Loss Of Wonder In The Realm Of Cause And Effect

Khalil Gibran says something to the effect that if we can keep our eye on the daily miracle that is our life – which is admittedly not an easy thing to do – then we would wonder no less at our pain and suffering then we would at our joy. We would in this case wonder equally at everything! This might sound suspiciously like mere ’empty piety’, but this is far from being the case – it is demonstrably true that if we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture then we will wonder at everything that comes our way. How could we not wonder? What will seem to be ‘wholly negative’ in a very black-and-white way is actually nuanced. The very same might be said to be true of unconsciousness – if we keep an eye on the ongoing miracle of reality, then the phenomenon of unconsciousness will seem to us to be no less a matter for wonderment than the phenomenon of consciousness does. Anything we don’t judge is a matter for wonderment.

 

To be going right around in an unconscious state is just as much of a miracle as when we go around being conscious, the only proviso here being that when we are unconscious then we do not in any way see our existence as being ‘miraculous’. The reason for this – we might say – is because we are wholly subsumed within the causal realm, the ‘realm of cause and effect’. In the causal world – needless to say – everything that exists has a cause and the very fact that it has been caused means that it is not going to seem miraculous to us. If anyone were to ask us about some particular phenomenon we would simply point to the cause and say ‘It’s because of that’. ‘It’s because of that’, we say, and then there’s no more discussion on the subject. We will explain all phenomena in terms of their causes and it is by doing this that we create ‘the Domain of the Known’. In the Domain of the Known everything is known, everything can be explained in a logical way, and this means that nothing is a miracle.

 

This device of ours is however not in the least bit legitimate. We are – as has often been pointed out – merely avoiding the issue by doing this. We are avoiding the mystery of the Whole by focussing only on the fragmentary view that thought shows us. A very simple example of this type of thing is where we ‘explain’ the world by saying that God created it for his own inscrutable reasons. Then – when we look around at the world – we are not in the least bit surprised by it. We know that God created the world and this furnishes us with what looks like a very legitimate explanation. What could be more legitimate explanation than ‘God wanted it to be so’? It is of course true that we still pay lip-service to what we call ‘the Miracle of Creation’ – we feel duty bound to do this after all. We say it, but we don’t feel it. No one can perceive a miracle out of a sense of obligation, after all. The same is true when we’re talking about a ‘sense of gratitude’ – we know that we have an obligation to be grateful to God for creating the world (of course) but the very fact that we have this sense of obligation means that it is perfectly impossible for us to genuinely experience the emotion. By saying ‘God created the world’ we have denied ourselves the possibility of feeling any wonder. We cannot blame God for this however but only ourselves; it is our own mental manoeuvre that has done this to us and nothing else. Wherever there is a concrete explanation there can be no wonder.

 

It’s not just in rational religion that we find this type of thing going on – Richard Feynman pointed out that our ‘explanations’ in science have exactly the same character: we can define one fundamental force (for example magnetism) in terms of another force, and then we can proceed to explain that force in terms of yet another one, until eventually we come right back to where we started. What exactly have we had we ‘explained’, in this case? If there’s one thing we know for sure it’s that loops don’t explain anything! This is reminiscent of Alan Watts’ ‘dictionary game’ which is where we pick a word at random and then look up the definition of the words that the dictionary uses to explain our chosen word with. Eventually – Alan Watts says – we will come back to the very same word that we started off with. If we are short-sighted in our approach to life then we can allow ourselves to imagine that everything has been satisfactorily explained (and as a result we can rest in a state of comforting ontological security); when we look into the matter a bit more deeply however we can see that nothing has been explained and that everything is still every bit as much of a mystery as it started out by being.

 

The thinking mind is the very same as a dictionary in this respect – it is made up of ‘loops of meaning’ that only seem to explain things. This is necessarily so since there is nothing for the cause-and-effect chains of inference to attach themselves to but themselves! There isn’t any definite foundation, there isn’t any convenience ‘skyhook’ for us to hang everything off. If we want a skyhook then we will just have to make one ourselves and this is precisely what we do do. We hang everything on some conveniently skyhook or other and the effect of doing this is to remove all wonder from the world. The skyhook we are using in order to do this (in order to ground our ‘chains of cause and effect’) isn’t really there at all and this means that the ‘lack of wonder’ isn’t there either – even though the ‘lack’ in question is very much there for us in a pragmatic or subjective way. In the absence of wonder (in the absence of the awareness that ‘there is no skyhook’) the type of meaning’ that we are subjected to flattens us. It flattens us because there’s no getting away from it, because this is a stone that we can’t crawl out from under. This type of meaning (which is Extrinsic or Assigned Meaning) flattens us because there is absolutely no nuance in it – it is in other words ‘the type of meaning that imprisons us‘. ‘No nuance’ means absolute containment; we have become two-dimensional (or fractional) beings, locked into the Realm of the Known, which is the Realm of Thought.

 

From inside of this realm, this self-sustaining bubble of thought, it is impossible for us to perceive just how restrictive it is. We can’t actually perceive the restriction at all. One way in which we can appreciate the walls that contain us however is in terms of our reaction to what thought tells us, our reaction to our rational understanding of whether our situation is good or bad, advantageous or disadvantages. In short, being subsumed within the causal realm of thought means that we are going to react in a remarkably ‘flat’ and mechanical way; we react to the completely ‘un-nuanced’ picture of reality that the rational mind is providing us with in a manner that is equally ‘un-nuanced’. Our reactions are mechanical and so too are the moods that we fall into as a result of us believing the story-line that we have been provided with. Once I judge (or rather once the thinking mind judges) my situation is being unfavourable then I’m ‘down in the dumps’ immediately and although I can’t see it, there is something more than just a little bit ridiculous about the mechanical correspondence between my mood and the description of reality that thought has provided me with. There is something comical about it, even though I absolutely can’t see it. Instead of any perception of the comical way in which how I feel is completely determined by the arbitrary movement of thought, I will feel ‘bad’ in a way in a very literal, very non-nuanced, very ‘non-ironical’. There is basically ‘no talking to me’; there’s no talking to me because I am thought’s prisoner. The spark has been knocked right out of me, as it always is when it’s the operation of the Demiurgic Principle that we’re talking about.

 

 

Whenever thought describes the world to us it does so in a completely un-nuanced way and as a result we fall head-first into the prison of literal or concrete thinking. We cannot in any way ‘question the reality’ that we’ve been given by thought; rather than ‘us questioning it’, it determines us… The boot is firmly on the other foot, in other words. The curtain has come down and so instead of us perceiving reality (instead of us being sensitive to the nuances of reality) our environment (which is now the ‘conditioned’ or ‘thought-created’ environment) ‘tells us what to perceive’, just as David Bohm says. Thought tells us that we are free, and so we automatically believe it, just as we automatically believe it in all other matters .A determinate or conditioned environment will always tell us what we are to perceive, what we are to think about and how we are to feel about what we perceive or think. Thought provides us with a total script for living, in other words…

 

 

Thought tells us everything but – rather than us seeing that thought is telling us everything (because there isn’t the space for that perception) – we believe that this is ‘just the way things are’. We believe that this is the way things are and the most eloquent, charismatic and talented speaker in the world could not convince us otherwise, not if they were to talk to us all night and day. How can one explain the ‘non-concrete’ to a concrete thinker, after all? The world itself (unlike the productions of thought) is nuanced and the only way to perceive it therefore is in a similarly nuanced or ironical way. Nothing is what it seems and so it is not possible to jump to any conclusions. It’s impossible to know whether we should feel good or bad, happy or sad about anything, and this is itself the ‘wonderment’ that we started out by talking about. Having this sense of wonderment is the very same thing as ‘being free’ therefore, and this is precisely what is denied us in the Domain of the Known, which is the Realm of Cause and Effect…

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream Environment

dream

Our default situation in dreaming is that we are 100% helpless with regard to the script, the drama, the narrative that we are being presented with. The way it usually works is that dreaming – for us – means going along with the script, going along with the drama or narrative. There is a narrow predetermined route of ‘how the dream is going to go’ and we go down that route. There is a clearly defined format for our experience in the dream and we accept that format…

 

The primary element of the script – aside from what it literally entails, i.e. ‘the defined storyline’ – is the degree of compulsivity that comes with it (which is to say, the degree to which we are swept helplessly along with it). ‘Compulsivity’ means the degree of unfree fascination that we experience with regard to the story-line that has been provided for us. It is a measure of the degree to which our attention is held by the storyline, in other words, which is a concept that is known as immersion in gaming. The more immersive the game (or the dream) the less able we are to know that it is a game, or that it is a dream. If the experience is 100% immersive, then we have absolutely no sense that it is only a game, that it is only a dream. Another way of putting this is to say that when compulsivity (or immersion) is at a maximum, then we are completely trapped in the narrative that we have been provided with…

 

We’re swept along with all dreams – that’s the nature of dreaming – but the degree of compulsivity (or immersion) does vary. Sometimes we’re more aware that we’re dreaming, other times we’re less aware. Compulsivity is what leads to ‘immersion’ and compulsivity is all about how much fear or desire we experience in the dream. Fear/desire is what keeps our nose to the grindstone, so to speak. We’re either attracted to what’s being shown to us in the storyline or we’re averse to it and this attraction/aversion is what determines our ‘compliance’ in the dream. It ensures that we will go along obediently with the storyline. Straightaway – as soon as we say this – this allows us to see what would help free us from the narrow constraints that are being brutally imposed upon us by the compulsive element of the dream. Straightaway we can see what it is that would allow us to work towards not being so ‘helplessly controlled’ or ‘driven’ in the dream…

 

If attraction/aversion is what keeps us hooked into the script, the drama, the ongoing narrative, then our natural ‘child-like’ curiosity about what is going on is what will free us, and allow us / our experience to be less defined by the script that we have been presented with. Curiosity is the perfect antidote to attraction/aversion. What almost inevitably happens is that as we get older we become less and less curious about life, more and more ‘serious’ in ourselves. This is pretty much what ‘being an adult’ has come to mean – it means being serious. ‘Being serious’ simply means that we don’t question the predetermined situation that we have been presented with – on the contrary, we accept it at face value. We go along with it, in other words. Or we could say that being ‘adult’ very much tends to mean that we just take stuff for granted.

 

We are presented with a structure (with society, with a way of thinking and behaving, with a whole pre-formatted world in fact) and we unreflectively adapt ourselves to it. We narrow ourselves down until we fit that way, until it wholly determines us. As the character Cristof says in The Truman Show,

We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.

It could be said that this process of adaptation to a given structure is what the whole process of ‘becoming an adult’ is all about – even though, in a healthy society, it ought to mean more than this. Another word for this adaptation process is simply training. We’re trained. We’re told that we are educated but really we’ve been trained (the difference being of course that the former broadens us whilst the latter narrows us down). This is the point being made here by Krishnamurti

Education is not merely a matter of training the mind. Training makes for efficiency, but it does not bring about completeness. A mind that has merely been trained is the continuation of the past, and such a mind can never discover the new. That is why, to find out what is right education, we will have to inquire into the whole significance of living.
To most of us, the meaning of life as a whole is not of primary importance, and our education emphasizes secondary values, merely making us proficient in some branch of knowledge. Though knowledge and efficiency are necessary, to lay chief emphasis on them only leads to conflict and confusion.

Training is all about pragmatic considerations, and pragmatic considerations are all about continuing the pattern of the past, as Krishnamurti says. The more ‘narrowed down’ our sense of ourselves is the more committed we are going to be to perpetuating the structure that we have been presented with – when we’re totally defined by the training process then we going to be 100% committed to perpetuating the given pattern, the given template, and this is of course just what the ‘given pattern’ (i.e. society) wants. This is what all defined patterns of organization want – to be perpetuated!

 

So to go back to this notion of ‘child-like curiosity’ – we can say that this quality still exists in all of us even if it isn’t visible. If it didn’t exist, then we’d really be in trouble! Our innate curiosity about the world might have been covered over by the false sophistication of the adult mind but it’s still there – essentially, it’s who we are. It’s our true nature. We aren’t the dry format that has been imposed on us, we are that which has been formatted. We aren’t what has been written on the page, we are the page. We aren’t the message – we’re the medium by which the message (i.e. ‘the conditioning’) is transmitted.

 

What this means is that the ‘narrowing down’ process of adaptation can be reversed, although not as easily as it happened in the first place. Becoming free from habits of seeing, habits of thinking, habits of behaving in the world is never going to be as easy as acquiring those habits! With regard to the matter of being ‘swept along with the dream’ – in a purely passive modality of being – we can say that being curious is what frees us up and gives us more space to be ourselves within the narrow, predetermined confines of the dream. Curiosity, we could say, is how we come back to ourselves and cease to be wholly defined by the mechanical forces that are operating in the dream.

 

Being curious within the dream means being present enough to notice where we are, and what is it that is really happening. Moving in the direction of becoming more present means becoming who we truly are, and this means becoming curious. To be genuinely present in the world is the same thing as having an unsophisticated interest in where we are and what it is that is going on with us but this isn’t the same thing as being ‘interested’ in an adult way, which is all about looking at how we can get better at exploiting our environment. As sophisticated adults, we don’t care about what the world is, we just care about how we can use it! Our normal way of being in the world is to be forever concerned with how we might benefit from our situation (or ‘perform optimally’ in our situation) and this isn’t being interested at all – this is just attraction/aversion, this is just ‘the need to control’…

 

A small child isn’t looking to control the situation that they find themselves in – that would be ridiculous. Only adults do that. A child is caught up in the wonder of the world, not consumed with the need to control it. A child (or the child-like part of us) is not coldly calculating and devious, but immediate and straightforward. So when we tap into our inner ‘child-like’ nature we straightaway find ourselves reconnected with the essential wonder of the universe. We tend very much to think that it is only possible to experience wonder under ‘special’ circumstances, but wonder is there all the time, under all circumstances – it’s just our interest in the wonder that varies. That we exist (or that there is anything at all) is a wonder, and so any situation that might arise on the basis of this existence is also a wonder – even if we can’t at the time see it. The reason we can’t generally see it because we’re stuck in the artificial mind-created context which relates everything to the self, so that everything we perceive is perceived in terms of this self, either in terms of how it is either going to be of benefit or be of danger. This way of looking at the world straightaway removes all wonder – it makes everything banal! When we look at life without this artificial self-referential context, however, then everything is a wonder, even our own pain, as Khalil Gibran says in this line from The Prophet

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

The artificial context that takes the wonder or mystery out of everything is as we have implied the everyday rule-based mind – it is the ‘adult’ way of thinking that we are all so caught up in. It derives as we have said from our agenda to optimize our situation, to either obtain something or escape from something, which is attraction/aversion.

 

Attraction/aversion drives out any sense of wonder – there is zero possibility of wonder existing within the framework of fear and desire. This is the realm of grim seriousness, not wonder or curiosity. Yet even though attraction/aversion drives out all sense of wonder, it is all the same always possible to bring our natural curiosity about the world back into play. Even if I can’t experience any wonder or curiosity about my environment I can still experience curiosity over the fact that I am not curious about my environment. This is a very curious thing, after all! If I notice the fact that I have no sense of wonder about that fact that I exist (about the fact that anything exists) then this itself is a wonder!

 

Another way of putting this is to say that even when we are in the grip of attraction/aversion (even when we are experiencing 100% immersion in the drama) we are still free – at any time – to notice that this is the case. We are always free to notice our own immersion in the drama and when we do notice our immersion then – by definition – we are no longer immersed! There is a kind of rule or principle that comes into operation when we obey the compulsivity of the dream. This rule/principle has to do with the ‘narrowing’ process that we have already alluded to in relation to the adaptation process.

 

We can explain this principle as follows:

The more we go along with the compulsivity the more we let it define us and it is the defining that narrows us.

Fear defines us just as desire does but what this ‘defining’ business entails may not be immediately apparent. We may not see what is so very bad about ‘being defined’! Definition is, after all, generally seen as a good thing when it comes to the question of identity, when it comes to the question of ‘who I am’…

 

It is true that it feels good – in a particular sort of a way – to assert our identity in a positive way. It feels good to say “I am this!” or “I am that!” but the reason this feels good is because in doing so we are obeying an external compulsion (even though we can’t see this). By asserting our identity in a positive way we are ‘obeying the script’. It feels good (in a particular sort of a way) to be this defined identity, this defined self, but only because of the security that it represents. And security feels good precisely because it is a defence against fear! When we opt for security then we are obeying fear therefore. When we aggressively assert our identity (personal, tribal, cultural, religious, national, or whatever) then we are obeying fear. And when we act on desire and ‘add to ourselves’ by acquiring property, wealth, status; influence, etc., then we are also obeying fear. We are obeying fear when we operate on the basis of desire because we are strengthening our defences, adding to our security, consolidating our position, and our need for defences, security or a solid position is of course nothing else other than fear.

 

What we don’t see amidst all this business of adapting to the game, adapting to the compulsiveness of the dream is that who we are isn’t some ten-a-penny defined identity! We are vastly more than that. Who we are is not a defined thing at all because to define is to limit. By obeying attraction/aversion we lose ourselves, therefore, we lose ‘who we really are’ and become something else, something limited, something that has been defined for us by ‘the rules of the game’. This is what Jung means when he says that by heedlessly following ‘the passions’ we become ‘Everyman’. Everyman is the generic man, the generic human being, and when we obey the passions of greed, lust, envy, jealousy, rage etc., (which are the ‘generic emotions’) then we allow ourselves to be defined by them and this means – as we have said – that we lose who we truly are, which is unique not generic. When we don’t automatically obey attraction/aversion then the reverse is true -we come back to ourselves, we regain ourselves. We don’t regain ourselves by what we do, therefore, but by what we don’t do! Purposeful doing is just attraction/aversion. The part of us that doesn’t obediently follow the script that has been laid down for us – the part of us that doesn’t let itself be defined or determined by mechanical compulsions – is the unique part of ourselves, which is who we truly are under all the habits, under all the generic conditioning. We recover ourselves (not just our independence but who we actually are) by not automatically getting sucked into the narrative that we have been presented with in the dream. The degree to which we do not engage in the dream-drama is the degree to which we actually are, therefore!

 

This isn’t just true for the dreams that we have when we’re asleep in bed at night – it’s true for everything. Actually, to be present in our dreams is the hardest thing to do – we generally have least presence in our dreams. Dreams ‘just happen’. The point is that everything we have been talking about applies equally well to our ‘waking’ life and the predetermined scripts that we automatically follow in that life. The same principle holds true across the board, under all circumstances, in every possible situation that we might find ourselves in. The principle is that all we need to do in order to come back to ourselves (or ‘wake up’) is to see that we are unreflectively ‘obeying a compulsion’. This simple act of observation makes all the difference in the world! This is a very basic manifestation of curiosity – the curiosity as to whether or not we are free!

 

For example, if I am angry and I am acting out this anger in some way then I get curious about what is happening here and I take the trouble to notice whether I am free to not act out the anger. If I notice that I am not able to ‘not be angry’ then I take an interest in this observation! I am interested in this awareness that has just come my way – the awareness that I am not free. Or to give another example, if I desire some outcome or other then I take the trouble to notice whether I am free to not want whatever it is that I want. If I discover that I am not free to do anything else other than obey the desire then I am interested in this awareness. I am curious about the unfree nature of my situation…

 

Very curiously, the normal state of affairs is that we do not manifest this basic level of curiosity! We’re not curious about whether or not we are free – all we’re interested in is how we can best obey the compulsions that are driving us, how we can best accommodate ourselves to the mechanical forces that are determining the reality of our existence. Beyond this, we have no interest! We have no interest in challenging the status quo, we have no interest in discovering that it is possible to challenge the status quo. We have therefore no interest in discovering who we truly are…

 

The situation of being totally unfree, of being totally controlled by our conditioning, by the compulsive forces that are shaping our lives, and yet not being interested enough in our own situation ever to find this out is a remarkable one. This is a wonder in itself. It is a wonder waiting to be discovered when we do start to take an interest – one wonder amongst many others…