The Mind-Produced Sense of Self

If we aren’t this brittle, insecure sense of self then who are we? This brittle and permanently insecure sense may not be much, but it all we’ve got, after all! It definitely isn’t all that much fun being tied as we are to the mind-produced sense of the self but there doesn’t seem to be any choice about it – the ‘sense of self’ that we’re talking about goes hand-in-hand with the sense that we ‘can’t do anything about it’. That’s what it means to be a self after all – it means that ‘this is who we are’. There’s no freedom involved in this, there’s no freedom involved in this business of ‘me being who I am’. How could there possibly be any freedom in it?


And yet there is. We only feel ourselves to be who the mind says we are because we believe in what we’re told, because we believe in the narrow little viewpoint that we have been given by the thinking mind, which is the viewpoint of the conditioned self. We’ve been shoe-horned into this tiny little slot, this tiny little compartment and because we’ve had all our perspective surgically removed by the procedure we think that this is our only possibility. You could sit me down and talk to me about it for a year and I’d still think that it was my only possibility – that’s how powerful the illusion is. As far as I’m concerned there isn’t the slightest trace or hint of a question about it (about the fact that I am this brittle, insecure sense of self) and so all I can do is ‘just get on with it’. All I can do is try to make a go of it and attempt – to the very best of my ability – to focus on the good times and ignore the bad ones…


The crucial point is however that this isn’t who we are – it never was and it never could be, no matter what delusions we might hold to the contrary. As soon as we have the awareness, no matter how faint, that this brittle insecure sense of self isn’t who we are then this introduces a completely new ‘note’ into the picture – the note of freedom! It’s not that having this crucial awareness necessitates us ‘doing anything about it’, just knowing it changes everything forever. We don’t need to do anything. The awareness itself is the freedom. We can’t actually be aware of anything without this freedom because without being free from the delusion that we are this brittle, insecure mind-produced sense of self what we think is ‘awareness’ isn’t anything of the sort – it is awareness that has been conditioned by our narrow viewpoint and conditioned awareness is enslaved awareness, awareness that isn’t free to see reality. We can’t be aware of the world as it is in itself when we see everything from the point of view of the mind-produced sense of self because all we see is ‘the world as it appears to this unreal viewpoint’. We haven’t the freedom to see anything else – all we can ever do is ‘react in accordance with what the conceptual mind shows us’. All we can ever do is react. Reacting is not the same as ‘being aware’ but reacting is the only possibility that the MPSOS ever has open to it. It can react this way or it can react that way but ‘not-reacting’ is simply not an option. It can choose X or it can choose Y but it cannot forebear from choosing…


Another way of putting this is to say that when we are in the ‘identified’ state everything we do has to be done on purpose. Everything we do when we are ‘identified with the idea that we have of ourselves’ is necessarily purposeful. For this reason we can refer to the MPSOS as the purposeful self. The purposeful self always operates in relation to ‘a plan’ – this plan (or model) may be highly sophisticated or it may be as rudimentary as they come but there has to be a plan of some sort. There has to be some sort of ‘fixed basis’ (or framework) for what we do and what we think. With regard to our ‘plan’ (i.e. our ‘idea about what we want and what we don’t want’) outcomes are of course always going to be seen as being either ‘right’ or being ‘wrong’. All situations or eventualities are always going to be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ therefore and the point here is that when something is automatically seen as either good or bad, and reacted to accordingly, then there is no freedom in this situation. If an outcome is ‘good’ then we react to secure it, and if it is ‘bad’ then we react to avoid it or push it away. ‘Reacting’ simply means ‘acting without freedom’ in other words. We are acting in a way that has been predetermined by our compartmentalized way of seeing and thinking about the world, which we are not free to question. We the slaves of the categories that we are obliged to operate within, without even appreciating that they are only mind-created ‘categories’.


The purposeful self always acts without freedom precisely because it is the ‘purposeful self’ therefore; it has no freedom precisely because it always has to be acting for one purpose or another, and these purposes are simply ‘mental categories’. We could also (and equivalently) say that the purposeful self always acts without freedom because it is always operating from within its dualistic view of the world. ‘Dualistic’ simply means that we see the world as being essentially divided between two polar extremes such as ‘right versus wrong’ or ‘good versus bad’ – either a thing is one way or the other, either you are a friend or an enemy, either you are for us or against us, either you’re a true believer or you’re a godless heathen, etc. Actually, there is always another possibility and that is that we really don’t care in the slightest one way or the other but the possibility ‘sublimely uncommitted to either pole’ is not acknowledged to have any existence within the dualistic framework. Everything has to be ‘polarized’ because that’s the narrow way in which we understand things. Just as long as we see the world through our thoughts we are always going to be looking at things from a dualistic viewpoint. Thought is always dual. Thought is always dual because thought is based on categories and categories are based on boundaries. A boundary is ‘duality in a nutshell’ because it is nothing other than ‘right versus wrong’, ‘good versus bad’, ‘in versus out’. It’s a line that has been drawn, a line that marks out what is included on the one side, and what is excluded on the other…


So the upshot of all this is that the purposeful self has no freedom even though it thinks that it does. The purposeful self doesn’t actually understand freedom – it understands freedom in an upside-down way and this is the only way it can understand it. For the PS, freedom is when it can realize its goals, or ‘successfully enact its purposes’. What it doesn’t (and can’t) see is that these purposes were never ‘free’ in the first place – they are merely categories that have been foisted upon us. We can’t see that we aren’t the PS until we have the freedom to see this, and yet the precise point that we are making here is that it doesn’t have any freedom. That’s how the purposeful self gets to be the purposeful self – by not having any freedom in it! It’s essentially a game that we play and – as James Carse says in Finite and Infinite Games – we can only play a game when we give up our freedom, and put ourselves in the situation where we can’t see that the game is only a game. What this means is that when we do see that we aren’t this brittle, insecure mind-produced sense of self then this is because freedom has come back into the picture. We can’t say that ‘freedom comes back into the picture when we see that we’re not the MPSOS’ because we can’t see that until we have freedom! There isn’t a causal relationship going on here. Without freedom, as we have said, we can’t have genuine awareness of anything. Freedom doesn’t come about as a result of anything we do therefore – freedom isn’t one of the purposes of the purposeful self! Freedom isn’t a category – it’s when we don’t have to conform or submit to any mind-produced categories, and this state of affairs isn’t itself a category!


Freedom doesn’t happen as an outcome or result of any causal relationship and causal relationships are all the purposeful self understands. We can’t understand how the process happens but that doesn’t actually matter – the important thing is that it does happen, not how. Freedom does come back into the picture; somehow consciousness separates itself from the personality construct and until this separation takes place we will have no genuine awareness of anything – we will only have this thing that we have called ‘conditioned awareness’, which is not awareness at all but its inverted analogue. We can’t be aware of what’s going on because we’re seeing everything through the ‘coercive lens’ of duality, which represents everything to us as in terms of polar opposites. We’re trapped in the dualistic illusion and we have no way of knowing that it is an illusion – we don’t suspect that anything odd or peculiar is going on at all, despite the fact that we’re living in a world that has no freedom in it at all.


Once we have had the first insight into what genuine freedom is (and have seen that freedom is simply not possible for the conditioned or purposeful self) then the illusion is broken. Things can never be the same after this, even though the power of the dualistic trap is such that it will keep on dragging us back into it. Moments of freedom will come and go and as we become more acquainted with freedom they will come more frequently. Our ‘connection’ to the awareness that we are not this brittle, insecure mind-produced self may be unreliable but – as we have said – once we have had it then this changes everything. The two situations are fundamentally different – in the first case, which is the situation where we have never had any awareness at all that there is a radically different way of looking at things then the appreciation that there is this thing called ‘unconditional freedom’ (which is so is so very different to anything we have ever known before) simply does not exist. You couldn’t explain it to me, no matter how you tried. We only ever see freedom in completely false terms – we only ever see it in terms of us being able to act out our attachments, in terms of us being able to do what we are being compelled to do, whilst not seeing that we are being compelled. How very far from genuine freedom this is, and yet it is nevertheless the ‘closest’ thing to freedom that we will ever get.


In the second situation no matter what happens we know on some level or other that what we want to do (or want to see happen) we only want because we are being compelled or coerced to want, and this turns everything around completely – even if we still can’t help being coerced! We don’t believe in this coercion in the same way that we used to and so it no longer has the absolute power over us that it used to. We know (on some level or other) that it doesn’t really matter if we don’t get what we want to get – we have a degree of equanimity, therefore. We no longer take the game quite as seriously as we used to, in other words, and when a game is no longer taken seriously this dramatically changes the nature of the game. It’s a game changer! As we were saying earlier, when we no longer take a game absolutely seriously then it no longer works as a game. The bubble has burst – freedom has come back into the picture. This addition of this one little ingredient is enough to radically change our view of everything, including ourselves…


Having had a glimpse of what freedom really is allows us to appreciate just how terrible it is to have no freedom, and to have to live life on this basis. How is such a thing even possible, we might wonder? How is it possible to live life on a totally false basis, where we think that we are this brittle, fundamentally insecure, mind-produced sense of self, this sense of self that comes complete with its own inbuilt dualistic distortion which compels us to see the world (and ourselves) in a way that isn’t true, in a way that we get helplessly trapped in? How can we live in this world where all freedom has been taken away, and still manage to ‘make a go of it’? Nothing we see is true, nothing we think is true, and nothing we do is ‘true’ either since we are being compelled to do it! The things that matter to us very much (our attachments) don’t matter to us at all really – they only matter to the false, brittle, insecure sense of self which is who we think we are. Why these things matter so much to the false sense of self is very easy to explain – the MPSOS is insecure not just because it isn’t who we are but also because it isn’t who anyone is and because it absolutely has to compensate for this underlying it greatly values whatever will validate its position, just as it demonizes anything that devalidates (or threatens to show up) the lie that it takes so seriously. When we take up a false or arbitrary position without knowing that we are then the world immediately gets divided into those things that validate us and those things that do the opposite of validating us – the world is divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, in other words. We think that good and bad have an objective existence out there in the world around us but really they are only functions of our deluded viewpoint!


The mind-produced sense of self is insecure for a very good reason – there’s no way that it couldn’t be insecure – and out of this irreducible insecurity arise all its attachments, both positive and negative. All of its activities exist for the sake of compensating for its unacknowledged insecurity – nothing else really interests it! Because of its insecurity the MPSOS has to be forever trying as hard as it can to acquire validations for itself and avoid de-validations. These are our attachments – these are the things that matter so much to the false sense of self but don’t matter at all in the bigger scheme of things since who really cares if an illusory sense of self gets validated or not? Nothing the FSOS does (as a result of trying to enact its purposes) makes sense really. Everything it does is all for the purpose of proving that what isn’t true actually is true, and where’s the sense in this? The FSOS is forever trying to assert itself, and ‘itself’ isn’t true! We don’t see any of this when we are identified with the false sense of self however – it has us completely hoodwinked and we never even come close to seeing through it. We’ve fallen under its spell completely. We don’t know what the mind-produced sense of self is really up to with all its activities and what’s more, we are extremely unlikely to ever find out. It could be said that this is the best-kept secret of all – there never was a better kept secret than this! The profoundest ignorance there ever was is reserved for this matter; the darkest of all shadows falls over this secret business of ‘what the false sense of self’ is really up to with all its manoeuvrings. It ‘puts us off the scent every single time’…


We are ‘put off the scent’ by having attachments, either positive or negative, dangled in front of us. Either there’s something there that we very much want to acquire, or there’s something there that we very much want to get away from. Either way, as soon as we start reacting we unwittingly create a smokescreen that stops us seeing through to what our true motivation is, which is to avoid seeing the truth about our true nature. Because we put so much effort into avoiding seeing our true nature we never do, and so we’re stuck full-time with this brittle, insecure sense of self. That’s what we’re fighting to protect, after all! We’re fighting full-time to protect an illusion and ‘protecting an illusion’ means precisely that we never allow ourselves to seeing that it is one. The irony is therefore that we are fighting against ourselves the whole time – we are in a very real sense ‘our own worst enemy’ because we are insisting on a false form of freedom that is actually the antithesis of the genuine article. We’re cherishing this brittle, insecure sense of self and so – by doing this – we are cherishing what can never be any more than a life of frustration and misery. We will know occasional moments of true happiness and peace and joy it is true – but what we completely fail to understand is that these moments are the moments that happen when we momentarily (and quite accidentally) forget to cherish the mind-produced sense of self…





Imaginary Work


If we say that psychological work is where we have the capacity not to automatically resist our own inner state (i.e. not to try to make it different to the way it actually is) then clearly ‘non-work’ is where we aren’t able to draw upon this capacity. ‘Non-work’ – we may say – is where we do automatically resist our inner state, one way or another. It is where we are constantly (and insightlessly) trying to make things be what they aren’t…


It is however not sufficient simply to say this. When we are ‘resisting’ we do not perceive ourselves to be engaged in non-work – if we did perceive this to be true then this perception would constitute genuine honest-to-goodness psychological work! To see that we are in the state of non-work is itself work. To see the truth is always work – it is ‘work’ because we are not simply passively accepting what is given to us. Seeing the actual truth is psychological work because we are not automatically (or ‘helplessly’) identifying with the generic, mind-created version of what is supposedly the truth. There is some degree of wakefulness involved, rather than mere mechanical acceptance of what we are being told.


When we are resisting we imagine ourselves to be working even though we are not. I am ‘straining towards a goal’ and thus any movement (any ‘progress’) in the direction of achieving this goal will be seen as evidence of work. Even if I am not visibly progressing (or even if I am ‘going backwards’) with regard to obtaining the desired goal I will still perceive myself to be working because I am fighting, because I am struggling. There is ‘straining’ involved. My habitual automatic resistance is therefore what I see as work. The point is though that just so long as I am straining, just so long as I am tensing up inside myself, this is not psychological work. It’s ‘running away without realizing that we are running away’. This is therefore the exact reverse of how we would normally see things – usually we feel that if we are trying to change things then this is work and if we aren’t trying (if we aren’t ‘straining to reach some goal or other’) then this definitely isn’t work. This is the difference between genuine psychological understanding and what we might call non-psychologically minded understanding – to our regular type of everyday understanding straining to obtain a goal is always regarded as work.


‘Work’ is here being understood as being identical to ‘control’ (or identical to ‘the attempt to control’). This however is looking at thing backwards – if I am attempting to control then I am resisting my inner state, and ‘resisting my inner state’ is as we have defined it non-work. If I am attempting to maintain control then I am trying to escape from ‘not being in control’, and this is non-work! Or to put it another way, if I am controlling then what I am essentially doing is running away from uncertainty, running away from risk. I am running away from something that frightens me – I am running away from my own vulnerability and attempting to reach the maximally-defended (or maximally-protected) state of being ‘totally in control’. When I am controlling I am trying therefore to reach the ‘closed-down’ state of being invulnerable and so in what way can we call this work?


Work – very clearly – would have to be where I am not running away (for all I am worth) from my own vulnerability. To ‘be’ is to be vulnerable and so when I run away from my own vulnerability I am running away from my actual being and this ‘running way from my own being’ is what non-work is all about. So work is where I am not running away, obviously. There’s no way that ‘running away and not even seeing that I am running away’ could ever be work! Work is difficult and it is ‘difficulty’ that we are running away from.The understanding of what constitutes either work or non-work is however a subtler sort of thing than we might at first imagine, as we have already suggested. I can’t fight against myself so that I am no longer running away – that would be me trying to control the situation, which is ‘security-seeking’, which is ‘risk-avoiding’, which is non-work. Control is always non-work. The glitch is that if I try not to be running away (if I try to not to be in the state of non-work) then my motivation for doing this is fear and so I am simply ‘running away from running away’. This of course is not really changing the situation! I’m doing the same thing I always do, so it can hardly count as ‘work’…


Running away from my running away is not solving the glitch, it is adding another loop to it. It is another twist to it. Any sort of straining to either avoid one situation or facilitate another is control and control – as we have said – is always non-work. It’s just ‘trying to get away from what we don’t like’, which is the basic bog-standard mechanical motivation that we always follow. ‘Not straining’ on the other hand sounds like failure to us – it sounds as if we are going along helplessly with whatever ‘bad thing’ is happening to us. It sounds like we are going along with whatever despairing feelings might come along when we stop fighting. We all know what ‘giving in to despair’ is like and this unhappy state of affairs surely isn’t work! This is therefore what we are afraid of if we stop trying, if we stop straining, if we stop with the goal-orientated efforts, if we stop with the positive thinking. But if this is our motivation to keep fighting (which it is!) then what this means is that we are ‘afraid not to be positive’ and what this means is that our trying, our positivity, is simply fear by any other name. Our constant positive trying is ‘fear in disguise’, as we would know if we were in any way psychologically-minded.


We don’t want to fall into the swamp of despairing feelings because we know how hard it is to get out of it again. We don’t want to give up, we don’t want to succumb, and so this is why ‘not resisting’ sounds wrong to us. Getting caught up in despair isn’t what ‘not resisting’ means however. Despair is a ‘closed down’ state of mind – we’ve already decided that the place that we’re in is ‘just not workable’ and so we’re just closed down to it. We’ve switched off. Instead of being overtly aggressive we have become passively aggressive and this is just the same game being played another way – passive aggression is resistance just as aggression is! Saying that ‘everything is going to be terrible’ is non-work just as saying that ‘everything is going to be great’ is – either way we’ve ‘made up our minds’ and are not relating to reality any more. We’ve ‘closed down’. We’re just relating to our own conclusions, our own thoughts. Although we don’t see it as being the case, whenever we relate to the world that is made up of our own thoughts as if this were reality (as if this is ‘the way that things are’) we are in the state of despair! Whenever we’ve closed ourselves down to reality this is despair – what else could it be? How else could we describe it? How could the closed-down state ever not be despair?


In the closed down state (which as we have said is the state in which we relate to our own conclusions as if they were a final reality) there are only two possibilities – there is either the possibility of elation or the possibility of despair. And since – as Johannes Fabricius says in The Royal Art of the Alchemists – elation is only the denial of despair, it’s the same basic package either way. Either we have despair or we have the denial of despair. Take your pick. Thoughts – when we concretely believe in them – can only ever do two things for us – they can either give rise to the state of elation or to the state of despair and ultimately there is no difference between the two. It’s the very same coin spinning endless around and around, showing first one face and then the other. This is the coin of samsara, samsara being ‘illusion that we can’t see to be illusion’.


Work therefore is where we relate not to the world that is made up of our thoughts (i.e. the ‘projected world’) but the world as it is in itself, which we cannot conceptually ‘know’. How can we despair about a situation that is in its very essence uncertain? Our situation may be extremely difficult, extremely painful, but it is nevertheless at all times a living situation, a dynamic situation. The world of our thoughts – which is to say the world of our definite conclusions – is however not a living situation. The world of our thoughts is static rather than dynamic and relating to the static picture that is being presented to us by our thoughts (in such a way that we flatly believe in this picture, in such a way that we take it at its face value) is never work. How can relating to illusion that we can’t see to be illusion ever be work?


Accepting the world that thought presents to us at face value cannot ever be work because this is an entirely passive sort of a thing to do. All we do is ‘passively receive the imprint’; all we do is ‘allow ourselves to be moulded by the official template’. Thought tells us that things are good, that things are great, and we’re over the moon. We’re as happy as Larry. We’re in top form. We’re delighted. Thought tells us that our situation is bad, that things are really terrible, and we’re down in the dumps, we’re in a rotten mood, we’re in the depths of despair. Where’s the work in this? Along with telling us that things are either great or terrible thought also tells us that we need to control so that we can obtain the one outcome rather than the other. Once we believe that one outcome is great and that the other is terrible then – obviously – control is the only way to go! What else can we do? We have to control. Evaluation and control are thus one and the same thing. They are inseparable – evaluation is control and control is evaluation. When we’re tied into the evaluating / controlling modality then we’re tied into a formulaic, black-and-white way of seeing the world, we’re tied into a generic, pre-conceptualized way of understanding the world, and being completely restricted to this formulaic, black-and-white way of seeing the world, this generic, pre-conceptualised way of understanding the world, is the very essence of what we are calling ‘non-work’.


Everything that happens on the basis of the generic mind is non-work. Everything is pre-decided and all we have to do is ‘go along with it’ and even this isn’t a choice because we don’t know that what we’re going along with is ‘a pre-decided or generic version of the world’. We think that we’re making genuine choices. We think we’re acting freely. We ‘fit into the generic pattern’ without realizing that we’re fitting into anything and this unconscious compliance is the very essence of non-work. Work – in contrast to this passive state of affairs – means not automatically seeing things in the same old way that we always see them. It means not compliantly seeing the world within the terms of the generic format that we have been presented with. Work means – in short – not automatically believing our own thoughts!


What we have here therefore are two different ways of looking at what ‘psychological work’ is. The first way is to say that-

Psychological work is when we have the capacity not to automatically try to change (or resist) our own inner state.

And the second way is to say that-

Psychological work is when we have the capacity to see the world in a way other than the way that we have been given to see it by the ubiquitous thinking mind.

These two ways of approaching the crucial question as to what is meant by the term ‘psychological work’ may sound different but they come down to the same thing. If I can’t help struggling to change things (in accordance with how I think things should be) then this clearly isn’t work because I am being controlled by my need to control. I am entirely pre-determined in what I am doing, and if I can’t see the world in any other way than in the way that has been provided for me by the thinking mind this is also very clearly not work for exactly the same reason. I am passive in both cases. I am being controlled without realizing that I am being controlled. I am ‘being taken for a ride’ by the thinking mind…


Both of these two ways of looking at what constitutes work and non-work follow on from each other because seeing things in such a way that I have to struggle is a function of the way in which I have unwittingly opted to go along with a particular limited way of seeing things. Buying into the black-and-white picture of reality that thought provides us with is also buying into ‘the need to fight against things not being the way I think they should be’. Furthermore – for reasons that will become clearer shortly – the need to fight against things ‘not being the way I think they ought to be’ is the same thing as ‘the need to try to change my inner state’.


If I fall into a specific limited way of seeing the world without realizing that I have fallen into anything, and this specific limited way of seeing the world (which is not mine, but has been ‘given to me’) causes me to perceive reality in a particular way, think in a particular way, act in a particular way, then this is not work and never could be work. Everything about me (including how I think and how I act) has been determined by the template that I have unwittingly adopted – everything about me actually is the template that I have adopted – and since what we are calling ‘psychological work’ is predicated upon me having autonomy in my mode of being in the world, nothing but non-work is ever come out of this situation. Nothing new is ever going to happen – it’s all a foregone conclusion. I don’t have any bearing or influence on what happens – only the assumed template does.


What we are really talking about here are games – we are talking about games and the way we have to unconsciously give away our own freedom in order to play a game. If I have given away all my freedom and at the same time have also given away my freedom to know that I have given away my freedom then there is no way that anything I do from this point on can ever be called work! What I am doing when I hand over my freedom to the game is that I am ‘passively adapting to a determinate structure’. I am passively adapting to a formal system and the thing about a formal system is that there is no free will in it. I am free only to choose between the options that the system offers me; I am free only to see things the way the system demands that I see them; I am free only to ‘want what the system wants me to want’ and this is no freedom at all…


The crucial thing to understand about a game is that I am not free not to play it. I have no choice but to go along with it – I have no choice but to struggle as hard as I can to win and not to lose. In a game I am not free not to be constantly struggling to win; I am not free not to want to win. It’s an involuntary thing – I can’t help wanting to win. Everyone playing a game wants to win – that’s the necessary precondition for playing it! To play a game is to want to win the game, it’s the same thing. When I am playing a game I will say that I very much want to win and I will experience this as being an accurate statement of my true volition. For me it will be ‘subjectively true’ that I really do want to win. But the actual truth – as I could easily find out if only I tested it – is that I have zero choice in the matter. If I have to want to win (if I have no choice in the matter) then how can I possibly say (as I do say) that I really and truly want to win? How can I say that winning is ‘my’ goal? This is such an easy thing to see if we look into it, but the fact of the matter is that we never do look into it. This insight never seems to come our way. We give ourselves over to playing games so much that – as a culture – we have zero capacity to understand what they are all about…


So the thing about games is, as we have said, that there is no freedom in them. To play a game is to enter into a fully pre-determined situation, a situation in which nothing can happen unless it has been determined beforehand. The only choices I have are the choices that are provided for me and so these aren’t really choices at all; all that’s happening is that the determinate system is providing me with the illusion of choice, the illusion of freedom, the illusion of free will. This being the case, we can reiterate that there is no possibility of work within a game. If there’s no free will then there can’t be any work – no one else can do psychological work for us, after all. A mechanical system certainly can’t! There is however the illusion of work and the ‘illusion of work’ is when I strive as hard as I can in order to achieve the specified goal, when I try as hard as I can to win at the game. Striving to obey the rule thus becomes a substitute for genuine work. Striving to obey the rule might feel like work but actually it is the antithesis of it – striving to win (or striving to obey the rule) can’t be work because it is involuntary. Work-within-the-terms-of-the-game isn’t work, it’s just the illusion of work. It’s imaginary work!


Another way of saying that there’s no freedom within games is to say that a game always contains pain. To have zero freedom is to be in pain – this, we might say, is something of a ‘basic psychological principle’. Wherever there is no freedom there is pain because freedom is our inherent nature. Taking away our freedom is therefore ‘an act of violence’. This pain and our desire to escape it constitute the essential mechanism of the game – this is how the game works. When we strive to ‘win’ what we are really doing is striving to avoid the pain that is in the game. ‘Winning’ looks as attractive to us as it does because it covertly represents the cessation of the pain. Our goals are as shiny and glittery and enticing as they are because they covertly represent relief from the unacknowledged misery that we’re in. Because we are not consciously attending to the pain that we’re in (since our attention is ‘outwardly directed’), its promised cessation appears as an actual positive thing that is outside of us, it appears as an external positive value. The motivation in games is all about trying to escape from unacknowledged inner pain. Or we could equivalently say that it is all about chasing unacknowledged inner pain that has been projected onto the outside world as an actual positive value. No other motivation is needed – everything runs on the basis of this very simple displacement mechanism. In a goal we’re trying to escape inner pain and we’re trying to win back our freedom – the two are the same thing. Winning represents ‘relief from the unacknowledged inner pain’ and it also represents freedom from the constraints of the game. We’re ‘playing for our freedom’, in other words.


This is of course a total contradiction in terms because we’re trying to use the game in order to escape from the game and this doesn’t make any sense at all! As James Carse says in Finite and Infinite Games, the contradiction inherent in all games is that they are played against themselves. Our unexamined assumption is that if we invest in the game enough, if we take it seriously enough, then we will somehow be rewarded from this investment by being granted freedom from the game. The incentive to play the game is that if we get good enough at playing it then we won’t have to play it any more. The reason we play the game is to be free from the game! The incentive is deceptive however because the more invested in the game we become (i.e. the more seriously we take the game) the more we let it define us, and the more we let the game define us the less free we are! The ‘unconscious assumption’ is thus that freedom can come about as a result of giving away our freedom (as a result of passively identifying with the rules of the game) and this is clearly the most absurdly nonsensical assumption that it is possible for us to make!


To lose all our freedom is to lose ourselves – it is to lose the essence of who we are – and if we lose ourselves (if we lose sight of who we essentially are) then how can there be such a thing as work? The pain we are running away from is ‘the pain of not being there’, the pain of ‘not being who we essentially are’, and very clearly running away from this pain (which is an awareness) is not going to return us to ourselves, return ourselves to our original state of Wholeness. It’s going to have the very opposite result. This constant unremitting pressure not to see our own essential absence (because we are afraid to see it, because we can’t bring ourselves to face seeing it) is what gives rise to the characteristic activities of our daily lives. In our everyday lives we validate this displacement activity – we see it as being ‘positive’, we see it as being admirably industrious and hopeful. We see not being involved in constant purposeful activity as being reprehensible, as being irresponsible, as ‘letting the side down’. We see our constant purposefulness on the other hand (restlessness, really) as being synonymous with work. But it isn’t work. It’s imaginary work. It’s the avoidance of seeing ourselves as we really are, and the striving after comforting illusions. What we call ‘work’ is us running away from ourselves!