Outside the Framework


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!






In the Flow


To say that ‘everything just is what it is’ tends to sound rather vague, rather wishy-washy. It tends to sound emptily portentious. It doesn’t sound like we’re saying anything really. Of course everything is what it is! So what, we might ask. Where does that get us? It might sound rather wishy-washy to say this (from the point of view of our ordinary way of thinking) but actually this is a radical insight. It’s a ‘radical insight’ because it changes everything!


Normally, we take it for granted that ‘things are what we think they are’ which is an entirely different kettle of fish to them being ‘what they actually are’. Normally, we do a whole heap of assuming in arriving at our identifications of what things are, what the world is, what we are, and we never pay even the slightest attention to the fact that we have done all this assuming to arrive at what we think to be ‘the final picture’. We assume a hell of a lot to obtain our rational picture of the world, and this – we might say – wrong-foots us right from the very start. It wrong-foots us right from the very start because it makes everything about us, and everything isn’t all about us….


When we make assumptions in order to arrive at a rational picture of the world (which we have to do, since this is the only way the rational process can occur – by guessing, by assuming, by jumping to conclusions, by saying ‘let’s suppose that..’ and then proceeding as if this basis were true) then we make everything ‘about us’ because the assumptions that we are using here are ours and do not exist independently of us, out there in reality somewhere. So when we form a rational picture of the world we are of course seeing that world in terms of our own assumptions and this is making the world all about us. We’re not seeing things as they are in themselves at all.


Another way of explaining this is to say that when we see the world through our rational/conceptual filter then – even though we are unconscious of the fact – we have introduced the need to control and because we have introduced the need to control (right there at the very beginning of the process) we are obliged from here on in to carry on controlling. Controlling always leads to more controlling. There’s no way we can start off controlling without being obliged to continue – there’s no way out of this because we have ‘taken charge of the process’. By taking charge of the process because we’ve made it all about us!


When we see that ‘everything just is what it is’ then this means that we haven’t made any assumptions. We haven’t taken control of the process therefore – we’ve allowed it to carry on being the way that it already is and so we don’t get hooked into the need to control it. Or as we could also say, when we see that ‘everything just is what it is’ then we are in the flow. But how often is this the case? Generally speaking, we don’t even know what it feels like to be ‘in the flow’. Generally speaking, what happens is that we set up a static framework of thought around us and then we see everything in terms of this framework. We conceptualize everything – we have it all organized neatly in our heads and once we do this then we don’t let go of the reins – we can’t let go of the reins because we’ve taken on the job of saying what reality is’ without even realizing that we have taken anything on. Unwittingly, we’ve taken control of something we ought never to have taken control of. Or perhaps we could say, we’ve taken control of something that didn’t actually need us taking control of. It was after all doing quite fine all by itself beforehand…


We might have the world all conceptualized, we might have it all organized in neat and tidy boxes in our heads, but that of course isn’t the way it actually is. Really, the world just is. It doesn’t fit into any framework. Why should it? The framework is just there for our benefit, after all. The world doesn’t need a framework to explain itself to itself! The world isn’t obliged to ‘make sense’ in any particular narrow way. That’s just the game we play with it. So what we think is going on around us when we look at the world through the ‘narrow filter of the rational mind’ isn’t going on at all. When we look at the world in the way that we normally do then we’re seeing things in terms of our agenda, and this happens without us even knowing that we do have one. We think we’re ‘seeing things straight’, just as they are! We’re absolutely convinced that we’re seeing things straight – we couldn’t be more convinced.


This invisible agenda guides our thinking. More than this, it determines what we see and what we don’t see. If something doesn’t have any bearing on our agenda, any relevance to our agenda, then it doesn’t have any importance to us and because it doesn’t have any importance to us we don’t pay it any attention. Because we don’t pay it any attention it doesn’t really exist for us. So the invisible agenda (which is the same thing as the rational-conceptual mind) determines what we see and what we don’t see, what’s important and what’s not important, what is real and what is not real. Having an agenda (or having a ‘framework’ or ‘rational overview’) gives us a whole different way of relating to the word, therefore. In short, we personalize it! We personalize the world – we make it all about us.


When happens then (after we personalize the world) is that we react to everything  that happens according to the meaning that our agenda puts on it: if it fits in with what we want to happen then I feel good and if it doesn’t fit in then I feel bad. Everything gets coloured with this – the whole world gets coloured with ‘like and dislike’. Because I am seeing everything in terms of my framework (the framework which is my mind, the framework which is ‘me’) nothing gets seen for what it is in itself. Instead, everything gets seen in terms of me, in terms of what it means to me, and this isn’t the same thing at all. As we have said, everything has now been personalized and so all I am really seeing is my own agenda reflected faithfully back at me…


Because everything has been personalized, there is no more flow. I’m not in the flow any more. Instead, I am controlling. I’m out of the flow. I’m in my head. I am bending everything out of shape to fit my agenda for seeing things. I am complicating everything by ‘making it what it is not’. What I am doing is as we have said is that via my controlling I am personalizing everything – because I am controlling everything I am making it all about me. I am of course perfectly free to personalize the world in this way but to do so is to introduce a distortion because the actual truth of the matter is that the world isn’t ‘all about me’! This just isn’t true, this just isn’t the case! How could everything be about me? How could the whole world be centred on me (and what either I want or don’t want)? And yet despite this being very obviously absurd, we still go ahead and personalize the world on a full-time basis. We hardly ever don’t personalize everything. The very fact that I only ever see the world in terms of how it looks when it is fed through the distorting filter of my rational mind means that I am personalizing it. This isn’t reality – this is my own private version of it. As Heraclitus says,

The waking have one world in common; sleepers have each a private world of his own.

My everyday mind is the framework into which I am trying to fit everything – it is ‘my agenda for seeing things’ and so when I see the world through this framework then I have immediately taken myself out of the flow. When we operate out of the assumed framework, out of the thinking, measuring mind, then we are taking ourselves out of the flow because we are not seeing things for what they are. Instead, we are seeing them for what they mean to us. We are then trapped in the abstract world that the measuring mind has created for us, and we don’t know the difference!  Or as is suggested here in verse 32 of the Tao Te Ching (Trans. Stephen Hodge 2002), once we start naming then we get trapped in the world of names and we don’t know the difference –

When we begin to regulate, there is naming,
But when there has been naming
We should also know how to stop.
Only by knowing how to stop can we avoid danger.

To our normal way of thinking the suggestion that we are trapped in a false, mind-created world sounds quite ridiculous – we would reject it straightaway as being nonsensical. We’re in the real world, we would say. The suggestion that we are seeing things in our own private, personalized way sounds nonsensical. And yet – as a moment’s reflection would show – there’s no way that this can’t be the case. Of course we are seeing everything from our own arbitrary point of view, of course we are seeing everything purely in relation to our own personalized ‘yardstick for measuring reality’. Of course we are trapped in an abstract mind-created representation of the world. We might collude with others in using the same arbitrary point of view, the same yardstick, but this doesn’t make it any less arbitrary. Utilizing a collective viewpoint just makes it a million times harder to actually see that it is arbitrary…


Because of our assumed viewpoint everything’s bent out of shape without us knowing that it’s bent out of shape. Because of our assumed viewpoint we’re bound to keep on controlling without knowing that we are controlling. We don’t know that we are controlling, we don’t know that we are holding the reins so tight the whole time. We aren’t aware of this because we’re so very used to it. It’s normal for us. The only time we start to become aware of this controlling is when anxiety creeps into the picture and we catch a glimpse (a very unwelcome glimpse) of just how much stress we’re under, of just how much we need to control. Sometimes we get more than just a glimpse – sometimes we become very aware indeed of how terrible our ‘need for control’ is and when this happens we are said to be clinically anxious. At such times we tend to get the terrifying feeling that we are ‘about to crack up’ – only it’s not really us that is about to crack up, but the unconscious ‘system of control’ that we have come to rely on without realizing it. It is this system of control that is heading for a crisis point (it is after all ultimately unworkable anyway) but because we have identified so thoroughly with the system of thinking, and because we invested so much in it, we experience this as our impending crisis. The one thing we can’t see at such times is that we don’t actually have to be in control at all!


If we were ‘in the flow’ then we would see that we don’t have to control because the flow doesn’t need controlling. That’s why it’s called ‘the flow’ – because it doesn’t need controlling! The normal state of affairs however (as we have said) is for us to be ‘out of the flow’. Everything’s bent out of shape without us realizing that it’s bent out of shape. We’re controlling without realizing that we’re controlling. In this ‘normal state of affairs’ – even when there (apparently) isn’t any major stress going on – there are constant minor fluctuations or perturbations going on. When these fluctuations tend towards ‘the way we think things should be’ then we feel good and when – on the other hand – the parameters under consideration are drifting away from their designated values then we feel correspondingly bad, we feel bad because we feel that we have failed to control the situation satisfactorily. These variations in the gap between ‘how things are’ and ‘how we think they should be’ have the mechanical role of determining whether we can feel good or bad, therefore. In Eastern terms, this is known as attachment.


There are always going to be these little stresses occurring in everyday life in accordance with how we are doing with regard to controlling the relevant variables, the variables that we (or society) have deemed important. The ‘need to control’ is always present therefore, but as long as we are able to stay more or less on top of things it seems as if we have controlling because we want to, controlling because it suits our interests to be doing so. When however anxiety cuts in (and we start to get the feeling that everything is going out of control) then we become painfully aware that we are ‘controlling because we have to’ and this is a different kettle of fish entirely. In the first scenario, this is more like a pleasant game or distraction that we can enjoy, whereas when anxiety really cuts in then everything switches over into the dark side (so to speak) and there is no hiding the fact that we are mercilessly controlled by ‘the need to control’. This is the grim reality. Fear is the grim reality.


The type of life we normally lead (which is to say, the type of life that we lead when we are not in the flow) is thus one in which we are constantly swinging between right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable, satisfactory and unsatisfactory. Everything is either ‘win or lose’, as we could also say. This is a very peculiar state of affairs because there is no peace in it, no ease in it. There is simply no ‘resting’ in this type of a situation – if I get it wrong (if I lose) there is no resting because I have to make things right, and if I get it right (if I win) then I still can’t rest because I have to make sure that the advantageous position which I have just secured for myself doesn’t slip away from my grasp again. It’s an ongoing struggle, in other words, and the reason it is an ongoing struggle is because the goals that I am trying to attain are abstract ideals that do not exist in the real world! This particular type of problem shows up very clearly in what is called ‘perfectionism’ – perfectionism is an endless, fruitless struggle because there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ in the real world…


The state of affairs in which we are constantly swinging between right and wrong, good and bad, win and lose, etc, isn’t actually life, no matter what ideas we might have to the contrary. This isn’t life – it’s a mockery of life, a cruel distortion of life. What we have actually done by ‘personalizing everything’ (or ‘controlling everything’) is that we have turned life into a game. Life is a flow – it moves freely on, it doesn’t need to be controlled or regulated. It moves with grace, with ease, with its own innate poetry and dignity. It doesn’t get snagged on hooks the whole time; it doesn’t keep running into insurmountable barriers, into brick walls. A game, on the other hand, is a loop. And not only is it a loop, it’s the type of a loop that we can’t see to be a loop, and because we can’t see it to be a loop we keep on going around and around in it. Rather than seeing that we’re trapped we think that we’re actually getting somewhere and so we keep on with what we’re doing, we keep at it and it, ricocheting from win to lose, from right to wrong, from hit to miss the whole time without ever really getting anywhere. We’re forever bouncing from one extreme to the other; we’re forever oscillating from one polar opposite to the other like some kind of a crazy rubber ball.


What’s tripping us up all the time is ourselves. That’s what’s keeping us out of the flow. Or we could say that what’s keeping us out of the flow (what’s keeping us trapped in the loop that we think is the flow) is our agenda – i.e. our everyday thinking – which is of course the one thing we are never going to see as the source of our problems.


‘Like and dislike’ is what’s tripping us up all the time. ‘Like and dislike’ is what’s keeping us spinning around and around on the wheel. And all we need to do to get free from this wheel and come back into the flow of life is to see through like and dislike, is to see though our constant counterproductive fear-driven need to be in control…

The Core of Who We Are

butterfly ship

The most precious part of ourselves, the core of who we are, is not under our control. Our inspiration, creativity and compassion are not under our control. Our joy and peace of mind are not under our control. The truly authentic part of ourselves (the essential spark of ‘who we really are’) is not under our control and that is how we can know that it is truly authentic, and not merely some act, some show, some pretence – some ‘accessory’ that we have picked up along the way. Coming at this the other way, we can say that all the stuff which is under our control is not real, not authentic, not true. We can say that all the stuff that is under our control is not who we are.


This is a very curious thing because it is generally only the stuff that we are in control of that we value, that we have time for! The side of us that isn’t under our control (which is actually not a ‘side’ at all but actually the whole of ourselves) is actually disowned – it isn’t seen as who we are at all. It’s something awkward. There is (as far as the thinking mind is concerned) an intrinsic problem with this whole business of ‘stuff not being under control’ – if I can’t control it, then how do I know that I can rely on it? How do I know that it won’t let me down just at the crucial moment? And it’s not just the case that we can’t ‘rely’ on the part of us that we can’t control – we can’t know what it is either. It’s a mystery to us. We can’t get it to do what we want, when we want it to, and we don’t even know what it is in the first place! So from the point of view of the rational intellect, this ‘side’ of us just isn’t trustworthy at all…


Actually, from the POV of the rational intellect, what we have been tentatively calling ‘the other side of ourselves’ doesn’t even exist at all. It isn’t granted the status of being a real thing. It isn’t mentioned in the psychology books (which as it happens are all written by the rational intellect). If there is something there that cannot be defined or measured, predicted or controlled then what this means – to the rational intellect at least – is that this so-called ‘something’ doesn’t actually exist. From the POV of the thinking, analysing, measuring mind all these short-comings spell one thing and one thing only – they spell the evident non-existence of whatever it is that is under investigation.


The type of rational culture that we live in is all about valuing the definable and the quantifiable, the predictable and the controllable. Since this is so (and who can deny it?) it is no surprise that we are brought up to discount and devalue what we have been calling ‘the other side of ourselves’. This is nothing less than full-scale repression – it’s not just ‘the stranger within’ we’re talking about here but ‘the unwelcome stranger within’, the stranger who is turned away from the door every time. The most precious part of ourselves, the core of who we are, has been abandoned, gotten rid of, jettisoned, betrayed, forgotten, etc, under the pressure of having to adapt to a rational-technological culture, a culture that values (although it won’t admit it) the quantifiable ‘machine aspect’ of ourselves over the non-quantifiable spontaneous aspect. The core of who we are (elusive and indefinable as it is) has been discounted and dismissed to such an extent that we don’t even know that it is there and instead we have put all our energy into the part of ourselves that can be defined and quantified, the part of ourselves that can be predicted and controlled.


How this gets to happen is easy to see within any social context – after all, we all want to be understood by those around us and so we strive to be understandable. We want to fit in and so we strive to develop the predictable and controllable aspect of ourselves that does fit in. This is a straightforward mechanical process – in order to be accepted we have to be identified as ‘belonging’ and in order to be positively identified (or recognized) in this way we have to be understood and in order to be understood we have to conform to the prescribed pattern, the prescribed format. We need to present ourselves within a shared context of understanding in order that we might be understood and so once we have done this then things generally seem to go very smoothly. Everything seems to be fine and we are able to get on with the business of living our lives. Adaptation is however ‘violence that we cannot see as such’ and violence cannot be glossed over quite as conveniently as all that, for all that we always do so. What has actually happened here in this mechanical process of adaptation is that the understandable side of ourselves (the quantifiable, definable side) has replaced the other side – the side that can never be understood by anyone, not even by ourselves. The generic has replaced the unique; the banal has been substituted for the extraordinary.


Within any social context (family, friends, work, the world at large) we are always expected to be a particular, specified way. This is how things work. This is the rule. As soon as we depart from this established role, this established identity, we start to receive funny looks, we start to receive censorship from our peers. Depart too much and we will experience social ‘devaluation,’ social exclusion, social rejection. Each one of us knows how this process of ‘negative feedback’ works only too well and this is why we make such an effort to stay within the appointed bounds of ‘who we’re supposed to be’. For most of us this becomes ‘second nature’ and we do it so well that we don’t even know we are doing it. Social censure occurs only rarely and amounts to no more than the occasional embarrassing moment, quickly forgotten about. For others of us (the ones who can’t adapt so well) we never feel very far from ‘standing out’ (or being ‘conspicuous’) in a way that we particularly don’t want to and so we are for the most part always painfully aware of the necessity to try not to stray from what is expected of us, and what happens when we don’t. In more pronounced cases, this discomfort gets diagnosed as ‘social anxiety’ or ‘social phobia’. Whether we see what’s going on or not however the mechanism is that we get rewarded for ‘fitting in’ and punished for ‘not fitting in’. Whether we like to accept it or not this is how society works…


The thing about this however is that who we are encouraged to be (the role we are required to play) is not who we actually are. On the contrary, it’s ‘who we are pretending to be’. It’s ‘who we are pretending to be in order to be accepted by the group’. It’s a generic template! We may not think that we’re adapting to a generic template but we are. The bottom line is that we have adapted to a social fiction in order to be understood, in order to feel that we ‘belong’. And the process of adaptation doesn’t stop here – it doesn’t stop on the outside. Once we have adapted to the social fiction (to the generic template) then we use this as a basis for understanding ourselves! This is doubly confusing therefore – we are confused on both fronts. We have been given a basis for understanding ourselves and the world that just isn’t true; we have been given a basis for understanding everything that isn’t true, and so there is absolutely no way that this is going to work out for us (even though the system that we have adapted to keeps on saying that it will, keeps on giving us promise after promise us that it will).


Life is never going to ‘work out’ when we try to live it on the basis of a generic template, a social fiction – even to imagine for a moment that it might do so is palpable absurdity. This endeavour can’t possibly work out because what we’re essentially trying to do here is make something that is fictional be ‘non-fictional’. To put this more bluntly, we’re ‘defending a lie’: because we’ve gone along with our social conditioning, we’re trying to make something that isn’t true be true and this is not exactly what you might call ‘a promising cause’ to get caught up in! Or rather it is promising, but the promises here are all lies. The incentives that we are bombarded with are all completely false; the guarantees we have been given are not worth the paper they are printed on. There’s no way in a billion billion years we’re ever going to succeed in the doomed task of trying to make what is not true be true. We’ve been conned into undertaking an impossible task and what’s more, we’ve been led to believe that we have to succeed at it!


Now in a way, this is OK. It’s a thing that we’re allowed to do – it’s actually a thing that is quite natural to do. This sort of thing is called ‘playing a game’. Nature – according to Heraclitus – loves to hide itself. Nature loves to pretend to be what it is not, we could say. We could also say that there is humour (or irony) in nature and that if we don’t get the humour, if we don’t get the irony, well – that’s OK too! That’s part of the game. Not seeing that the game is a game is part of the game – in fact it’s not just ‘part of the game’, it’s what makes the game a game in the first place! When we are very rational about life, and see things in a strictly literal way (so that we believe things to be what they seem on the surface to be) then this is ‘not seeing that the game is a game’. This is not seeing that the universe has a sense of humour, a sense of irony, and this humourless, mechanical outlook also makes us see ourselves in this flat, literal, non-ironic, non-playful sort of a way. We understand ourselves to be (literally) ‘what our thinking tells us we are’. This is the same thing as ‘who society tells us we are’ because ‘who society tells us we are’ is predicated upon a generic template and generic templates are never ironic (just like institutions never have a sense of humour)!


There is a hidden drawback in being literal-minded, in accepting the generic templates of the thinking mind, and this drawback is so substantial, so all-encompassing, that the word ‘drawback’ actually doesn’t come anywhere close to doing justice to what we’re talking about. The ‘drawback’ is – quite simply – that being so uncritically accepting of the image (or idea) of ourselves that our thinking (or society) provides us with inevitably means that we lose the core of ourselves. We lose who we really are. We become ‘coreless’. By losing our sense of humour, our sense of irony, we lose our connection with reality itself.


Our misunderstanding of ourselves is truly extraordinary – we are flatly convinced that we are the part of ourselves which we can control, which we can regulate, which we can name and analyse. We are convinced, in other words, that we are the same thing as the rational representation of ourselves, the rational projection of ourselves. Any part of ourselves that can’t be controlled, can’t be regulated, can’t be named or analysed, is – at best – something of an embarrassment. It’s a kind of a ‘loose cannon’ – a kind of a random element. And yet the part of ourselves that falls within the domain of rational knowledge is not who we really are at all. That’s not us – it’s just a projection of the rational mind, an abstraction that exists in the virtual reality world of its own construction. It’s just the ‘puppet-self’ – the self that is under the control of the dictatorial thinking mind. It’s a superficial theatre. It’s the game we’re playing and don’t know we’re playing…


We all know this really. If I have to stop and think about what I’m saying then clearly what I’m saying isn’t true! The very fact that I have to consider it, edit it, regulate it, etc, shows that it’s false. The only way what I say can be genuinely true is – as we all know – if it bursts right out of me with no premeditation, no regulation, no editorial control. This isn’t just true for things that we say – it’s true for the whole of us. The only part of us that is true, that is genuine, that is authentic, is the part that isn’t pre-meditated, that part that we aren’t regulating. And yet – as we have said – it’s only the part of us that is under our strict control that we bother putting time and effort into developing. That’s the only part we care about. It’s no wonder therefore that we are so bored with our lives! The only way we wouldn’t be totally bored with our lives (which is to say, totally alienated from ourselves) would be if we weren’t flatly (or non-ironically) identified with our mind-created identity, our conditioned sense of ourselves, the superficial theatre of ourselves.


When we see this truth – which is as we have said something that we already know very well underneath it all – it makes a mockery of everything that we normally do to help ourselves or benefit ourselves. How could it not do, seeing as the self we are trying to help or benefit isn’t actually who we are? The only thing we can do to help ourselves is to ‘let ourselves go’, to free ourselves from our restrictive thoughts about ourselves, and we can’t even really do this, when it comes down to it. We can’t even really do this because it’s out of our control! This isn’t just another technique that we can learn, another theory or model that we can master. It’s the greatest art of all and there is no one out there who can tell us how to go about getting the hang of it. There is no instruction booklet, no set of rules for it that we can knuckle down to and learn. Society can’t tell us how to ‘be ourselves’ – all society can do is pressurize us to conform to the generic template it has for us. Our own mind can’t tell us how to be ourselves either because the thinking mind isn’t who we are – all it can do is pressurize us to accord with its ideas, its categories, its standards for how it thinks we ought to be. There is no special theory it can come up with to enable us to be truly ourselves. How can the thinking mind teach us to be free from itself? How can there a theory for how to be free from theories, a technique to enable us to be free from techniques?


Getting in touch with who we truly are isn’t something that can be done by deliberately ‘changing the way that we are’ because the part of us that wants to change the way that we are is the part that isn’t really us. As Alan Watts says somewhere, the part of us that wants to change us is the part that needs changing! Once we see this it tends to take the wind out of our sails, but since our sails were only taking us astray anyway this isn’t such a bad thing. What does help – we could say – is developing an uncritical interest in ourselves just the way we are, rather than being rigidly fixated upon being the way we want to be, the way we think we ought to be. This is generally called ‘self-acceptance’! Self-acceptance doesn’t mean what we tend to think it means however. This is not something that we can make a goal of, it’s not something that we can aim at and try to methodically bring about. Purposeful self-acceptance is a contradiction in terms – it is an impossibility since, as Alan Watts says, the very moment I try to accept myself I am rejecting myself as I actually am, which is the me that is thoroughly unaccepting of itself. I am ‘rejecting my non-acceptance’ therefore, and this is not in the spirit of acceptance at all! Being deliberately ‘self-accepting’ is therefore a ridiculous impossibility that we only get caught up in as a result of having lost our sense of irony. It is an endeavour we can only take seriously when we are being flatly and humourlessly mechanical in our outlook on life.


The thing about self-acceptance is that it’s more about seeing who we are (or seeing the way that we are) than anything else. When we see ourselves without controlling or correcting or criticizing what we see something very interesting – we see that we aren’t who we thought we were at all. We see that we aren’t the pattern of being that we were previously stuck in, and helplessly identified with. Very strangely, therefore, when we see ourselves ‘non-judgementally’, we see that we are not the self (i.e. the ‘identity’) that we are seeing! There’s no problem here therefore! To see illusion is to depart from illusion, as the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says. And the flip-side of this is the insight that it was only because we were forever trying to change/correct ourselves (forever judging ourselves, seeing ourselves as either good or bad) that we were so stuck, so identified, so caught up in the ongoing drama of it all.


So it is at this precise moment – when we clearly see that we are not who we had always thought we were – that humour and irony come back into the picture. It is at this moment that we see that all that really matters about us (which is to say, the core of you we are) is forever beyond all possibility of control, or being ‘regulated’, of being criticized or corrected. We are freed from the thankless joyless interminable illusion of being the regulated self, the ‘approved or disapproved self’, the self which is forever being defined and controlled and monitored by the thinking mind…