Recycling Time

The everyday self, according to Joseph Campbell, is ‘a fraction that thinks it is whole’. The everyday self thinks or assumes that it is whole but it is all the same persistently acquisitive, persistently restless, persistently fearful of unwanted outcomes and this shows that it isn’t whole. If it was whole then it wouldn’t be the way that it clearly is. If it were whole then it could ‘rest in itself’ and it can’t ever do that. The defining characteristic of the everyday self is that it can never ‘rest in itself’.

So what does it mean to be ‘whole’? For a start, we can say that being whole is a non-polar situation. Wholeness is not a polarity. It isn’t made up of two opposing things – it doesn’t have a plus at one end and a minus at the other. It doesn’t exist in a continuum with right at one end and wrong at the other so it can’t flip over between the two. The fact that wholeness is not a polarity means that there is no ‘self’ to be found in it, everyday or otherwise. There is no self to be found in wholeness because the self can only really exist in relation to polarity.

The ‘self’ equals striving for the positive and fleeing from the negative. This is what the self is always doing – it can’t ever not reach for the one nor flee from the other. It can’t ever ‘not strive’. It’s always ‘purposeful’ in this way and it is through being purposeful that the purposeful self gets to exist. The self exists through its purposes and whether it succeeds or fails makes no difference. One way the ‘winner self’ gets to be created, the other way the ‘loser self’…

The everyday self constructs itself in relation to the struggle to achieve its purpose. And another way of putting this is to say that the self creates itself (odd though this may sound) via its grasping. Because of its grasping, the everyday self exists. There are two (apparent) things that come about because grasping – [1] equals the ‘grasper’ and [2] equals ‘the thing that is being grasped for’. The self is by its very nature perpetual grasping, in other words. Or we could say that it is perpetual fleeing, if we were to look at it that way around instead. The everyday self is ‘attachment’ in other words; there is no such thing as a self that is not a slave to attachment! That isn’t a situation that can ever come true for the self, seductive though that possibility might seem.

There is a ‘comforting illusion’ that goes with this grasping – the comforting illusion of how great it is going to be when we finally secure what we are grasping for (or the comforting illusion of how great it is going to be when we finally escape from whatever it is we are fleeing from). So could be said that we are ‘fractional beings in search of wholeness’ and in a way this is true, but in another way it is not true. It is not true because we have no concept or perception of wholeness, and so we can’t seek it. All we can ‘seek’ are our own projections.

What we are really doing is ‘chasing our own projections’, which is – as Alan Watt says – like a puppy chasing its own tail. We can never ‘arrive’ – when a puppy is chasing its own tail there is no ‘arriving’! We can never arrive at our projected destination because projections aren’t real; my projections are just my own fantasies and so I’m not really getting anywhere. There is no distance between ‘me’ and ‘my projected destination’ and so there is no journey, no movement, no prospect of change. There is only ever ‘fantasy gain’ and ‘fantasy loss’ – our hopes of gaining the prize are as vain as our fears of losing it.

Instead of saying that the self is ‘perpetual grasping’ we could also say that it is ‘a recycling of the old’. When we grasp we are always grasping for ‘the old’ after all – there’s no such thing as a ‘grasping for the new’. How can we ‘grasp for the new’ when we don’t know what ‘the new’ is? If we did know what ‘the new’ was then it wouldn’t be new, but only something that we are already familiar with. Grasping means ‘chasing our projections’ and our projections – by definition – are never new.

‘The new’ is essentially ‘that which we have no way of anticipating’ and it is also therefore ‘that which we have no way of gaining the advantage over’. ‘Gaining the advantage’ means knowing something about the situation that is going to arise before it arises so that it doesn’t take us totally by surprise. For a game-player to be taken by surprise is not a good thing; as James Carse says, the last thing a game player wants is to be taken by surprise and the self is nothing if not a game player. Being a game player means that we are always ‘looking for the advantage’, obviously enough! Gaining the advantage is called ‘winning’ and not gaining the advantage is called  ‘losing’ and that’s all we need to know about games.

The thing about this is that there is neither winning nor losing in ‘the new’; both winning and losing (or advantage and disadvantage) equals ‘the game’ and the game is always old. That’s the whole point of games. The point is that neither winning or losing is ‘new’ – both equal ‘the game’ and the game is always old. That is the hidden agenda behind all games – to avoid newness. As we have said, the self can only exist in relation to the polarity of yes and no, winning and losing, advantage and disadvantage, and so this is just another way of saying that the self is just a game, odd though this may sound. It is by pretending to ourselves – as we do in games – that ‘the old’ actually exists (and that there is no such thing as ‘the radical new’) that we create the illusion of ourselves.

Just as Krishnamurti says that ‘thought is always old’ so too is the thought-created sense of identity ‘always old’ and the thing about this is that outside of the creations of thought, there is no ‘old’….



Overcomplicating Life

The positive approach works for many things but not for all things. It works very well for making a cup of tea, for example. The formula is simple: firstly, we boil some water (in a kettle or whatever), secondly, we throw the water in a cup and add a teabag, thirdly, we let the teabag percolate for a minute or two, fourthly, we add milk or sugar to taste. And then, Bingo!  – we have a cup of tea. Job done… The positive approach always has the basic form of “Do <X> to obtain <Y>” Every method ever invented has this basic structure, it’s an algorithm, a formula, and our whole world is founded upon formulae…


Some things there are no formulae for however. For some things the positive approach just doesn’t work. We could take ‘happiness’ as a good basic example – there is no <X> that we can carry out in order to obtain the <Y> of happiness! There is no method for being happy – there just isn’t. No one ever became happy on purpose – trying to be happy on purpose is called neuroticism in fact. ‘Trying to be happy’ is actually an infallible method for misery!


Even to think about happiness is a sign that we are miserable. If we were happy then we wouldn’t be thinking about it – only unhappy people think about happiness. If I try to think of a way of becoming happy then this thought comes out of my unhappiness and the so-called ‘method’ that I come up with will simply extend or perpetuate this original seed of unhappiness. As Krishnamurti says, if I am afraid and I try to be not afraid then my attempt to be unafraid is the original fear in disguise and if I am violent then my attempt to be non-violent is itself a violent attempt. All methods perpetuate the particular mind-state from which they arise.


Exactly the same is true for mental health (which is not by any means to say that mental health and happiness are the same thing) – the attempt to reach out and acquire mental health when we perceive ourselves not to be mentally healthy perpetuates the state of being that we’re in. Mental health isn’t to be found ‘outside of ourselves’ in other words, or as Rumi says “The cure for the pain is in the pain”. Another way of putting this is to say that what we call ‘good mental health’ is nothing other than ‘having a genuine relationship with the way that we actually are’ and there is no way that there can be any ‘method’ to bring this about! The whole point of a psychological method is to change the way that we are, not bring about a genuine (i.e. ‘non-aggressive’) relationship with the way we are. Relationships don’t come about as a result of control or manipulation, after all!


Mental health is one of those things that the positive approach doesn’t work for, in other words. Whenever we try to utilize a method in order to improve our mental health situation we always double-bind ourselves – using a method automatically puts us in a position where we can help believing that the only way we can ever ‘get better’ (so to speak) is to strive in some way to accomplish whilst – unbeknownst to us – it is our deliberate effort to improve our situation that is keeping us stuck in the very pain that we are trying to escape from.


We now find ourselves in a very thankless situation – our striving to enact the method keeps us stuck in the pain (although we very rarely see this) and because we can’t help seeing ‘purposeful striving’ as the only possible way we have of getting out of the fix we’re in, the option of ‘not striving’ is now closed to us. We are – for one thing – afraid of what will happen if we stop straining to free ourselves from our situation and we are – for another thing – afraid of being blamed (either implicitly or explicitly, either by ourselves or by someone else) for not trying to help ourselves in the way that we have been advised to. One way or another, we’re going to ‘feel bad about feeling bad’ because we believe that we ought to be able to do something about it. This – needless to say – is a very common situation.


This then is the classic therapeutic ‘double-bind’ – if we engage in the method then this isn’t going to help us and when it doesn’t work (as it won’t) then this will be taken as evidence that we just aren’t trying hard enough (since everyone knows the method would work if we tried hard enough) and if we stopped engaging in the method then for sure the blame would lie fairly and squarely on our shoulders because it is now clear that – for whatever reason – we just aren’t making the effort to help ourselves… We’re ‘caught either way’ in other words and this is the very essence of a double-bind. We just can’t win…


It might sound unfair to suggest that a therapist – within the context of a defined ‘therapeutic situation’ – is double-binding his or her clients in such a way but inasmuch as the therapist believes that the positive approach to mental health actually works (which most of us do) the double-bind is inevitable. It can’t really be avoided in this case – as long as we believe in the positive paradigm we are always going to be double-binding our clients! This brings us back to the core question of why the positive approach can’t work in mental health. We have already tackled this question in one way but because we are so very convinced that it must be possible to meaningfully change our mental state on purpose it is worth seeing if we can come at this from a slightly different angle. The more arguments we can bring to bear on this matter the better!


The essential point is that any orientation that we have towards a state of mind that isn’t the state of mind that doesn’t happen to be the one that we’re in at the moment is always going to be a manifestation of running away and  – obviously enough – ‘running away’ never led anyone to a state of good mental health! Sometimes we hear that we should acknowledge how we are feeling and then act so as to move on. We feel the painful feeling, and then ‘we let go of it’. This too is a positive approach however because the only reason we’re acknowledging the painful mental state that we’re in is so we can escape it! It’s as if we realize that a person we don’t want to see won’t go away until we talk to them and so then we talk to them simply as a way of getting rid of them! The old method was to ignore them or run away from them but that didn’t work so now we talk to them instead. Our underlying motivation is always exactly the same however no matter what strategy we adopt…


There is no method for acknowledging painful states of mind (or for feeling painful feelings) because all methods (by their very nature) are directed towards an end-goal that is just not going to cut the mustard. Chasing goals isn’t what’s needed here – that would be like having an idea or plan of doing something rather than actually doing it. Or we could say that it’s like making a goal of ‘being in the present moment’ – this just can’t be done because the moment we conceive of a goal we are departing from the present moment, not coming closer to it! We get to be in the present moment by dropping our goals, not by enacting them. We could of course try to beat this by making a goal to drop our goals but clearly this is just complicating matters even further. Methods (in the psychological sphere) always complicate things and it is these ‘complications’ that constitute our neurotic suffering…


This is our problem in a nutshell – we always overcomplicate things. We put an endlessly proliferating series of pointless complications between us and simply ‘being’ (which is of course not complicated at all, since any fool can do it). When we have successfully negotiated these complications, we say, then – and only then – will we be allowed to ‘be’. We tell ourselves this but it just isn’t true. Nothing could actually be further from the truth. Taking mind-produced complications seriously (i.e. taking them on their own terms) will never lead to being – complications only ever lead to more complications, thought only ever leads to more thought. Bring ‘methods’ into mental health is therefore a disaster right from the onset – using a method to help us feel better only leads to us being addicted to that method, dependent upon that method, and the ‘method’ itself is no more than a thought-created complication.  As such therefore, it can only ever lead on to more thought-created complications, and so on and so forth forever. There is after all no method for freeing us from methods….












Going Beyond Methods


What is happening in meditation is that we are going beyond the method, going beyond the procedural side of things. So – we might quite reasonably ask – what does it mean to be going beyond the method, beyond the procedural side of things? How does this work? What does it involve? To ‘go beyond the method’ is also to ‘go beyond the map’ however and so we’re not actually going to get any answers to these questions! It is very natural for us to wonder what it involves to go beyond the method, to go beyond the map, but we can’t really expect any satisfactory answers. Or rather, we can expect an answer alright -no problem about that – but the point here is that we’re just not going to get one!


We can’t really expect an answer when we ask “What’s beyond the map?” because if we were to receive an answer then this answer would itself constitute a map! Going beyond the map or beyond the method is to go beyond any possibility of saying anything. We are no longer in the ‘consensus reality’ that for most of us constitutes the only reality we know. We’re no longer in the consensus reality because no one can tell us either what this so-called ‘beyond’ is or how to get there, and if no one can tell us what it is or how to get there then we’re very much on our own. We’re ‘thrown back on our own resources’…


Whilst it is very much true that there’s nothing wrong with being on our own in this way, being thrown back on our own resources in this way, it is also true that we are very much not used to it! This is a challenge and the thing about a challenge is that we need some kind of a ‘muscle’ to respond to it. If we don’t have the muscle – or rather if we don’t know that we have it – then we start to panic. The challenge is there but we have no way of dealing with it, no way of responding to it – it is as if the only way of responding we have is to ‘cave in’ to it. It may be true that we do have the muscle there somewhere but that’s no good to us because we neither know where it is nor how to use it…


So the first thing is to actually know that we have the muscle there and the second thing is to exercise it, to get it to a little bit of work so that it might gradually start to grow stronger. This sounds like a method in itself – we could call it a ‘Two-Step’ method and try to market it – but if we thought it was a method we would be wrong. It isn’t a method for the simple reason that no one can tell us how to find the muscle and even if we did find it no one could tell us how to go about using it. We keep coming back to this – people can tell us a certain amount but we always come to this ‘jumping off’ point where we have to do it ourselves. We always reach that point at which we have to leave behind the comfortable camaraderie of the consensus reality (the ‘group mind’, so to speak, and all it’s advice) and go it alone.


This is a lot like ‘bringing a horse to water’ – we can bring the horse to water without any major problems (which is the ‘procedural bit’) but then the horse has to drink for itself, without any external direction, and this is quite another matter. There’s no ‘procedure’, no ‘method’ for making the horse drink, in other words. So the bit of the practice where we sign up for the meditation class, where we get ourselves to the meditation room and sit ourselves down on the stool or cushion, is a procedure. The bit of the practice where we follow the basic instructions of following the breath, of bringing the attention back to the breath each time we get distracted is a procedure. But none of this is meditation – this is only the preliminary. This is only the ‘jumping-off point’. We have brought the horse to the water but now it has to drink…


So, within the terms of this metaphor, what does it mean when we talking about ‘the horse drinking’? What does this actually involve? These are the questions that we want to have clarified. It automatically happens that we want to ask for ‘descriptions and prescriptions’ regarding the process of what is happening in meditation but there are none forthcoming for what we’re talking about here. There are as we have said no descriptions of what happens when we leave the jumping-off point, nor prescriptions for how we should go about doing this. ‘The horse drinking’ means that we are moving beyond methods, moving beyond procedures, moving beyond planning and purposefulness and no one can tell us how to do this. Naturally enough, no one can tell us how to go beyond following instructions! We can’t even tell ourselves this. We can’t plan for how to go beyond planning; we can’t set the goal of moving beyond goals…


The procedure of ‘coming gently back to the breath every time we get distracted’ is of course very easy to describe, and also very easy to make a prescription of. It is also relatively easy to follow, under most circumstances. This however is not meditation! The reason following the instructions for ‘following the breath and coming back again every time we notice that we have been distracted’ is not meditation is because precisely because we are following the instructions for how to do it, precisely because we are following a procedure. A ‘procedure’ is something that we can direct ourselves to do – in this case I am directing myself to pay attention to the breath as it leaves and comes into the body, and then come back again to paying attention when I notice that I have been distracted, when I notice that I have been side-tracked into thoughts and led astray. This is all well and good and it is the procedural basis for meditation without being meditation itself.  It isn’t meditation because there’s still a controller; it isn’t meditation because meditation isn’t where we direct ourselves (or tell ourselves) to do this, that or the other. Meditation isn’t ‘a following of the rules’ or ‘a following of the method’ – it is as we have been saying a going beyond the rules, a going beyond the method. Meditation – as Krishnamurti says – is

a movement in and of the unknown…


In the state of meditation there is no controller and no controlled, which is in complete contrast to our normal ‘directed’ mode of consciousness. There is no one there issuing instructions or directives as to what should be happening next, what the attention should be attending to next, and so on. If this were the case then the attention (or the ‘awareness’) would be the slave of the rational mind, the slave of the rational mind’s purposes or game-plan, and the state of having one’s awareness enslaved in this way isn’t meditation!


That enslaved state is just the ‘mechanical modality of being’ – the machine-mode of existence on which basis we live most of our life. In meditation there is no one directing the attention, no one telling it where to go or what to do next, no one telling it how it should be. That doesn’t mean that nothing is happening, however!” Our inbuilt prejudice is to image that unless there is a controller issuing instructions then nothing will ever happen. Without the red-faced sergeant barking out orders on the parade ground there is only going to be unruly chaos. Nothing productive, nothing worthwhile is ever going to happen. This is very much what the rational mind believes – that nothing worthwhile will happen without its say-so, without its explicit instructions or guidance. This is why the thinking mind’s essential nature is that of a tyrant, or a boss who doesn’t trust anyone enough to delegate responsibility. The thinking mind has serious trust issues, in other words!


The ‘back-to-front’ thing about this however is that who we actually are is the spark of awareness, not the dead mechanical system that is guiding it, controlling it. We’re the consciousness, not the Sat Nav! The system of thought is saying that the consciousness which is who we really are can’t be trusted, can’t be allowed to ‘run free’ and do its own thing. That would be a disaster, it tells us. The mechanical system which is who we aren’t can’t trust the spark of awareness which is who we are! This is like a slave-owner who says that his slaves would never amount to anything without him telling them what to do, without him motivating them (coercing them!) every step of the way. This – very clearly – is no more than a self-serving lie! The slaves may not do what the slave-owner wants them to do anymore, but that is a different matter entire. The slave-owner’s goals only matter to him, after all – they don’t have any wider significance. The point is not really that the slaves won’t do anything if they are freed from coercion, but that they will no longer do what the slave-driver wants them to do!


The spontaneous self is far more, unimaginably more, infinitely more than who (or what) we are when we are being controlled every inch of the way by the rational mind, when we are no more than the slaves of its dead mechanical purposes. To be the slaves of a whole bunch of mechanical purposes is to be no more than those purposes, and the purposes are nothing at all unless they serve something higher than themselves. When these ‘mechanical purposes’ consume us there is very little of our true spontaneous nature left in evidence – we become stereotypical stressed-out humourless emotionally-repressed adults. Who – we might ask – is more truly who we are – the humourless emotionally-repressed adult or the free spirit we started off as being, all those years ago? Clearly the spontaneous self or free spirit is so much more us than the person we are when we are controlled by the thinking, but somehow we end up getting used to being controlled or regulated by our own thoughts, our own ideas and beliefs. It becomes very normal for us. Anything else becomes frightening, anything else becomes very threatening…


The snag here is of course that we have identified with the rational mind. The prisoner has identified with the jailer, which is the Stockholm Syndrome taken to the nth degree. We don’t have any life any more – we have given the life that we had to the conditioned self, and the conditioned self is not of itself alive (being no more than a glorified reflex). The mechanical shell which is the ‘reflex-self’ is who we think we are, and so what it ‘wants’ becomes what we want. When we can see things like this (i.e. in terms of consciousness identifying itself with the rational mind or conditioned self) then this clarifies our situation hugely. We started off perceiving ourselves to be the ‘controller’ who directs the attention back to the breath every time we get distracted by thought. We perceive ourselves to be ‘doing’ the meditation, in other words – if someone were to ask me what I was doing then I would answer, “I am meditating”. This situation however – as we have been saying – is not meditation. It has nothing to do with meditation! As Wei Wu Wei says,

As long as there is a ‘you’ doing or not-doing,
thinking or not-thinking,
‘meditating’ or ‘not-meditating’
you are no closer to home
than the day you were born.


All methods cause us to identify with the controller. As Wei Wu Wei also says –

All methods require a doer. The only ‘doer’ is the I-Concept.


All methods belong to the I-Concept and wherever the I-Concept is there can be no peace…


Wherever there is a method there is the I-concept, therefore. Generally speaking, we think that methods are great – we can’t have enough of them! It’s methods, methods, methods as far as our modern rational culture is concerned. We have methods coming out of our ears. We eat them for breakfast, lunch and tea. Our love affair with methods is our love affair with the I-concept, however. Our love affair with methods is our love affair with the controller; our thinking here is ‘what’s good for the I-concept is good for us’! Actually, our modern way of life is all about the controller, all about the I-concept. The world we have adapted ourselves to is purely for the benefit of the I-concept, not for our benefit. This world has been designed by the I-concept, commissioned by the I-concept, instigated by the I-concept. It is managed and policed by the I-concept. It is the I-concept’s standards we have to live up to!


As long as we are identifying with the I-concept, the controller, everything in this world seems fine, everything makes sense. But by the same token just as soon as we stop identifying with the mind-created phantom which is the conditioned self the way of life that we are so proud of is revealed as being little more than a concentration camp for the spirit. Consciousness – which is who we are – is being persecuted on all sides. Everything serves the unreal self-image and we insist on identifying with this imposter. Consciousness herself has been kept in captivity and used for the benefit of the abstract self-image so long that this seems like the normal way for things to be. We know no other way. Our suffering is as a result very great – whether we know this to be the case or not – and the one thing we don’t need is yet more methods to help ‘manage’ this suffering.


Symbolically speaking, we may point to the story of St George and the dragon. Consciousness – we may say – is the fair maiden held captive by the fearsome fire-breathing dragon and the dragon in question is none other than the thinking / controlling mind. When it comes to the heroic task of freeing the maiden therefore this is not to be done according to a method. Methods are the dragon – St George is not an extension of the rational ego!






The Dark Father


The ‘Dark Father’ of unbridled rationality eats his own children, just as Cronos did in the ancient legend. He might not actually physically eat them as Cronos the Titan did, but by the weight of his controlling and stultifying authority he represses their psychological growth – he prevents them from ever becoming what they could otherwise be. ‘Control’ – in this context – doesn’t just mean telling people what to do and what not to do, when to do it and when not to do it, it means telling us how to see the world. But it isn’t enough simply to say this. It’s not just that we have been told how to see the world, we are told in such a way that we don’t realize that we actually have been told how to see the world. We don’t realize that we have been controlled at all – we think that the world just is that way.


Cronos the archetypal dark father eats his own children. He devours them before they can amount to very much, he devours them before they can get to the stage of challenging his authority. Later on, as we know from the legends that have passed down to us, he slipped up (tricked by his wife) and failed to devour the infant Zeus and this ‘slip-up’ was the beginning of the end for him. Zeus – with the help of his mother who was naturally not happy to have all of her children eaten by their infanticidal father – and was reared elsewhere, in secret. Later, Zeus returned in all his strength to defeat his father and the rest of the Titans in the war to end all wars – the Titanomachy. So in a way we can say that Cronos was right to eat his children – he knew what would happen if he didn’t!


Cronos devouring his children – and the war between the Gods and the Titans that followed – has immense psychological significance, which is of course what gives the myth the power that it still has. Even in the second decade of the twenty-first century we are making films about this cosmic conflict – albeit not very good ones. The myth is a universal one – in the Norse tales the Gods (Odin, Thor, Loki, and the rest) had to contend with the Ice Giants, which was an another ‘titanic’ struggle. The significance that we’re talking about here has to do with the struggle between the dark, repressive force of unconsciousness, and the emergent consciousness, which despite being fragile in its beginnings is a force that in time – if allowed to grow and become strong – will overturn the whole order of things.


Consciousness is born in the dark cave of unconsciousness – it emerges from this suffocating darkness and all too easily returns to it. It flickers like a newly lit candle and is very easily extinguished again. It is not just that the newly emergent consciousness is precarious – the force of what we have called unconsciousness is actively opposed to it and is implacably resolved to snuff it out as if it had never existed. Jung draws upon European fairy-tales to highlight this archetypal scenario. The precarious situation of the emergent consciousness can be seen – according to Jung – in the motif of the young child abandoned in the forest, helpless before all the terrible dangers that have their home there. The motif of the child points to the archetype of the Self and what this type of story tells us is that in order for us to realize the Self in our lives (i.e. in order for us to become who we really are) we have to brave all these dangers as the abandoned child does and yet somehow come out on the other side...


That the child should survive all the dangers of the wild forest (just as Hansel and Gretel survived, just as the twins Romulus and Remus survived) seems incredibly unlikely to say the least! We might quite reasonably object that this is too improbable a story to take seriously, given the number of co-incidences that are needed for it to work. The point is however that whenever consciousness does come into its own (whenever the Self does miraculously come back into being after being broken apart and scattered to the four corners of the world) this is the only way that it could have happened – through an extraordinarily unlikely ‘chain of chance’. This is the same argument we meet in relation to the huge improbability of coming across a planet possessing the exact conditions necessary for the evolution of life. How unlikely is this? But the thing is of course that it is only after life has arisen and sentient beings have evolved that we can be in the position of asking the question. We’re looking at things backwards therefore – once consciousness has arisen then we can become aware of the difficulty in it ever arising in the face of all the forces that are ranged against it!


We can relate this point to Cronos eating his children. The odds against surviving as a child of Cronos were always formidably great. It is very nearly a sure thing that you will be immediately be eaten. But then again it only takes one helpless infant to beat the odds and you have a Zeus on your hands! Only one helpless child has to survive the tyranny of the Dark Father and there will to be a full-scale Titanomachy for him to reckon with later on! Or as we could also say, only one Romulus and Remus has to survive (or even just a Romulus) for there to be a Rome, and not just a Rome in fact but a fully-fledged Roman Empire with all the trimmings…


From a psychological point of view therefore we can say that the odds are very much against consciousness surviving very long before being devoured by the forces of unconsciousness. Consciousness is always being born, just has Cronos’s children were always being born, but it is very nearly inevitable that they will meet their end very quickly indeed, as a matter of course, as a matter of mere routine, we might say. We can see this drama (the annihilation of consciousness) being enacted all around us every day – or rather we can’t see it being enacted around us every day because we’d have to be consciously present to witness it and we aren’t. This is a crime without witnesses (a ‘perfect crime’, as Jean Baudrillard says) and so it is also a crime that goes widely unreported…


The reason for the lack of witnesses is because if we are not conscious in the first place then none of this talk of ‘consciousness being devoured’ makes any sense at all! When we’re safely unconscious then everything seems fine, everything seems dandy. Everything is as it should be. We can’t see that there is anything amiss with the world at all – everything seems to be in the proper and correct order and so there is simply no cause to be going on about this business of ‘consciousness being unceremoniously devoured shortly after it is born’. In a world where no one is their own true Self the lack of the Self is hardly likely to be commented upon! In a world where everyone is asleep being asleep is going to be seen as the right and proper way to be. In a world where everyone is telling the same lie, then that lie has become the truth…


Life – for us – has become a matter of ‘fitting into the format’ (although at the same time we don’t see that we have fitted ourselves into it or that there was any ‘format’ to fit into in the first place). The format has become invisible because we have fitted into it so well. When we adapt ourselves perfectly to the format then what this means is that we’re seeing the world in terms of that format (such that there is no element of our daily experience that remains unformatted) then this situation is simply seen as ‘the correct way to be’, ‘the only way to be’. Only it isn’t exactly seen as such but assumed as such so that the only time we bother our heads about the status quo is to notice when someone isn’t fitting in and is therefore standing out to everyone else because of this ‘failure to adapt’.


The formatted way of things is just taken for granted – we unquestioningly accept it without realizing that we have accepted anything. This is of course simply the way that ‘formatting’ works – to believe is not to know that we believe. As soon as we know that we are believing something then this is the beginning of us not believing it. As soon as we see that we have made an assumption about reality then we are ‘conscious of the assumption’ and when we are conscious of it then it is no longer an assumption. We are no longer ‘assuming’ anything in this case. We’re no longer taking it for granted.


This gives us a good way of what is meant by the term ‘consciousness’ therefore. Consciousness, we may say, is when the formatting that the rational mind is imposing upon us becomes visible as formatting. Normally, as we have said, the truths that make up our shared (or agreed-upon) world are so ‘self-evidently valid’ that it would never occur to us to question them. When we become conscious however this changes everything. The so-called ‘self-evident’ truths that everyone takes for granted all of a sudden get shown up as being not so true after all. They get shown up as being lies – lies that everyone automatically believes in, lies that everyone accepts as being true…


Becoming aware is an act of rebellion. Becoming conscious is as Krishnamurti says ‘the only revolution’. It’s the only revolution that is worth a damn – everything else is just empty posturing. Everything else is just a smoke-screen, everything else is just a red herring. Once we understand consciousness as the capacity to see our formatting (or ‘our ability to see a lie for a lie’) then we can see why unconsciousness has to react the way it does to the emerging consciousness. It can’t afford to do otherwise – it can’t afford to have the light turned on. The lie can pass itself off very easily indeed as the truth when there is no consciousness around to see it for what it really is. When there’s no consciousness then we all just accept the lie at face-value. We all just passively go along with the formatting, no matter what the formatting is. We don’t care what the formatting is – we just care about fitting into it. We don’t care what the rules are, we just care about how well we can obey them…


The ‘Dark Father’ is the male (or ‘rational’) authority that our society is based upon. It is the system that defines us, and regulates us once we have been defined. It is the system that tells us what life is and how we should live it. It is the system that tells us what is real and what is not real. Psychologically speaking, the reason we can say that society is based on masculine authority is because it is the expression of the rational mind – the rational mind’s essential property being that it defines (or ‘quantifies’). It ‘lays down the law’, which is the masculine (Yang-type) principle at work. The rational mind says what is, and saying what is also means saying what is not. By asserting a positive ‘truth’, therefore, the thinking mind restricts us absolutely. We become trapped in the stated world, the defined or ‘positive’ world, and being trapped means that we lose the ability to see what has been denied in order that this ‘positive world’ could be created. We lose the capacity to see what assumptions have been made, in other words. We lose ‘consciousness’.


This is not to say that the masculine principle is inherently evil in nature but simply that when it is overvalued (which means of course that the feminine principle has been denied) then it turns malign. The balance has been lost and the result is disaster – albeit a disaster that we cannot see! This idea of an imbalance in favour of the masculine principle was – according to Jung – well known to the ancient alchemists who spoke in terms of the need (as a certain point in the alchemical process) for the ‘Old King’ to be murdered and dismembered. The Young King uses his masculine power not in denial of the feminine but in order to protect the kingdom against misfortune and enemies. His is a wise, benevolent, tolerant authority, therefore. The Old King on the other hand has become a dark force, an embodiment of ‘restriction for the sake of restriction’, ‘control for the sake of control’, ‘power for the sake of power’. The Old King has come to love the exercise of power just for its own sake, and so the only thing he cares about is hanging on to his power, hanging on to the authority he abuses… As Paul Levi says in his article on the Dark Father motif on his website Awaken In The Dream

The figure of the dark father is traumatizing to others, as it traumatizes everyone under its dominion. Because it is attached to the position of power it finds itself in, this figure is not interested in change, and therefore has become calcified and rigid.

In Tales of Power, Carlos Castaneda speaks of how the benevolent guardian all too easily morphs into the despotic guard, which is the same idea applied to the ego (the inner ruler) rather than any external figure –

We are born with the useful aspect of having an ego as our guardian. But too often a guardian becomes a guard. A guardian is broad-minded and understanding, a guard on the other hand, is a vigilante, narrow-minded and most of the time despotic.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell talks of the ‘Tyrant Holdfast’, whose name alone is enough to explain what he is about –

He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of ‘my and mine.’ The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain. This may be no more than his household, his own tortured psyche, or the lives that he blights with the touch of his friendship and assistance; or it may amount to the extent of his civilization. The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world – no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper.


Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflections of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-achieved independence is the world’s messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions. Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then – more miserably – within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will liberate the land.

The Tyrant Holdfast’s grip on his kingdom is absolute and nothing is permitted to thrive in it unless it serves him. The same is true for the Dark Father of our over-valued rationality – nothing is permitted breathing space unless it agrees with the unquestionable rules of the assumed formatting. Nothing is allowed unless it serves this formatting, unless it does this formatting’s work and not its own. Independence from the framework is not tolerated, under any circumstances. It’s prohibited. As soon as we are old enough to understand language we are subjected to this insidious formatting of reality, and before very long we have lost the ability to experience ourselves and the world in any other way than the way it permits. We see ourselves via the mechanical format, via the external framework and we lose ourselves in the process…


There can be no part of us that doesn’t make sense within the terms of the framework. Nothing that doesn’t make sense within the framework is given any credence, any credibility at all. The only part of us that is given credibility is the part that accords with our assumptions, that part that agrees with the rules of the game that we have unwittingly agreed to play. But the ‘part’ of which we speak actually isn’t a part of us at all – it isn’t actually a part of us at all because the game that we’ve unwittingly agreed to play is ‘the game of being what we’re not’.


Consciousness keeps on being born into the world and the system keeps on formatting it, turning it into ‘not-consciousness’, turning it into pseudo-consciousness, turning it into a parody of consciousness. And if we think we are already conscious (and that this whole idea of over-valued rationality being the Dark Father is ridiculous) then that’s because we’ve already been devoured. That’s because the thinking mind is telling us – which it does as a matter of routine – that we’re conscious already, when the truth is that we’re not…


The Prison of Purposefulness


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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








The More We Resist


As soon as we start to imagine that we can change our inner state on purpose we have entered into the ‘illusion-making business’ and the illusion-making business is the biggest business there is. We are always imagining that we can change our inner state on purpose. Everyone imagines that they can change their inner state on purpose, just because they want to. Making illusions and then believing in the illusion, getting trapped in the illusion, not seeing the illusion for an illusion, are the two sides of the same coin, and this is just about the only currency we are interested in. This ‘currency’ is what makes the world go round!


Where all this ‘illusoriness’ springs from is our conditioned inability to see a very simple truth. This ‘very simple truth’ has to do with the impossibility of changing our inner state on purpose! This is both the most intuitively obvious of things to understand, and (rationally) the most obscure. We can certainly try to change of inner state on purpose and when we do try there is a certain amount of leeway that we will have in this regard. Saying that we have a certain amount of leeway in this regard doesn’t mean that we can actually do it however – it just means that we can fool ourselves into thinking that we can! The leeway we’re talking about here is the leeway to deceive ourselves therefore. It is the leeway we have to ‘deceive ourselves without us realizing that we are doing so’ – which is very obviously the only sort of self-deception that is worthy of the name!


The way this ‘self-deception’ works – we might say – is by separating the opposites. It is as simple as this – and as hard as this (for the rational intellect, at least) to understand. Jung states that the rational intellect – the ‘sword of rational discrimination’ – operates by separating the opposites. YES is separated from NO and UP is separated from DOWN. This is what creates the rational continuum, this is what creates David Bohm’s ‘system of thought’. Although it comes across as being very loaded, the term ‘self-deception’ doesn’t necessarily imply any kind of moral judgement. It’s not that we’re saying that splitting the opposites is morally wrong or ethically reprehensible in any way. That would be ridiculous. If we did go down the road of saying that separating the opposites was ‘wrong’ this in itself would be laughably self-contradictory since to say that something is wrong automatically means that something else is right and this is in itself is a perfect example of ‘splitting the opposites’! We have made a rule about it in other words and rules operate precisely by ‘splitting the opposites’….


The reason we use the term ‘self-deception’ is because the opposites can’t be separated and if we think that they can then we’re fooling ourselves. The opposites can never exist apart from each other, independently of each other, and yet when we perceive it to be the case that they can then a whole illusory world springs into being – a world of apparent possibilities that aren’t actually possibilities at all. This is the world that comes into existence for us (in a subjective kind of a way) when we believe – as we almost always do believe – that we can change our inner state, change ourselves, on purpose. ‘How I am now’ then becomes one pole, and ‘how I want to be’ becomes the other. ‘How I am’ is what I fight against (or run away from) and ‘how I would like to be’ is what I long to be, what I try to be, what I put my hopes on being. ‘How I am’ is thus magnetic in a repellent or repulsive way and ‘how I’d like to be’ is magnetic in an attractive way, and I’m caught somewhere in-between, struggling to run away from the one opposite and safely reach the other!


This rationale for life might sound fair enough to us (it does tend to sound fair enough, just as long as we imagine we can leave where we are and get to where we want to be) but the thing about it is, as we have said, is that it is all based on illusion. If we are in the business of thinking that we can change our inner state ‘on purpose’ (i.e. if we are ‘non-accepting’ of ourselves!) then the only world we care about, the only world that seems important to us, is the world that exists between the one pole and the other, between how I am and how I’d like to be, and the existence of this world depends – of course – upon these two poles, these two opposites, being separable, and since they fundamentally aren’t, this means that the world I am relating to is entirely illusory! This stretched-out subjective world between ‘where I am’ and ‘where I want to be’ is the world of my projections rather than the world of reality; it corresponds to what Krishnamurti calls psychological time. According to Krishnamurti –

There is a time which is called psychological. So there are two times, the time of yesterday, today and tomorrow, the distance, the time you take between here and your house; that is one kind of time. It takes time to learn a language, collecting a lot of words, memorizing them; that will take time. Learning a technique, learning a craft, learning a skill – all that implies time – chronological time. Then there is psychological time, the time that mind has invented. The mind that says, I will be the President, tomorrow I will be good, I will achieve, I will become successful, I will be more prosperous, I will attain perfection, I will become the Commissar, I will be this, I will be that. There, time is between the goal and the present state. That goal which I have set myself to achieve, will take time – I must struggle, I must drive, I must be ambitious, I must be brutal, I must push everybody aside. These are all projections of the mind and what it wants to achieve; they create psychological time. So we have these two kinds of time, chronological time and psychological time.

Psychological time – says Krishnamurti – differs from chronological time in that it is created by the action of thought – it is an essentially an interval of expectation and that expectation naturally can either be positive or negative, it can be coloured by pleasure or by pain, by hope or by fear. But whether it is one way or the other it is still only a projection, and like all projections it causes us to react. When we don’t see projections to be projections and react to them as if they were objective facts then we have to struggle – we either have to struggle hard make sure that they happen or struggle hard to make sure that they don’t! This requires us – as Krishnamurti says – to be brutal. Living in the world of psychological time, living in the world in projections, requires us to be ‘forcing the issue’ the whole time. Or as we could also say, separating the opposites requires us to be ‘forcing’ or ‘controlling’ the whole time. The opposites don’t get separated by themselves and so it’s a job we have to do ourselves, and what’s more, it’s a job we have to keep on doing ourselves. We can’t take a break, we can’t relax, we have to keep up the struggle on a full-time basis, whether we want to or not…


All of this is a way of saying that the rational intellect is quintessentially aggressive in its nature. Its job is to make the opposites to be separate when they aren’t. YES is the same argument as NO, DO is the same argument as DON’T. The road up and the road down are the same thing, as Heraclitus says. That’s what makes the road the road – the fact that it is both UP and DOWN. It couldn’t be a road otherwise. And yet notwithstanding the essential unity of the opposites, the job of the rational intellect is to push them apart, to force them apart, to make seem it as if we can’t have one without the other. The job of the rational mind is in other words to grant the opposites apparent independent existence. When we think about the world we are looking for that little bit of ‘leeway’, that little bit of illusory freedom which is the freedom to change ourselves on purpose…


Through thinking therefore we introduce a degree of stretching to the picture. We are stretching the truth! How far we are able to stretch the truth varies – sometimes we are able to stretch it a lot, sometimes not so much. Sometimes we are able to stretch it as far as we want and live in a fully-fledged illusion world, at other time the fact that we are stretching the truth (or rather trying to stretch the truth) starts to become apparent to us and we start to become uncomfortable about our ability in this regard. Anxiety is an example of this – when we are anxious we no longer have confidence in our ability to separate the opposites, although this is of not quite how we would put it! We would see it in terms of a ‘lack of confidence’ (inexplicable, perhaps, to everyone concerned) to achieve the outcome we want to achieve, the outcome we feel we need to achieve, and yet this comes down to nothing other than ‘the separation of the opposites’. We are getting to the stage where we can see that we can’t change our inner state on purpose, we are getting to the stage where we can see that we can’t escape what we want to escape. How much leeway we have to play our games varies, in other words, and when we are suffering from anxiety it is because we have less leeway than we did before. We could therefore say that anxiety is a process in which we start to see through our ‘illusory freedom’!


Stretching the truth (or stretching reality) is an ‘energy-requiring’ kind of a thing. We have to strain ourselves to create the stretch that we want, just as we would have to strain to pull a rubber cord, or a heavy-duty elastic band. We have to put energy into it or the stretch won’t happen. Energy is thus stored in the medium which we have induced the stretch in. Understanding this is the key to everything! What we’re looking at here is elastic change and elastic change means that all the energy we put in is going to come out again at some future point. When we try to our inner state we are actually fighting against ourselves therefore, which means that we can only win now to the extent that we will lose later on. The harder we try to force the change the more viciously this so-called ‘change’ is going to rebound on us at some future point. Any advantage we gain is therefore entirely illusory! The ‘territory’ that we imagine we are gaining (and which we feel so good about at the time) is not really territory at all – it’s just a way of temporarily believing that we’ve got something when we haven’t…


The lower mind-states (the ones that are governed by desire, which Sogyal Rinpoche calls the afflictive mind-states) are always like this. We are constantly trying to escape from them, or get relief from them, and they are constantly ‘snapping back painfully’ on us. These mind-states are entrapping – they are entrapping because of the way in which they seem to be offering us release from the pain that is inherent in them. Driven by the urge to escape this pain, we automatically react (in whatever way is characteristic of the mind-state in question) in order to obtain this promised relief, and this is the mechanism that keeps us trapped.


We find this very hard to understand, brought up as we have been within the Western rational paradigm. We just don’t seem to get it – far from getting it, we put an awful lot of energy and ingenuity into trying to get out of these painful inner states ‘on purpose’. We take it as read that this must be possible if only we could try hard enough, if only we could be clever enough or skilful enough to carry it off. If it is suggested to us that this a ‘perfect impossibility’ then we meet this suggestion with blank, uncomprehending stares. It sounds like pure defeatism to us. It sound like ‘giving up’ and our positive philosophy is to keep on trying to the last, to never say that we can’t do it, to never say that it is not possible. What we call ‘failure’ is seen as ‘not being an option’ and we fondly imagine that this blind stubbornness is somehow being courageous!


It could be said that there is a perfectly good reason why we find it so hard to understand this point (i.e. ‘why we can’t use a particular mind-state to escape from that same mind state’) and that is because the rational mind – when it gets the upper hand over us – is also an entrapping state of mind. Naturally it is an entrapping mind since as J. G. Bennett says it can only see one opposite at a time and its whole modus operandi is about pushing for one opposite at the expense of the other without seeing that in this way we are simply going around in circles. Since this ‘one-sidedness’ is the very mechanism by which the ‘trap’ of the rational mind works then of course we can never (purposefully) escape it. The way to play ‘the thinking game’ is after all to pretend that the opposites can have a separate or independent existence (that we can win without losing) and this blinkeredness, this one-sided vision is the very thing that stops us ever breaking free from the closed circle of the thinking mind.


Because purposefulness is a function of (or an extension of) rationality the only way it has of functioning (very obviously!) is by dividing up every situation it comes across into pairs of opposites. As we have already said, when I am being purposeful then ‘what I want’ is one opposite and ‘what I don’t want’ is the other. Straightaway, therefore, as soon as I want to change the way I am (i.e. my present state of mind) I am caught in a trap which I cannot see to be a trap. Implicit in our rational way of understanding things is the idea that putting all our effort and ingenuity into achieving the one opposite is what is going to get us out of the situation that we’re in, and move us in a more desirable direction. But since ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ are the same argument (just as YES and NO are the same argument) we’re not going to be moving on from anywhere. We’re actually very thoroughly stuck – we’re as stuck as stuck can be and trying hard to become unstuck is only going to make matters worse!


Just as we can’t change any afflictive state of mind such as anger or jealousy or desire on purpose (which is to say, on the basis of that same state of mind) neither can we change the rational/purposeful state of mind ‘on purpose’ – the idea is clearly ridiculous. There is a Zen saying, “You can’t wash away blood with more blood.” Or as Albert Einstein puts it, “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that has created that problem.” The afflictive states of mind are perpetuated by our automatically acted-upon desire to escape the pain that is inherent in them and so the whole idea of changing them on purpose, by design, because we want to, is clearly jinxed from the very start. The notion that we can do so is based on blindness – it arises out of the inbuilt one-sidedness of the rational mind. We do not acknowledge, we do not ‘join up the dots’ and see that our constant struggle to change how we are (or escape from how we are) is what keeps us firmly stuck in that mind-state. As Dennis Genpo Merzel says:

It is a simple fact: whatever you resist will persist. If you are resisting suffering, you suffer more. If you are resisting confusion, you remain confused. If you are looking for peace, you find yourself constantly disturbed. If you are seeking after clarity, you are in a muddle. If you do not want to be angry, you are going to walk around angry. If you do not mind being angry, you will never be bothered about anger, because you will not be holding on to it. Having no opinion for or against, just being open to whatever comes, you are free.

Not automatically going along with the urge to change the mind-state that we’re in isn’t ‘weak’ or ‘defeatist’ at all therefore – it is heroic, it is courageous. It requires an integrity and an honesty that we are normally quite lacking in. A good way to think about the two approaches (the one that lacks integrity and the one that has it) is to say that we can either resist the mind state that we’re in – which happens automatically – or we can do actual psychological work. ‘Resisting’ is – of course – where we dig in our heels and do our very best to keep the two opposites of ‘how I am’ and ‘how I want to be’ as far apart as possible. Psychological work on the other hand is where we pay attention to the way things actually are (the situation we’re actually in) rather than fixating that attention on our agenda to escape.


Very clearly, the more we resist the more stuck in our misery we get and the more work we assent to, the more liberated we become from that misery. If we could, in our daily life, see this very clearly then would not elect so enthusiastically to go down the road of resisting, but this isn’t how it usually works, as we all know to our cost. It doesn’t work out in this way (it doesn’t work out in the freeing way) because of the way we’re looking at things, because of the way which we have of looking at things is exclusively through the rational intellect, which sees everything backwards…


Of course the rational intellect sees everything backwards; that’s its modus operandi – it sees the opposites as being capable of being separated and more than this, it sees it as being absolutely essential that the opposites should be separated. It tells us to put all of our energy and resourcefulness into either going all out to obtain one opposite or avoid / repress the other and we automatically follow its lead in this matter. We perceive our benefit to lie in the direction that the rational mind indicates it to lie in and so we launch ourselves into resisting with everything we’ve got. We launch ourselves into ‘all-out resisting’ with everything we’ve got and this misdirected effort keeps us stuck in our miserable mind-states on a full-time basis. We might imagine that we’re getting somewhere – or that we stand a chance of getting somewhere – as we initiate our reacting, our goal-orientated behaviour, but really we’re just going around in tight circles…


The rational mind shows us an illusion and we believe in that illusion! We buy into it – the more pain we’re in the faster we are to buy into it, the more fearful we are the faster we are to buy into it, which is why the most miserable (or most fear-filled) states are the ones that are the most entrapping, the most afflictive. These mind-states are the most entrapping or afflictive because we react to them the most, either by ‘pushing back at them’ and trying to repress them, or by running away from them, or by ‘acting them out’ through anger and hatred. All of these various types of reaction are based on illusion because there is an illusory form of relief (or ‘release’) involved in them. If I squash something so that it is no longer there to disturb me then the illusion is that I have actually eliminated it. The illusion here is that the ‘repressed content’ no longer exists. If I run away from it then the illusion is that I actually can run away from it! If I act out my unacknowledged pain then the illusion is that the bad feelings don’t belong to me but to you – the illusion in ‘acting out’ therefore is that when I strike out, when I cause you to feel the pain instead of me, then this is the right thing to do. You have had your ‘just desserts’ and this is what gives me the (short-lived) feeling of release or vindication that I am wanting so badly.


All of these various illusions are based upon a way of looking at things that says there is an external problem there that can be fixed if I apply the right method, the right approach. This makes the projected goal-state of ‘fixing the problem’ magnetically attractive. The goal of ‘success in resolving the problem’ becomes – because of my way of looking at things – blindingly attractive. It is blindingly attractive in the sense that when I am rushing towards it (or straining towards it) I am utterly heedless of any considerations other than obtaining it, securing it, getting it in the bag. My activity has become absolutely driven, absolutely ‘mechanical’: I am rushing to an illusion that has absolute power over me and there is no holding me back. This is of course a crazy situation because we are now in the position where we are sacrificing everything for the sake of this terribly seductive illusion, and no good can possibly come of it. We’re sacrificing everything for the sake of this attractive illusion (the illusion of ‘final release’, or ‘final resolution’, or whatever) but all that happens is that we go around in a circle. We end up coming right back to where we started.


We inevitably come right back to where we started off from, only we have sacrificed everything we had going for us on the basis that we actually were going to get somewhere, on the basis that it actually was going to be worthwhile. We’ve sacrificed everything for nothing. We’ve been conned. We’ve been taken for a ride. We’ve been sold bogus goods. In Biblical terms, we’ve sold our birth-right for a mess of pottage. This is the oldest story in the world – we should know it so well. What we have just described happens all the time – it has always happened all the time. And of course we do know this story very well – it’s just that we choose not to focus on it. We disregard the lesson that we’re being taught over and over again. We’re being taught it over and over again and we disregard it over and over again.


This is really the only lesson there is and we keep on ignoring it. We keep on ignoring it because we are so stubbornly determined to get our hands on something that we don’t actually have (and never could have) which is ‘one opposite without the other’. This isn’t really something that we have to feel bad about – it isn’t some kind of a tragedy or ‘cruel joke’ that life is playing on us (even though we tend to feel that it is). It’s a tragedy or cruel joke only if we choose to look at things that way. We don’t have to feel bad about the fact that we can’t ever get one opposite with the other, in other words, we just choose to feel bad about it. We choose to feel bad about it without realizing that we have done so.


We feel as bad as we do (or as fearful as we do) because we have bought into the idea that our well-being depends upon the successful separation of the opposites. We have put ourselves in the position of believing that our fulfilment (or our salvation) lies within what Krishnamurti calls ‘psychological time’. This is placing ourselves in the very jaws of suffering because what we want so badly to happen never can happen. The opposites can never be pushed apart. Psychological time is an illusion.


But not only is what we are trying to achieve impossible, so too is the one who sets out to achieve it. When we resist our inner state (which we do because of the pain that is inherent in it) what we are actually doing is creating the polar self. Our resistance is what is creating the dual self, the oppositional self. The ‘oppositional self’ is the self which defines itself in terms of its fear of one outcome and its desire for the other, complementary outcome. It only gets to exist (or rather seem to exist) because of the way it sets its hopes on ‘splitting the opposites’!


This then is the real reason the secret reason we are so loathe to drop our resistance. When there is no resistance there is peace, and this peace offers no ‘purchase’ for the controlling self, the self which can only survive through its ongoing drama of ‘loss versus gain’. This is the real reason we are so determined not to see the identity of the opposites – who we mistakenly think we are (which is the polar self, the self which is compulsively driven by like and dislike) depends for its very existence upon this ongoing struggle, upon this on-going belief in the illusion that the opposites can one day be separated…









Freedom from the Self


True freedom is freedom from the self. This type of freedom – which is actually the only type of freedom – is almost entirely unknown to us. We can’t imagine what it might be like. We can’t even begin to imagine, we can’t even get near imagining, and the reason for this is that we are seeing everything backwards. We’re seeing everything backwards because freedom has been replaced by a ‘copy’ of freedom, a ‘phoney version’ of freedom that is actually slavery in disguise.


The only type of freedom that we know is conditioned freedom, which is the freedom for the conditioned self to do whatever it wants, whatever it pleases. Clearly, on the face of things, this is going to look very much like freedom. It’s going to look like freedom to the conditioned self, that’s for sure! So if we perceive ourselves to be this conditioned self – as we almost always do – then as far as we are concerned this actually is freedom. It’s the only type of freedom we’re in any way interested in. If I am able to do whatever I want to do then – most of us would agree – this is a perfect definition of freedom! What more could we want?


The only thing that stops conditioned freedom from being the genuine article, (as we take it to be) is that we aren’t this conditioned self that we take ourselves to be. This turns out to be a rather major ‘fly in the ointment,’ a rather significant ‘spanner in the works’. And not only is the conditioned self not who we are, the modality of being that it is constructed upon, the modality of being that it exemplifies, is wholly antithetical to our true nature. It denies our true being. To be who we are not denies who we are – the one possibility drives out the other…


Going back a bit, we said earlier that ‘conditioned freedom’ is the freedom for the conditioned self to do whatever it wants. Even saying this much ought to give the game away: the conditioned self – after all – can only want what it is conditioned to want. This is what it means to be conditioned! To be conditioned means that there are conditions placed on your existence – it means you can only perceive things within the terms of the conditions that have been given to you to perceive things. The conditions say “This is how you are going to see the world” and “This is how you are going to act within the world”. The conditioned self is therefore the unfree self – when we take it as being ‘who we are’ then we are swallowing a whole package of restrictions that we can’t even see. We are given this unchallengeable idea of who are and we just have to get on with it. That’s all that’s left for us to do. As Alan Watts says, we simply can’t resist this false identity, this phoney version of ourselves –

When your identity is defined by society, you cannot resist it. You don’t have the knowledge, you don’t have the wisdom, you don’t have the resources to understand that something is being put over on you. You cannot but help believe the definition of you as a free agent. But you believe yourself to be a free agent as a result of not being free, that is to say, of being hopelessly unable to resist society’s identification of you. So, in the whole sense of our personality there is a contradiction, and that is why the sense of ego, of being oneself, is simultaneously a sense of frustration.

Our hopes and our fears come out of this conditioned identity and when we are facilitated in acting these hopes and fears out (when we are able to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want) then we call this ‘freedom’. But what kind of a cock-eyed version of freedom is this? I’m free to be who I’m told I must be? I’m free to be the type of person that I’ve been conditioned to believe I am? I’m free to act on the basis of all the desires and fears that have been built into me? I’m free to obey all the rules that I have been programmed with, without ever realizing that these rules aren’t the same thing as ‘my own free will’? How bizarre does this sound? This isn’t freedom – it’s a joke! It’s a mockery of freedom, a charade of freedom.


It is possible – if we live life superficially enough, unreflectively enough – not to see that conditional freedom is a mockery of genuine freedom and it is understandable that we would prefer not to see this, given the magnitude of the revelation. It is understandable that – having been offered only a very thin illusion of freedom – we would want to avail of it as best we can. It’s all we have been offered, after all, so why would we want to jeopardize it? And yet at the same time this is – even at the best of times – a joyless and unforgiving type of an existence. This type of life – where we stick like glue to the literal description of the world that is offered to us by the humourless thinking mind – has no ‘grace’ in it, no poetry in it, no kindness in it, no ease or tranquillity in it. Conditioned life is life with all the freedom taken out of it, but then what else would we expect? How can the rational mind – which is purely mechanical in nature – provide us with freedom?


The thing about the conditioned self isn’t just that it isn’t who we are – it also isn’t real. It’s a fiction, and as a fiction it needs us to be continually keeping it propped up – it needs us to be continually supporting it and maintaining it so that we don’t see the illusion of the conditioned self for what it actually is. If we take a break we start to see what’s really going on, we start to see that the illusion is an illusion. No breaks from the agenda are permitted when we’re talking about the maintenance of the conditioned self. The agenda never lets up…


The fact that we then go on to understand ‘freedom’ as meaning ‘freedom for the conditioned self’ is therefore tremendously ironic. This is the biggest irony there ever could be – ironies simply don’t come any bigger than this! I’m not free to be who I actually am in the first place – all of this baggage is just landed on me – and then (as if this were not enough) the only type of freedom I can ever have is the freedom to successfully obey the rules that come with this ‘obligatory mind-created identity’ and at the same time make sure that I don’t ever look too deeply into what I’m doing. That way I will be able to keep on believing in the flimsy illusion that all of this is actually what I want to be doing! The only type of freedom I have available to me is ‘the freedom not to see that I am not free at all’, in other words. And to cap it all – even if I go along with all of this and accept it at face value and never look any deeper into what’s going on it’s still not going to ‘work out’. It can’t work out because the life I am leading is fundamentally self-contradicting, fundamentally self-sabotaging…


The conditioned self is the defined self (to be conditioned is to be defined) and the defined self can only ever operate on the basis of what we might call ‘abstract extremes’ – it can only ever operate on the basis of opposites. Either something is good or it is bad, either exists or it doesn’t exist, either you are my friend or you are my enemy, either I am a success or I am a failure, etc. This is sometimes called ‘black-and-white thinking’ and the thing about black-and-white thinking is that it can clearly be seen as a crudely dysfunctional way of apprehending the world around us. Black-and-white thinking is generally said to be ‘an error’, but what we gloss over in saying this is that all our thinking is based on mental categories and a mental category is the most black-and-white thing there ever could be in the entire universe!


What we mean therefore when we say that ‘we shouldn’t be so black-and-white in our thinking’ is that we shouldn’t just have the extreme ‘categorical divide’ of “I am a success / I am a failure” (for example) but that we should have intermediate categories that paint a more moderate picture somewhere between one extreme and the other. (An example of this might be “I make mistakes sometimes but so does everybody.”) This is fine as far as it goes (in the sense that it reduces the most obvious level of self-judgement and suffering) but what we miss is that this intermediate category is still a category of thought just like any other and as a category it is – in its nature – quintessentially ‘black-and-white’. For every category under the sun there are only two possibilities, i.e. either you’re IN the category or you’re NOT in it. Categorical thinking is therefore all-or-nothing thinking on a very basic level – on an irreducible level, in fact. You can’t get the logical either/or nature out of thinking because that is the thinking! It’s there in the very pixels of our rational constructs…


Wherever there is all-or-nothing (categorical) thinking there is going to be suffering. This is a basic principle that we just can’t get away from. Once we actually reflect on the matter we can see this perfectly clearly – how can we squeeze everything into boxes that aren’t actually there in reality and expect this to actually work for us? Reality itself does not exist in the form of YES/NO (binary) categories so to insist that it does constitutes a fundamental act of aggression. And if we start off from a position of aggression (or ‘control’), trying to get things to be what they’re not, then this is clearly not going to work out well. Aggression only ever leads to the need for more aggression, control only ever leads to the need for further control, and this escalation of the need for aggression/control is very clearly not exactly what we might call a happy or peaceful state of affairs! Aggression only ever takes us to a bad place…


Categorical thinking can only ever lead to suffering, and – as we have suggested – this suffering is implicit in the ‘EITHER/OR’ nature of categories. Categorical thinking, we might say, has this peculiarity in it in that it always (by its dualistic nature) creates illusions! Categories create opposites, they create YES and NO by the very way in which they work. They create ‘logical extremes’, such as the polar opposites of <IS> and <IS NOT>. On the face of it there is a whole world of difference between the opposites – we are holding them as far apart as we could ever hold anything! Yet here lies the illusion because both <YES> and <NO>, <IS> and <IS NOT> have their root in the very same thing, which is the framework that we are imposing on the world. Or we could also say that both opposites come from the question that I am asking – I ask a question that is founded up some unconscious assumption about ‘the way things are’ and then – because of this fundamental (if disguised) act of aggression on my part – the ‘answer’ has to come within the format that I have covertly determined that it shall do. I slap a condition on the world, and it then has to respond to my subsequent inquiries in terms of this condition. So with this ‘condition’ of mine I have divided everything in two. This division however (as we have already said) doesn’t actually exist in reality – it only exists as a result of the way I have chosen to look at reality. Actually, the apparent division (which is to say, the polar opposites) are a reflection of this condition, a reflection of the evaluative rule or criterion which I have aggressively (and arbitrarily) subjected the universe to…


What this means is of course that the opposites aren’t actually ‘worlds apart’ at all. They’re actually the two sides of the same thing, the same thing in question being the condition, the rule, the YES/NO, IS/ISN’T framework that we have arbitrarily imposed on the universe. So although we say that there is a tremendous gulf (an insurmountable gulf, in fact) between the two opposites this is merely a convention of thinking. It isn’t true at all – it’s only how we have chosen to look at things. There was no split before we came along, no duality before the thinking mind came along.


This business of treating the opposites as if they really were different, as if there really is a world of difference between them, has consequences. If we were to express these consequences in just one word this word would be frustration! The whole point of all of our desiring, all of our craving, all of our effort, all of our blood, sweat and tears, is to get ‘one opposite and not the other’ so that when the opposite we want turns out to be inseparable from the other opposite (the one we want very badly too avoid), how can this not be frustrating? ‘Frustrating’ is too mild a word for what we’re talking about here! We chase the opposite we want and when we think we finally have it cornered it slips through our fingers and transmutes into the opposite of what we thought it was. Exaltation turns into despair, pleasure turns into pain…


How this turnaround happens (or the fact that it even does happen) is not at all clear to us. It’s far from clear. Generally speaking, the whole thing about the ‘identity of the opposites’ and the consequences of this identity is something that we ignore completely and when it is brought up this is usually very baffling to the Western mind. A simple example might help to clarify the point, however. Suppose that it matters very much to me that people should have a good opinion of me and not a bad one. Suppose that it is very important that people should hold me in good regard, that I should be of good standing, that people should not think badly of me, etc. [This, needless to say, is a fairly normal and uncontroversial thing to suppose!] I am therefore chasing peoples’ good opinion – their positive regard, their approval is the goal that I prize so much. What I can’t see however is that at the same time as chasing the prize of other peoples’ good opinion, I am also chasing their bad opinion! I am putting myself in line for the one just as much as the other! Or we could say that the more I manoeuvre so that I might get regarded in a good light, the more vulnerable I am making myself to being seen in a bad light. After all, the more central I make people’s approval of me, the more weight I am attaching to their disapproval, and there is no way around this.


Approval and disapproval, praise and blame, are separated only by a razor’s edge – actually they are inseparable from each other. Losing is as much a part of the game I am playing as winning is so how can I say that when I opt to play the game I am not putting myself in line for the one as much as the other? This is the meaning of the Buddhist saying, “Praise and blame are both the same.” The usual response to this is to ask, “Well, what are we supposed to do – just give up and not care about anything?” We’re so caught up, so immersed in the theatrical life that we don’t see that it is totally meaningless anyway – it’s meaningless whether people approve of me or disapprove of me, I’m not living my life for them, after all. The same goes for when I am trying to satisfy my conditioned mind and get its approval. The thing about ‘conditioned life’ is that we are ALWAYS living life in order to satisfy the conditions of the mechanical mind – if the mechanical mind says I did well then I feel great and if it says I messed up then I feel lousy. Or to put this another way, if the way that I am falls neatly within the specified mental category then everything is hunky-dory and if it doesn’t then there is no way that I am allowed to feel good about this! What this means is that I’m living life in order to please the thinking mind, as if this mind (which is a collection of arbitrary rules that I have somehow inherited or been programmed with) were the supreme unquestionable authority in the universe. This is however complete nonsense – its ‘living life backwards! This is putting the cart before the horse in a big way; this is the tail wagging the dog…


Trying to live life so as to satisfy the thinking mind is a bad road to go down. It is – as we have already indicated – an unkind and ultimately unforgiving road to go down. And to cap it all, when it comes right down to it, it’s not even possible to go down this road! It’s not possible to do what the mind wants – it’s not possible to satisfy the conditions of the mechanical/thinking mind anymore than it is possible to be ‘a successful perfectionist’! The conditions that we are trying to satisfy (the categories that we are trying to fit into) don’t really exist in reality. They are razor-thin abstractions and when we try to accommodate ourselves to them (as we do) we inevitably cut ourselves on them. Trying to accommodate or please the mechanical mind is an infallible recipe for suffering! Allowing this mind to define us – to say ‘who we are’ – is an infallible recipe for suffering. Adapting to the mechanical mind is the archetypal ‘bad road to go down’. It doesn’t seem so bad at first but it just goes on getting worse and worse. The mechanical mind ‘puts the pinch on us’ and keeps on ramping up the pinch as it gets us more and more in its power. It gets all the more unforgiving the more and more it gets us in its power…


The carrot that is forever being dangled in front of our nose (the carrot that is leading us on and on) is the promise of freedom. But the type of freedom that we are being promised is false freedom, illusory freedom. What is being offered to us is actually a mockery of freedom! The more we try to avail of this so-called freedom the less real freedom we have. The more we try to avail of the theatrical freedom (the more we follow the carrot, like an obedient donkey) the more we are separated from who we truly are and the more we are identified with the mind-created identity (which is not who we are). The mind-created identity is an illusory identity, an identity that doesn’t exist, an identity that ‘no one is’, and its single purpose in life (which it can never come right out and admit to) is to try to prove to itself that it DOES exist. It tries to do this by chasing ever more fervently the ‘carrot of false freedom’ which – if only we could see it clearly – is freedom for a self which never did exist, and never could…


To see this – to see our conditioning and the fact that we are not our conditioning – is not as impossibly difficult as we may think it is. Living life as the conditioned self turns out in the end to be impossibly difficult (since it means living life on the basis of an illusion, living life on the basis of what isn’t true) but seeing this truth is not impossible, as Jiddu Krishnamurti says here –

To free the mind from all conditioning, you must see the totality of it without thought. This is not a conundrum; experiment with it and you will see. Do you ever see anything without thought? Have you ever listened, looked, without bringing in this whole process of reaction? You will say that it is impossible to see without thought; you will say no mind can be unconditioned. When you say that, you have already blocked yourself by thought, for the fact is you do not know.


So can I look, can the mind be aware of its conditioning? I think it can. Please experiment. Can you be aware that you are a Hindu, a Socialist, a Communist, this or that, just be aware without saying that it is right or wrong? Because it is such a difficult task just to see, we say it is impossible. I say it is only when you are aware of this totality of your being without any reaction that the conditioning goes, totally, deeply; which is really the freedom from the self.



Being Present is Not a Strategy


The optimum thing any of us can do in order to emerge from the confusion and strife of everyday existence into the light of non-dual awareness is simply to be ‘with’ ourselves, come what may, through thick and through thin, through the good times and the bad. If it were true that there is such a thing as ‘a therapeutic approach that actually works’ then this would be it! If it were true that there really was such a thing as ‘an optimum strategy for living life’ then this would be it! The problem here however being that there isn’t such a thing – there’s no such thing as ‘a therapeutic approach that actually works’ any more than there’s such a thing as ‘an optimum strategy for living life’. The idea is quite ridiculous – we’d have to be looking at things in a very peculiar way in order to take this notion seriously. We’d have to be somewhat deranged, in fact! It ought to be obvious that life cannot be lived according to a strategy…


It ought to be as obvious as the nose on our face that we can’t live life according to  strategy but it isn’t. Equally, it ought to be very obvious that there couldn’t ever be such a thing as a specific therapeutic approach to life’s difficulties that actually works but it isn’t. How can there be a generic answer to life’s difficulties when life is not a generic thing? The basic premise behind the idea of a specific ‘therapeutic approach’ is that there could be a way to deliberately encourage or facilitate the healing process (i.e. the process by which we grow as people). This premise however is quite absurd! The healing process cannot be guided or regulated from the outside – we might as well make a rule that all seedlings should sprout in accordance with this government guideline or that government guideline and then appoint officers to make sure that this happens. We can notice how a seedling sprouts and grows, and we can forbear from interfering with the process, but we can’t officiate over it. We can’t ‘take over’ what is happening or in any way make the process serve our ends rather than its own. We can’t turn our observations into a theory or model and then use this theory or model to regulate or manage how the process happens. The very idea of ‘regulation’ or ‘management’ is completely antithetical to the spirit of a natural (or ‘spontaneous’) process…


A spontaneous process simply happens – it unfolds ‘according to its own law’ and there is nothing we can do to try to take charge of it. We might be able to take charge of the process by which aluminium is extracted from bauxite, and regulate how and when that happens, but we can’t do the same with the processes that unfold in the psyche. The rational mind doesn’t regulate the psyche, no matter how dearly it might love to do so! In fact the opposite is true – the more the thinking mind gets involved with the inner process the less this process is able to unfold ‘according to its own law’. All the rational mind can do is block and postpone the processes that occur in the psyche and this happens every single time we try to ‘take charge’. It unfailingly happens! This is the obstacle to healing we never see – the obstacle is ourselves!


Similarly, the idea that there could be such a thing as ‘an optimum strategy for living life’ is quite ludicrous because life isn’t something we do. Life isn’t a problem to be overcome or solved, and strategies are only good for solving problems. When we try to ‘do’ life (which is to say, when we turn it into a cut-and-dried exercise in management) we block the process of life, we obstruct it, we ‘turn it against itself’. The extent that we try to ‘do’ life is the extent to which we can’t actually live it, therefore, and this is the obstacle we keep on running into without realizing it. We ourselves are the obstacle we keep running into, without realizing it!


There is no strategy for living life because we’re not supposed to be ‘in charge’. There’s no point in trying to figure out how to live life, because there is no way – there’s no strategic way, no way to do it in accordance with a design or plan. But suppose we say (as we have done) that the optimum strategy is simply to be with ourselves ‘come what may’, through thick and through thin, through the good times and the bad? Suppose we make this into a therapeutic approach? Suppose we say that this is the ideal thing to do? What would be wrong with this? Wouldn’t we have a better handle on things this way? Our initial response is of course to try to turn this understanding around and make it into some kind of a framework that we can use, into some kind of a ‘recipe’ or ‘methodology’ to help us navigate life and life’s difficulties but this just isn’t going to work. It isn’t going to work because – when it comes down to it – we really don’t have any choice! This is a point that Alan Watts makes: when we talk about ‘accepting life’ that makes it sound as if it is some kind of rational decision that we can make, just like we might decide to make a cup of tea or give up chocolate cakes for Lent. We might think that we can use the idea of ‘accepting life’ as a method but we can’t – we can’t because we simply don’t have any choice in the matter. What else are we going to do?


We pretty much have to be with ourselves as we live our lives. What else are we going to do? Where else are we going to go? There’s no choice here at all! And yet, having said this, we must nevertheless point out that we do have a kind of a choice. We have a type of ‘apparent choice’ and this is the choice of temporarily absenting ourselves from our own lives. This is – needless to say – a choice that we utilize most of the time, on just about a full-time basis in fact. We are adept at utilizing this choice, we’re fully-fledged experts. We are out-and-out geniuses when it comes down to being absent – if someone was handing out Nobel prizes for ‘hiding out from our own lives’ then we’d all be there at the award ceremony shaking hands with the King of Sweden…


The reason we absent ourselves from our own lives is of course because it gets hard going. We don’t want to be there – we want to be somewhere else. The other way of looking at this is to say that the reason we absent ourselves is because we’re continuously straining to be somewhere better. We have the impression that the grass is greener in the adjoining field and so we’re hankering to get there. We’re scheming and planning how we’re going to get there and so in our fevered imaginations we’re already there! The trouble with looking forward to better times like this is of course that we’re no longer present with ourselves. We’re in a future that doesn’t exist – we’re absent, in other words. We’re more interested in ‘where we’d like to be’ than in ‘where we are’ and as a result we’re not actually anywhere!


And even when we are interested in ‘what is’ (rather than ‘what we think ought to be’) the chances are that we will still absent ourselves. Even when the going is good, when life is good, the chances are that I will be absenting myself. The thing is that there are two times when we tend to get manipulative, when we tend to get controlling – [1] is when something there is something painful happening that I want to avoid and [2] is when there is something enjoyable happening that we want to get more of! When life turns difficult then – naturally enough – we try to defend ourselves against this difficulty, and this ‘defending’ inevitably turns into us not being present. But when things are going well, and we seem to have stumbled into having a bit of good luck for a change (as we might see it) we still move into defensive mode, only this time we’re defending the fortunate situation – we’re defending against anything that might jeopardize it. In the first case therefore we’re defending against what we don’t want to happen and in the second case we defending what we do want to happen – we’re defending against the possibility of it not happening anymore! But defending is defending whatever way around we do it and so we end up absenting ourselves from our own lives in both cases…


The point we’re making here is that any sort of strategizing – when it comes to our mental state – is going to rebound adversely on us. There is simply no such thing as ‘helpful strategizing’ when it comes to being in a peaceful or happy state of mind as opposed to a disturbed or miserable one. This really does need to be stressed over and over again as we are so predisposed to believing that strategizing is the thing that is going to save us. As we have said, we strategize when things are going well (so as to ensure if we can that they carry on going well) and we strategize when things aren’t going well (so as to change this situation into one that is more favourable to us) and the understanding that ‘not-strategizing’ might be the thing that will save us (rather than yet more controlling, yet more manoeuvring) is one that just never occurs to us. The understanding that the optimum thing any of us could ever do (in either scenario) is simply to ‘be with ourselves’ couldn’t be further away from us. It’s not so much that it’s the last thing we’d ever think of, but rather that it’s the one thing that we never ever would think of…


‘Being present’ isn’t a strategy. A strategy is something we engage in order to obtain some sort of a pre-specified outcome and we don’t ‘be present with ourselves’ in order to obtain some kind of an outcome! If we were attempting to be present with ourselves in order to obtain some kind of an outcome then we simply wouldn’t be present because strategizing – as we have said – causes us to be absent rather than present. We have retreated into our thoughts, retreated into our plans and our calculations and so the one place where we most assuredly aren’t going to be is in the present moment! We’re being ‘clever’ about it and cleverness is really only avoidance.


It can be seen that saying (as we have done) that the optimum thing any of us can do is simply ‘to be with ourselves come what may’ is a bit of a trick statement, therefore. It’s a ‘trick statement’ because if one thing is the optimum then all other things must be ‘not optimum’ and the situation where ‘one thing is more advantageous than the other’ straightaway leads into strategizing. Where else can this way of seeing things lead? It would be more helpful to say that wherever we happen to be, that is the optimum place to be, because this then cuts off the very root of strategizing, the very root of the deeply engrained need to stay in control. Being present means simply ‘being where we are’, and this is not a strategy! This is not a form of ‘being clever’!


If we could see that the process of life unfolds according to its own law, and that this has nothing to do with our desires, our need to feel in control (i.e. our need not to feel painfully insecure) then this would revolutionize everything. Our whole approach to life would be turned on its head. Instead of basing everything on the need to enforce ‘the way we think things should be’ we would be orientating ourselves in terms of ‘sensitivity to what is’. As soon as we say this we can see that ‘sensitivity to what is’ cannot be a strategy. Strategies are always about enforcing what we think ought to be the case, never about being sensitive to what actually is the case. There can’t be such a thing as a strategy to help us be more sensitive! That would be like saying that there could be such a thing as a strategy to help us be better listeners, or a strategy that would enable us to be more caring, or more creative, or more ‘aware’ – there are no strategies for these sort of things. There is only ‘being present’ and being present is not a strategy.


What we are saying here sounds very simple – and in one way it is simple, astonishingly simple in fact – but in another way it is not so simple at all! It isn’t ‘simple’ because of the way in which we automatically turn ‘not having a strategy’ into a strategy. We do this without being aware of what we are doing. We do this without even noticing – in passing – the total irony of what we have just done. For example, we can say – quite rightly – that being present means ‘accepting what is’, and ‘not judging what is’. So far so good. But if I say (either to myself or someone else) “Accept!” then this is a method – accepting is now my method, whereas before my method was this or that form of ‘non-accepting’. And if I say “Don’t judge” (again, either to myself or to someone else) then not-judging now becomes my method, whereas before my method was judging, or evaluating…


Nothing has really changed, therefore. I’m just upgrading my strategy – I’m just playing a more sophisticated game. Actually, without realizing it, I’ve tied myself up in knots. If I make ‘accepting’ into my new method (i.e. if I make a rule that says “I must accept”) then I have rejected non-accepting. But if I am rejecting my non-accepting then I’m not being ‘non-accepting’ at all! I’m just going around in circles! And if I make ‘Not judging’ into my new method (if I make a rule that says “I must not judge”) then I have judged my judging! So in reality I’m judging more than ever – I’ve created a whole new level of judging!


The problem is that the ‘purposeful self’ – which is who or what we usually take ourselves to be – can never NOT strategize!! Strategizing is all that it can do; strategizing is all that it can understand. If we could only understand clearly the nature of the purposeful self and how it works, then we would see that all it can ever do is obey rules. That’s how it operates – that’s the only way it can operate. The purposeful (or ‘conditioned’) self cannot ever do anything unless it first comes up with a rule saying that that it should do it. It can’t do anything without ‘a purpose’. The purposeful self is an automaton, in other words, because all it can ever do is follow instructions. It can’t do anything without first having a defined goal. All it can ever do is obey its own rules, it own purposes. So if this self gets the idea that the insanity of its unremitting purposefulness (the fact that it is always obeying one rule or another) is causing problems, is causing suffering, then it will straightaway (without reflecting upon the irony of what it is doing) come up with a new rule which says “I must not obey any rules”. The new rule is to not have any rules. The new instruction is to not follow any instructions. The new purpose is to not have any purposes. The new goal is to live without goals…


This sounds like a hopeless mess but it isn’t – there is still freedom here even if we can’t see it. We just need to stop seeing things through the eyes of the conditioned self. The thing here is that just as soon as we do clearly understand the purposeful self and the way that it works then this means that we are no longer identifying with that self, and if we are no longer identifying with the conditioned self then we are free from its mechanical nature, we are free from inbuilt invisible paradoxicality.


We can only understand that there is this ‘thing’, this ‘automaton’ we call the purposeful (or conditioned) self when we no longer automatically believe that we are it. To see the conditioned self is to be free from it; as Krishnamurti says, “The seeing is the doing”. Or as it says in the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, “To see illusion is to depart from it.” Normally we think that there must be something we need to ‘do’ but doing means strategizing and when we strategize we automatically identify with the purposeful self, which makes it impossible to see that self or know that it isn’t who we really are! When Krishnamurti says that ‘The seeing is the doing’ he means that the seeing itself is the thing, instead of the doing – and this is what is so hard for us to understand. For us – as we have said – purposeful doing is all that we know. Purposeful doing is also the thing that keeps us unconscious, the thing that keeps us firmly identified with the purposeful self. This is what Ken Wilbur is saying in the following passage taken from No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth:

Slowly, gently, as you pursue this dis-identification “therapy,” you may find that your entire individual self (persona, ego, centaur), which heretofore you have fought to defend and protect, begins to go transparent and drop away. Not that it literally falls off and you find yourself floating, disembodied, through space. Rather, you begin to feel that what happens to your personal self—your wishes, hopes, desires, hurts—is not a matter of life-or-death seriousness, because there is within you a deeper and more basic self which is not touched by these peripheral fluctuations, these surface waves of grand commotion but feeble substance.


Thus, your personal mind-and-body may be in pain, or humiliation, or fear, but as long as you abide as the witness of these affairs, as if from on high, they no longer threaten you, and thus you are no longer moved to manipulate them, wrestle with them, or subdue them. Because you are willing to witness them, to look at them impartially, you are able to transcend them. As St. Thomas put it, “Whatever knows certain things cannot have any of them in its own nature.” Thus, if the eye were colored red, it wouldn’t be able to perceive red objects. It can see red because it is clear, or “redless.” Likewise, if we can but watch or witness our distresses, we prove ourselves thereby to be “distress-less,” free of the witnessed turmoil. That within which feels pain is itself pain-less; that which feels fear is fear-less; that which perceives tension is tensionless. To witness these states is to transcend them. They no longer seize you from behind because you look at them up front.

As we usually are, we cannot see the purposeful self. We do not know what it means to be ‘identified with the purposeful or conditioned self’. We are it so we can’t see it. It’s invisible to us. We can however – if we pay attention – notice its strategizing! The purposeful self automatically tries to control – for it, ‘to exist is to control’. For it, ‘existing equals controlling’. So when we notice our strategizing (the rational calculations we are making with regard to our situation) then we are noticing the purposeful self. We notice ourselves trying to control things either the one way or the other (either in accordance with the attraction or aversion that we feel in relation to certain outcomes) and we also notice how we feel when we succeed in our controlling and when we don’t succeed. Normally we identify with the need that the purposeful self has to control, to strategize, and when we identify with it we can’t notice it. The same is true when we think when we identify with a thought we don’t see ourselves thinking. We just get ‘sucked up in the thought’ and that is that. So to see the ‘urge to control’ (rather than automatically identifying with it) is to see the purposeful self, just as to see the thought (rather than just getting automatically ‘sucked up in it) is to see the purposeful self. When we actually see the purposeful self we are aware that it is always something of an absurdity. How could it not be an absurdity when it always has to be trying to control everything, either the one way or the other?


This is really quite a remarkable thing to behold. What does it mean if we can never be at ease, but instead have to be ceaselessly controlling, ceaselessly strategizing, ceaselessly trying to get things to be the way we think they ought to be? What kind of a situation is this? The only time we get to rest is when we successfully get things to be the way we think they ought to be, and even this isn’t really ‘resting’ because if we were to genuinely rest then everything would start to slip again, everything would stop being the way we think it ought to be. I’m never at peace with the way things are therefore – I’m only ‘kind of at peace’ (on a strictly temporary and conditional basis) with the way things are when I have them under control. So when I am identified with the purposeful or conditioned self this is my predicament. And if I get tired with the state of affairs (as I am inevitably bound to) then what I am going to do is try to control myself to stop controlling all the time. I’m going to try to come up with a strategy to help me not to be trying to be in control the whole time. And yet no matter what I do I am only ever going to be compounding the mess that I’m in!


The more we try to accord with the Tao (the innate harmony of things) the more we deviate from it, Alan Watts states. And yet at the same time it is also true, he goes on to say, that we can never really deviate from the Tao, from the natural order of things. Ken Wilbur quotes the Zen saying, “That from which one can deviate is not the true Tao.” As soon as we stop seeing everything from the viewpoint of the purposeful self – which we do simply by ‘being present’, simply by taking a break from our ceaseless strategizing – then we come back into the innate harmony of things, which we will discover that we had never really left…




No Method

Cumulus Clouds  602691

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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