challenge of ‘doing the hard thing’ which is ‘not achieving the desired outcome’. When I experience aversion the same thing is true – some difficulty or discomfort is impinging upon me and the only way I can find relief is to somehow escape that difficulty. The hard thing in attraction is ‘not chasing’  or ‘not grasping’ and the hard thing in aversion is ‘not running away’, ‘not avoiding’.

 

Not to put too fine a point on it, what this means is that we are – for 99% of the time – no more than mere ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’. We don’t do anything for any higher purpose than self-interest although in order to protect our image of ourselves we dignify this self-serving activity by coming up with all sorts of validations for what we’re doing. We find some sort of reason for doing it, for going along with it. We say that we want to be doing whatever it is that we’re doing. We say that what we’re doing is ‘the right thing’, or ‘the good thing’.

 

As ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’ free will is a complete and utter illusion – our only freedom is the freedom to find the relief that we are so humourlessly seeking! When we express things like this it does not sound like a particularly convincing (or very enjoyable) form of freedom but when we’re actually stuck in the position of needing the relief (or rather feeling that we need the freedom) the freedom to obtain relief (whether it genuinely is freedom or not, or genuinely is enjoyable or not) is the only thing we’re actually interested in. As a ‘relief-seeking mechanism’, I really am not interested in anything else. Not only am I not interested in anything else, I’m not actually capable of understanding anything else. Can a machine be expected to understand anything or have appreciation of anything that in no way relates to its functional repertory?

 

This of course is fine and we can all grasp the above point perfectly well – the thing we can’t grasp however is why it should be the case that our psychology(when seen stripped of all the superfluous notions with which we like to cloak ourselves) should be that of a mere ‘relief-seeking mechanism. This, we can’t grasp at all! We don’t actually want to grasp it, in fact it could be said that our whole way of seeing things is orientated in such a way that we never do run the risk of seeing anything of the sort. We see things backwards – we see our constant looking for relief as something positive, we see it as the most wonderful expression of our own true volition, when the less-than-wonderful truth of the matter is that we’re simply looking for relief, in whatever way we can…

 

This of course sounds too ridiculous to us to even consider (we won’t consider it) and yet at the same time once we ‘get it’ it all becomes laughably obvious. We would wonder how on earth we didn’t see it before. We would wonder how we could have missed it, how we could have been so blind. The ‘trick’ is that everything has been turned upside down – everything we want to achieve we really only want to achieve as a release, and yet we see it as our own free will. We see the ‘achievement’ as an actual positive value in itself and this ‘reversed perception’ is what conditioned existence is all about – we fondly imagine that we are doing this, that or the other because we want to whereas the truth of the matter is that we have been conditioned to want to and this isn’t the same thing at all. Wanting something because you have been conditioned to want it is not just ‘not the same thing’ as genuine volition – it’s the complete antithesis of it.

 

All of the things we want, all of our ‘goals’ are simply ‘whatever we need to do in order to find (temporary) release from whatever pressure is acting upon us. We want the release from pressure that achieving the designated goal will bring rather than wanting the goal itself, but rather than seeing this we see it the other way around. We’re chasing ‘escapes from the pain we’re in’ not the things themselves; we’re pursuing ‘what the goal represents to us’ rather than the goals themselves. When we ‘do the thing’ (or ‘achieve the goal’) we feel good and so if we take a superficial view of this (as we do) it can very easily seem to us that it’s the fulfilment of our purpose that we want when actually it’s the good feeling that we get as a result of fulfilling it that we’re after. And of course it’s not just that ‘it could very easily seem’ that it’s the fulfilment of our goal/purpose that all the excitement’s about, it does seem that way to us. Our psychological makeup is such that that all our attention is directed onto what is going on ‘on the outside’ so that we don’t notice the mechanical processes that are going ‘in the background’. We don’t notice the pressure that’s acting on us, we just notice the relief that comes when there is a (temporary) cessation of this pressure and this manifests as ‘satisfaction’ or ‘pleasure’. Genuine volition is never to seek pleasure or satisfaction! How could it be? This ought to be obvious to us (how could it not be?) and yet it isn’t at all obvious. We know it isn’t obvious by virtue of the fact that no one ever sees it!

 

We don’t see that moving towards pleasure or satisfaction is a ‘down-hill’ (or ‘equilibrium-seeking’) movement – it is a purely mechanical process just like a tightly-wound steel spring unwinding and driving a system of cogs and wheels, just like a marble running down a wooden chute. This ‘purely mechanical process’ is not volition! Volition isn’t when we go along with the mechanical process; it isn’t when we work towards obtaining relief / pleasure / satisfaction. True volition is on the contrary when we don’t do this! Genuine volition is not (and never could be) about achieving goals. That’s just going along with the system of thought’ and the system of thought is mechanical through and through – there’s nothing ‘non-mechanical’ about it at all. What’s not mechanical about logic, after all? Yet to say that ‘true volition is not about achieving (or trying to achieve) goals is profoundly baffling to us. To say that this statement ‘goes against the grain of our everyday understanding’ is an understatement of epic proportions. We can’t figure this out at all. We might try to figure it out – if pressed – but we will still end up getting it wrong. If we say that trying to obtain pleasure or satisfaction is not genuine volition and that finding our genuine volition is the only thing that will free us from our wretched mechanical predicament then we will of course try to go against our mechanical impulses. We will try to oppose them but then this too is ‘mechanical’. Going against the mechanical impulses is still mechanical because all we have done is to swap one goal for another; we’ve switched goals but we’re still ‘looking for relief’ no matter what our goal might be. After all, all goals are ‘looking for relief’! We’re trying to get the system of thought to validate us, to validate what we’re doing. We’re trying to accord with some sort of logic. All we’ve really done is to switch a minus for a plus but NO equals the system of thought just as much as YES does!

 

So when we fight against mechanical impulses all we’re really doing is reversing the goal from a positive to a negative. Whatever the rational-logical mind presents us with as ‘a good idea’ is (of course) only ever going to be ‘just another goal’. Anything thought presents us with is a goal (or an anti-goal, which is the same thing. anything thought presents us with is always going to ‘definite’ and ‘definite’ – of any type or description whatsoever – always equals the system of thought. So what we’re essentially saying here is that the thinking mind can only ever provide us with ‘escapes’ from some kind of difficulty or challenge, and yet these escapes’ aren’t real. They aren’t real because thought itself isn’t real – thought is a system of abstractions. Thought presents us with escapes from discomfort / pain / fear, all of which have to do with our relationship (or rather lack of relationship!) with radical uncertainty, which is the unconditioned or uncreated reality; it presents us with ‘opt outs’ from reality which it calls ‘solutions’ or ‘answers’ or ‘goals’ – words which sound inspiringly positive to us! But no matter how positively we view these words, they are only ever ways of talking about ‘obeying the compulsion to escape’. It’s only fear-driven ‘relief-seeking’ we’re on about and there’s nothing particularly inspirational about this – we’re not heroes, no matter what we’d like to think! All we’re doing is ‘glorifying our running away’; all we’re doing is seeing ‘obeying compulsions’ as freely doing what we really and truly want to do.

 

So what we’re essentially saying here is that the thinking mind is no help to us at all with regard to psychological work. It always points us in the wrong direction. The rational mind is as we have said essentially a ‘relief-seeking mechanism’ and to the extent that we are identified with the rational mind so are we. This is why we are ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’ – because we’re identified with the everyday thinking mind. As soon as we have this insight everything that we have so far been talking about immediately becomes clear. Everything can then be seen in the most beautifully simple and straightforward way – we can see that psychological work is when we are NOT acting on the basis of thought!

 

This proposition is at the same time both wonderfully simple and formidably challenging – all we have to ‘do’ in order not to be evading reality (even though it is of course not a ‘doing’) is to be in the world independently, standing on our own two feet (as it were), as we actually are in ourselves, without any artifice, without any cunning. What could be simpler than this? Any child could do this! And yet this proves to be the hardest thing of all; as simple as it is, to just be ourselves without any artifice turns out to the greatest challenge we will ever meet in our lives. We don’t know how to come out of the constricting shell of the thinking mind even if we wanted to do so, even if we realized that we were trapped in this ‘shell’ (which we don’t). We do everything on the basis of thought, oPyschn the basis of the thinking mind. We live our lives pretty much entirely on this basis and because we do live our lives this way – minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, year after year – we don’t even know that there is ‘a basis’. We couldn’t be further from knowing that there is a mechanical basis to our living, to our being in the world. We don’t think we’re playing any sort of a game, we think that we’re ‘doing it straight’! We think that there’s no trickery going on, that there’s no manipulation – that this is just ‘the way things are’.

 

We’re tricky creatures. We’re ‘trick-loving creatures’ and thought is our trick! We have become inseparable from our trick – we are playing it all the time without knowing that we are playing it. To be separated from the trick that we are playing (without knowing we are playing it) would be the ultimately terrifying scenario for us. All of our fear and terrors come down to ontological terror in the end – lack of ontological security is the one thing that we never want to face. Anything rather than that! When our own trickiness catches up with us – as it always does – and constricts the very life out of us, we do our level best to come up with new, improved forms of trickery and we call this ‘therapy’!  We do our level best to come up with new, super-sophisticated tricks to solve the problems that our original reliance on trickery has caused. It’s trickery on top of trickery, trickery trying to solve trickery. We think that cleverness is the answer. The one thing that we just can’t seem to see – to paraphrase Rumi is that when we give up tricks and cleverness, then that will be our cleverest trick!