The Uneven Mind

Resistance is the single most important idea that we need to grasp if we are to properly (i.e. not intellectually) understand anxiety. Even if we disregard everything else, all the type of more-or-less useless stuff we always get told in anxiety management classes, if we were to understand this much that would be enough. It is our automatic resistance that causes anxiety and once we drop that resistance there is no way that we could ever suffer from anxiety. That would not be possible. Admittedly, this is not exactly what you might call a ‘quick fix’ – resistance is the ‘habit of a lifetime’ and it isn’t something we can dispense with anytime soon, but all the same it is the only thing we truly need to understand if we want to know what anxiety is all about.

 

What is more, resistance is actually a very simple idea – a PhD is not needed to understand it. As we have said, it’s not an intellectual type of an understanding at all but a ‘practical’ one. The only point that we need to make is that it takes (as we have just said) a huge amount of persistent and patient practice before we can find that we are able to drop our habit of resistance, and it is of course this that tends to put us off. As we have said, this is a ‘slow but sure’ approach, not a quick fix that wears off after a month or two. There’s no handy ‘method’ (or ‘system’) learning how to resist less in everyday life, and this is disconcerting, but the ‘plus’ side of the deal is that there is absolutely nothing in life that it is more helpful to learn! ‘Distress tolerance’ techniques are nonsense in comparison (naturally they are since techniques are just another form of resistance, just like everything else that comes out of the thinking mind) So what exactly is resistance, and how do we go about dropping it? There’s certainly no ‘technique’ for dropping it anyway, that’s for sure!

 

Resistance means that we are in one place, and wishing we were in another. For example, I might be in McDonalds, about to tuck into a quarter-pounder with cheese when I remember that the burgers in Burger King are really much nicer. So there I am in McDonalds, wishing I where in Burger King.  The fact is that I am not in Burger King , but because of my resistance neither am I wholeheartedly in McDonalds – I am there, but at the same time I am dissatisfied with where I am and so in a very real sense I am not there. You could say that I am in a sort of limbo because I am not getting the benefit of being where I am, and I am certainly not getting the benefit of being where I am not, because I’m not there! Needless to say, this business of being ‘reluctant to be where I am’ spoils things for me.  If I were a small child, you would probably say that I am in a bit of a sulk, but because I am a fully-grown adult we will say that I am exhibiting ‘resistance’. As we shall see, it is not quite the same thing as a good old-fashioned sulk because it tends to be a lot subtler, but it’s the same sort of thing.

 

Now, this is a bit of an over-simplistic example and so we need to take it further. When discussing resistance we are not so much talking about resisting our physical location but rather resisting our mental location, i.e. resisting ‘where we are in our heads’. So, I am feeling sad and wishing that I was not sad, or angry and wishing that I was not angry, or embarrassed and wishing that I was not embarrassed. Generally speaking, I am feeling bad and wishing that I was not feeling bad.

WHEN MY MIND IS UNEVEN

It is hard to see what is wrong with this – who wants to feel bad, after all? The little word ‘want’ is in fact the key to the whole matter because when it comes right down to it it’s not about wanting, it’s about what is. We tend to be preoccupied with ‘where we want to be’, and dismissive about where we actually are. We see ‘where we aren’t’ as having great value, and ‘where we are’ as having none. This means that my mind is uneven, and unevenness always leads to resistance.

 

Our problem (the unevenness) comes from our deep-rooted belief in the idea that there are RIGHT places to be and WRONG places to be. Resistance comes about because we want to avoid the wrong place and reach the right place. Again, it’s hard to see what the harm is in this, but actually it causes us no end of suffering – by resisting what is we make life far more difficult for ourselves than it has to be. A little bit of thought is all that is needed to spot the glitch. Ninjutsu master Hatsumi Soke has said: “There is no right way or wrong way, only a place from where to start.”  When we find ourselves in what we take to be a wrong place, we turn our backs on that place, we write it off. Like the guy in McDonalds who wishes he were in Burger King, we end up in limbo – neither in one place nor the other. What has happened is that we have severed our connection with reality so that there is nothing that can help us.  This is ‘cutting off my nose to spite my face’.

 

In order to start, we have to have a place to start from, and that place has to be a real place – not just a sort of ‘if only’ bubble floating over our heads.  When we really fall into a hole (when things really get bad) we write off where are, we say that it is a ‘wrong place’ or a ‘wrong way to be’, and this attitude condemns to get nowhere. This is like the joke where a lost motorist stops a local man to ask directions for a certain town. “Oh no” says the fellow, “You don’t want to start from here…”

The point of the joke is obvious – the local man is being no help to the motorist at all because the motorist is where he is, he isn’t at ‘the right place to start’. He is where he is – he can’t help being ‘where he is’!

GETTING ON WITH THE JOB

Another way to explain resistance is by saying that it is what happens when I am given a job to do that I do not like. Because I don’t really want to do the job my heart isn’t in it at all, and so the time seems to drag on forever. I don’t get any good feeling from what I am doing, because I am not actually doing anything! I am just going through the motions, reluctantly, whilst my mind is elsewhere. If, on the other hand, I had put my heart in the job the time would have flown, and I would have got a genuine feeling of satisfaction out of what I had done, no matter what the result. Because I know that I have not ‘copped out’, I have peace of mind.

 

Putting my heart in a job doesn’t mean fixing my thoughts on the ultimate goal and willing myself to reach it, it means being totally in whatever I am doing right now. Fixating on a goal means that I just want to get the job out of the way. If I am worried about whether I will succeed or fail, then that isn’t being wholehearted – being wholehearted about something means unreservedly accepting where I am, and unreservedly accepting the consequences of being where I am. Being wholehearted about doing the job that is given to you is also the same thing as being ‘even-minded’.

LOSING HEART

What does being ‘wholehearted about the job’ mean when applied to anxiety? It is easy to get confused here. When I am anxious I am running away from the ‘work’ of being where I am and it is this that is creating the anxiety. The job that I have been given is not to ‘fix’ anxiety or ‘fight’ anxiety or ‘escape’ from anxiety. The job is to be anxious if I am anxious, and not have my eyes fixated upon the goal of ‘not being anxious’. The job is to not resist anxiety, in other words.  Instead of chasing reality-as-I-would-like-it-to-be (which is unreality) I deal with reality as it is.

 

If the guy in McDonalds is half-hearted about being where he is, then I (as an anxiety-sufferer) must be ‘one tenth-hearted about being where I am. Or ‘one hundredth-hearted’. In an out and out panic attack the truth of the matter is that my heart is simply not in it at all! My resistance is at a maximum – I just don’t want to be here. Where I am is the wrong place to be, and I want out. And yet, that is where I am, and what greater authority can there be than reality itself? If I am there, then how can it be the wrong place to be? It has to be right, because where else could I be?

 

When I have no resistance to being where I am, then there is no obstacle anywhere, because the truth is that the only obstacle was in my mind. With no resistance there is no obstacle anywhere, ever. This is a totally unimpeded situation – it is complete peace of mind, it is the complete absence of anxiety. This does not mean that life is never difficult; it just means that when problems come along, I don’t have a problem with that.

 

Imagine that you have a beast of burden to bear your pain for you, to carry your suffering, and that this beast of burden can carry any weight without complaining or faltering. It can take on any job that comes along. This beast of burden is your ‘spirit’; in other words, it is the inner strength that is available to everyone when they draw upon it. The problem is that we have trained ourselves (very thoroughly and persistently) to believe that we are weak, when in reality we are not. By always trying to avoid situations that we think are going to be too difficult for us we have in fact trained ourselves to believe in our own assumed weakness, and so this weakness has become real. This is a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, which is something that we all do, all of the time – we identify (or ‘project’) limits, and then proceed to act as if these limits were real.

 

As a result of this we end up living out our lives within the confines of mental limits – neurotic limits that have no existence outside of our own minds. As Richard Bach says: “Argue hard enough for your limitations and, sure enough, they become yours”. Basically, we have ended up developing a strong faith in our own weakness rather than developing faith in our strength. The way that we have developed the curse of having ‘faith in our weakness’ is through resistance: what got us in this mess is our automatic and unreflective avoidance of situations that we don’t like. Resistance and ‘faith in one’s own weakness’ go hand in hand – the first leads to the second and the second leads to the first. Because we always try to avoid situations that we think are the ‘wrong places to start from’ we never discover that no place is the ‘wrong place to start from’.

TO NOTICE RESISTANCE IS TO UNDO RESISTANCE

Now it is important to stress that we can’t just drop a life-long habit of resistance just like that. It is not possible to just ‘drop’ a powerful habit in a week or in a month or even in a year. I cannot develop faith in my own strength overnight, and neither can I start by ‘slaying the biggest dragon’. If a panic attack comes along then my resistance will be automatic, it will just happen. I will try not to resist, but then I am ‘resisting resistance’.  I am turning my habit of resistance against itself, and so I am actually strengthening my habit of resistance. The only way to learn to drop resistance is by watching how we react to small things. A situation comes along that makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable and I notice how I start to react. ‘Noticing’ is the first basic act of dropping resistance – it is the start of a revolution (an inner revolution) because normally we never notice resistance. We just resist, and that is it. From then on, from the very moment we start reacting, it is all just automatic. There is no freedom at all, no possibility of getting off the merry-go-round of anxiety.

 

Being able to quietly notice things about how I am reacting is the beginning of freedom; in fact it is freedom – a very profound freedom. In order to escape slavery, we must first see that we are slaves, and then see how it is that we are slaves. Being a slave to resistance (being a slave to our own conditioned weakness) is not the same as being a slave to some external force because I cannot fight it. What we are slaves to is our own thinking, our own reasoning minds, and as soon as I fight (or do anything deliberate at all) I feed that thinking, I feed that reasoning mind. By ‘reacting to my reacting’ I reinforce the very thing that is keeping me prisoner.

THE ‘WILD HORSE’ OF THE MIND

A good way to explain the practice of becoming aware of resistance is by saying that it is like dealing with a wild horse that is easily spooked by anything that comes along. If I have such a horse then that either means that I have to make sure nothing comes along to upset the horse, or I have to find a way of taking the wildness out of it. The first method (the lazy man’s method!) is obviously no good because there is always going to be something unexpected to come along and so it is the second method that is needed.

 

The thing is, it is no good walking the horse down the road and waiting for a fire engine to go by with its sirens screaming to start getting the wildness out of the horse. The horse will bolt – it will lose its head completely and that will be that. There will be no talking to it. So what I do is get the horse used to little disturbances. If I keep this up the time will come when small things will no longer spook the horse. It will not gallop off down the road with froth coming out of its mouth and its eyes rolling and me clinging on for dear life to its back. So then I can work with slightly bigger disturbances, and get the horse used to them. Eventually, by a process of degrees, the horse will lose it’s ‘wildness’ altogether and nothing will spook it.  This means that the horse will become very useful to me because I will be able to go where I want. Before, when the horse was wild, I couldn’t use it and so I had no way of getting about. I was totally restricted. Now, I can go far and wide, as I please – I have the gift of freedom.

 

Now it is very important to note that the analogy of the ‘wild horse’ cannot be taken too far. We spoke of ‘taking the wildness out of the horse’ rather than saying ‘training the horse’ and this is because we have a great tendency to think that we can train our minds not to be anxious. It is training that has got us into the mess we are in now – there is no such thing as ‘good training’ – all training weakens us, all training creates ‘faith in our own weakness’. Actually, training is resistance. If I was to try to train my mind then I would reward myself for good thoughts (or good reactions) and punish myself for bad thoughts (or bad reactions). This creates a belief in a RIGHT WAY and a WRONG WAY, which is the root of our troubles. Training creates an uneven mind, and an uneven mind is a mind that never has any peace – it always has to manipulate, it always has to resist.

 

I take the wildness out of my mind by noticing it, not by controlling it, not by ‘managing’ it (and what a truly horrible world ‘managing’ is in this context!!). As we have said, the basic act of freedom is to quietly notice how we react to stuff. All reacting is resistance, but noticing that I am reacting is not resistance, because I am being where I am. After all, if I’m noticing it, I must be there! Resistance, as we know, means not being there, and so when I start to notice my resistance that is the first thing that is not resistance. From this humble beginning, everything else follows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Treadmill of Runaway Thinking

When we think we do so because we’re trying to change things from being ‘the way that they are’ to some other way, some other way that corresponds to an idealized view or concept of reality that we have. Or we could just say that we’re trying to change things from being ‘the way that they are’ to ‘the way that we’d like them to be’.

 

Sometimes this is useful – sometimes it’s actually vitally important, in fact – but at other times it’s not at all useful, very often it could even be the opposite of useful. Most of the time our thinking is no more than what we might call ‘a habit’ or ‘an automatic reflex’. This ‘automatic reflex’ dominates our lives – we actually think all day long, from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go back to sleep again. We’re so used to this automatic thinking that we barely register it. To be thinking all the time is the normal way to be – if we weren’t thinking then this would come as rather a big shock to us!

 

Thinking can be very helpful at times, when it is specifically and practically needed, but when we think all the time, by pure force of habit, then it is not. It’s not helpful to think all the time (whether we want to or not) because doing this stops us living in the real world. Our thoughts don’t take us into reality after all, they take us deeper and deeper into what we might call ‘the world of our thoughts’. Thinking all the time is a kind of one-way ticket into a ‘purely conceptual reality’ and to be caught up in a full-time basis in a purely conceptual reality is not a healthy thing!

 

If thinking is all about trying to change things (as it of course is) then clearly it can never connect us with the way that things actually are. This is the one thing thought can never do!  Thinking occurs in response to an ‘irritation’, we might say, and this irritation is ‘the way things actually are’. We’re ‘irritated’ by the world being the way that it is and we’re responding to the irritation with our thinking – our thinking is our attempt to soothe things, to ‘smooth things over’, to make things be a bit more comfortable (or ‘acceptable’) to us. If ‘the world being the way that it actually is’ is the irritation, then our constant thinking is the ointment or balm that we keep applying…

 

The world ‘being the way that it is’ is the itch and we are constantly scratching this itch, in other words. Oddly enough, therefore, we’re ‘scratching away’ all day long and we’ve grown so used to our constant habitual scratching that we no longer notice it. If we were totally at peace with ‘things being the way that they are’ then – needless to say – there would be no need to think. If everything was ‘perfect just as it is’ then we’d leave it the way that it is, obviously! We might think “Oh, this is perfect!” it is true, but then to think this would take us away from the perfection, not towards it. The thought actually detracts from the perfection rather than adding to it; it detracts because it takes us away from reality into the world of our thoughts, into the world of our ‘running commentary’! Who needs a commentary when the commentary detracts from what is being commentated on?

 

We might of course agree with this but then point out that everyday very rarely is ‘perfect’! We all know this very well! If life were perfect the whole time then this would be a different story and we wouldn’t need to be thinking all the time, but this is very much like saying ‘If pigs could fly’… This objection  – solid as it might seem at first glance – brings us back to the nub of what we started off by saying in this discussion – sometimes we come across ‘imperfections’ that both need to be (and can be) rectified and in this cases thinking is the right man for the job. But most of the time the so-called ‘imperfections’ can’t be fixed and actually don’t need to be fixed anyway. We only think that they are ‘imperfections’ and that they need to be fixed…

 

Generally speaking, what we automatically relate to as ‘irritants’ or ‘imperfections’ are seen as such purely as a result of our ‘arbitrarily-biased viewpoint’, purely as a result of our ‘likes and dislikes’ (or what mindfulness teacher Rob Nairn calls ‘our preferences’). This being the case, there is no real need to try to get the world to accord with our idea or it, our concept of it. The world is the way that it is (whatever that way is) all by itself, and there really is no necessity at all for us to take responsibility for it, as regards its ‘essential nature’. We clearly can’t do this – and even if we could (which would be a ridiculous notion) – that wouldn’t be a good thing. We don’t really know what we’re doing, after all, so why would we want to ‘put ourselves in charge’?

 

To control or regulate a few specific (or ‘bounded’) aspects of the world is one thing, and no one’s going to argue about the necessity to do this, but when we automatically try to try to control or regulate the whole of reality (without having a clue that this is what we are actually doing or why we might be wanting to do it) then this is another thing entirely. What we’re looking at here is the difference – we might say – between conscious and unconscious controlling. In ‘conscious controlling’ I do know what I am doing and why – it’s a practical thing that I’m doing here! I’m trying to obtain a pragmatically useful outcome such as ‘cooking the dinner’ or ‘avoiding a pothole in the road’. With ‘unconscious controlling’, as we have just said, I don’t know what I am doing or why I am trying to do it. I don’t even know that I am controlling, most of the time!

 

When I ‘m controlling and I know that I am then there’s a god chance that I will stop controlling once I have achieved what I want to achieve. When I’ve cooked the dinner I’ll let go of the idea of doing so; when I have successfully avoided the pothole in the road then I no longer have to strive to achieve this outcome! When I don’t know that I am controlling then how am I ever going to stop?  In this case we can say that ‘the controlling has taken over’ – the controlling has got the upper hand and it’s actually controlling me! The need to control is controlling me and so my constant controlling (or attempting to control) is really something that has been forced upon me. Very clearly, this is not a healthy state of affairs. Very clearly, no helpful outcome is ever going to be achieved as a result of ‘unconscious controlling’!

 

What we’re really talking about in this discussion is of course our thinking, and the unconscious habit that we have of ‘thinking all the time without paying attention to the fact that we are doing so’. Thinking and controlling are the same thing – we think in order to try to gain control and we can’t gain control without thinking. Just as runaway controlling can’t ever be helpful, neither can runaway thinking. How could runaway thinking ever possibly be ‘helpful’? We don’t even know what we trying to achieve with our thinking – we’re so lost in our thinking that most of the time we’re not even aware that we’re doing so. As Eckhart Tolle says, the human condition is to be ‘lost in thought’. Because we’re ‘lost in thinking’ there isn’t ever going to be an end to it!  When we’re ‘controlling for the sake of controlling’ then there’s no end to the controlling and when we’re ‘thinking for the sake of thinking’ then there’s never ever going to be any end to the thinking! We’re stuck on the treadmill of thought and we’re not going to get anything for it – there’s no prize, no jackpot, no bonus waiting for us at the other end…

 

When we are on the treadmill of runaway thinking then we’re disconnected from the world as it actually is in itself on a full-time basis. This doesn’t mean that we’re in a state of total dissociation (although this is of course a particular, extreme example of being disconnected), it just means that we’re living exclusively in the world of rational representations, which is the Conceptualized World (or ‘the world of our abstract ideas about reality’). The Conceptual World can match the real world so well (on a superficial level at least) that it is perfectly possible to get on in life and appear to be perfectly ‘well’ in ourselves, but there is nevertheless always going to be something important missing. What’s missing is the awareness of the actual freshness of life as it is in itself, which is an awareness that children have but which we as adults have almost entirely forgotten about. We lost our unconditioned awareness and we’re making do with conditioned consciousness instead, which will allow us to ‘go through the motions of life’ it is true, but as we go through the motions we nevertheless miss what life is really about. This constitutes a rather major ‘malaise’ therefore, and it’s a malaise that almost all of us are suffering from. It’s the malaise that comes about as a result of living life in a purely rational or conceptual way and the way it affects us is – as Jung says – in terms of ‘loss of meaning’.

 

We can live with this ‘loss of meaning’ because we can fill our lives with all sorts of empty distractions and entertainments (and this is exactly what we do do) but the price we pay is a lack of joy and peace in ourselves, a lack of any true ‘ease’. We may (and often do) deny this of course, and proclaim ourselves to be living happy and fulfilling lives but this is more of an image we feel obliged to project than anything else. If we’re all so fulfilled then why are more and more people presenting to doctors with anxiety and depression? Are we really as fulfilled as we like to say we are? Over-thinking means that our ‘quality of life’ has been tremendously degraded but because this has become ‘the norm’ no one ever remarks on it. What else do we have to go on, after all?

 

The percentage of the population suffering from depression and anxiety has been on the increase for the last sixty years and is expected to go on increasing, according to the World Health Organization, but still we go looking for an answer in all the wrong places. The medical approach suggests that it is mainly to do with our genes and how these genes affect our brain chemistry, for example. It certainly doesn’t suggest that our problem is that we all think too much! But how much simpler would it be if this was the reason – if this was the case we could all do something about it! We could start to become aware of our thinking for a start, and the more aware we become of our thinking the less it gets to control us…

 

 

Art: Mel Chin, Wake

 

 

 

 

Misrepresenting Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been fairly effectively misrepresented in Western culture. We tend to see it as a type of ‘all-purpose performance enhancer’, something that can improve our everyday functioning, something that can reduce stress and anxiety and make us happier as a result. Naturally, this sounds very good to us – it’s what we are always looking for!

 

Mindfulness isn’t really that though – it goes a lot deeper than that. Mindfulness isn’t a tool or instrument that can serve the status quo. Mindfulness (or meditation) is really a way of freeing us from the tyranny of the over-valued thinking mind (which is what lies behind every status quo) – it is ‘a way of liberation’, as Alan Watt says. The question arises therefore, do we really want liberation? Is that what we are really looking for? Or were we just looking for something to smooth out the rough edges of our life, the bits that don’t seem to be working quite so well?

 

This isn’t a minor point. It goes a lot deeper than we might initially think – the thing is that, in everyday life (whether we realize it or not), we feel ourselves to be the thinking mind. It’s not something we want to be free from therefore! That’s not what we’re looking for at all. Too much control and too much thinking causes suffering though – it degrades the quality of our life to the point where it becomes unbearable. It is the fact that the thinking mind has such a deadening grip upon us that makes us interested in ameliorating its influence by practising meditation, but that doesn’t mean that we want to get rid of it entirely! We want to ‘have our cake and eat it’, in other words – we want to ease the squeeze that the overvalued rational mind is putting on us, but we still want to let it run our lives for us.

 

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. It is perfectly natural that we should want to find relief from the excessive busyness and perennial restlessness of the thinking mind (not to mention its constant pernicious judgementalism), and yet at the same time not want to be ‘thrown in the deep end’, so to speak, with regard to our fundamental fear of being separated from our mind-created sense of identity, which is what ‘being freed from the thinking mind’ always comes down to. So maybe we’re not looking for the ultimate spiritual adventure, maybe we’re just looking for a bit of ‘stress reduction’!

 

The question – although we are likely to see it as such – comes down to precisely this. The question is, “Do we wish to live our life on the basis of this construct that we call ‘the self’, and make that limited version of life as comfortable and stress-free as we possibly can, or do we wish to be wholly liberated from this mind-created identity, and all of the interminable petty issues it brings with it?” Again, we have to stress that this is not a ‘moral’ choice; it’s not a question of ‘what is the right thing to do?’ When we concern ourselves with the right versus the wrong thing to do, this invariably means ‘the right thing in relation to the mind–created identity’ and so we are seeing things in an inherently biased way right from the start. If we were asking ourselves this question in a more ‘essential’ fashion (if that happened to be possible for as at the time) so as to find out what we want to do in our ‘heart of hearts’ (so to speak) then that will be a different matter. We would probably come up with a different answer in this case.

 

The point is of course that we can’t ask ourselves the question as to which of these two options we would like to put our money on (i.e. whether we would like to make the best life we can for ourselves on the basis of the mind-created identity, or whether we would like to be liberated from this very hard–to–shift illusion) because we simply don’t have the awareness (or perspective) to either formulate such a question, or – indeed – see the sense in asking it. Everything depends on how much perspective we have; if we don’t have the perspective to see through the mind-created identity then obviously our ‘choice’ will be to try and improve the living conditions associated with it. This isn’t the’ wrong’ choice – it’s just the choice that makes the most sense to us! Given our limited perspective, it’s actually the only choice that makes sense to us.

 

When we talk about mindfulness (or medication) being ‘misleadingly represented to us’ therefore, this is not to say that we shouldn’t use it in narrow instrumental terms so as to try to solve psychological problems, reduce anxiety and stress, etc, but simply that by portraying the practice of mindfulness solely in this way we are effectively closing the door on its true significance. We are subverting it (inevitably so, given the nature of our culture) in the cause of enhancing our ability to do what we are already doing. We’re not wanting to do anything differently, we just want to do what we’re already doing in a more effective way!

 

What bigger difference could there be doing what you already doing more effectively, and being freed up from the perceived necessity to keep on doing it? Having asked this question we are bound to observe that this is rather a big difference in emphasis – it’s actually a 180° turnaround. This doesn’t mean that if we do enough meditation we will end up stopping doing whatever we doing and start doing ‘something else’ instead – that would result in pure chaos, obviously. That would be ridiculous. But it does mean is that we will stop doing what we’re doing for the reason that we were doing it! Our orientation will change. This is what gaining awareness/perspective is all about – changing the reason we are doing what we’re doing.

 

This ‘revolution’ is very easy to explain – beforehand we were doing whatever we were doing for the sake of something that doesn’t really exist (we were in other words doing everything for the sake of an illusion). The ‘illusion’ is the narrow view of who we thought we were, which is the illusion that society itself supports and fosters. The illusion in question is ‘the separate sense of being a defined or demarked self’. When we think that we are acting on behalf of ‘a defined entity’ – be it the mind-created identity, a group, a nation, or the organisation we are working for – we are dedicating our efforts to the cause of ‘furthering a fiction’ and no good is ever going to come from this. It won’t even benefit the fiction in question; nothing can benefit a fiction – all the treasures of the world couldn’t do this! We’re barking up the wrong tree when we try to do this…

 

All entities, all ‘things’, all defined principalities disappear when consciousness comes back onto the scene! We see beyond the limits, the boundaries, the demarcations that we ourselves are projecting onto the world, and making so very important. When awareness comes back on the scene we stop serving these limits, these boundaries, these demarcations and – instead – we serve what was previously being limited, bounded, and demarked. Instead of serving one or other of ‘the ten-thousand things’, we now serve the Dao, we now serve ‘the Way’ – which is ‘the way that belongs to no one’…

 

 

Art: Bansky. Taken from streetartnyc.org

 

 

 

 

 

Being In The World Without Thinking About Being In The World…

What we call ‘being meditative’ (or ‘being mindful’) simply means ‘being in the world without thinking about being in the world’. How simple is this? How much more simple and straightforward could anything be? And yet – simple or not, straightforward or not – the point is that we never ever do it. Being in the world without at the same time thinking about it is something that just doesn’t happen. It’s as if that is just too simple for us; we always have to think about we’re doing, we always have to over-complicate it. We always have to add that ‘extra ingredient’ – the extra ingredient of thought.

 

It’s not quite right to say that we never find ourselves ‘being in the world without thinking about being in the world’, however. On the very odd occasion it happens. Sometimes it happens. We’ve all had some experience of ‘simply being in the world’ – it happens every now and again, despite ourselves, despite our best efforts to keep ourselves perpetually busy! If we had to call ‘being in the world without thinking’ anything we’d probably just call it ‘an experience of peace’ or ‘an experience of stillness’. Such experiences are so natural, so unforced, and yet – in adulthood, at least – so very rare…

 

Even if we could just focus on this, and allow ourselves to see just how little genuine peace we have in our lives than that would change our outlook dramatically. It would wake us up somewhat, and then we might stand a better chance of not slipping right back into the busy-ness again. But we never do seem to focus on the startling ‘lack of stillness’ in our lives and as a result we carry on as we are, which is ‘moving from one thing to another without ever a break between them’. There’s no awareness of what we’re missing out on and so there’s no incentive to make any changes.

 

It gets so we think that this is what life is – going from one thing to another, seamlessly, without there ever being a gap. It’s like travelling on an escalator and never getting off because we’ve forgotten that it’s possible to do so. The ‘escalator’ is the thinking mind which keeps trundling on and on forever; of itself, it will never stop. As people often remark, the thinking mind doesn’t come with an ‘off button’ – it will never consider that it might be a good thing to switch off for a while. Or rather, it might sometimes think this but it will never ever do it. Thought will not cease its activity of its own accord any more than a boulder rolling down a steep hillside will suddenly stop by itself.

 

Life isn’t really ‘going from one thing to another’. That isn’t where life is to be found – on the contrary, life is to be found in the gaps, in the discontinuities, in the ‘cracks in the pavement’. It’s not to be found in ‘the official brochure of events’. Or to put this another way, ‘life is what happens when we unaccountably step off the escalator of the thinking mind’. Life is what happens we stop doing what we never do stop, which is thinking! Life – after all – is not a thought. Life isn’t what we think about life, even though we automatically assume (or ‘think’) that it is!

 

The problem is however that the world we live in – which is ‘the world of our structures and systems’ – tells us that life is all about going from one thing to another! In this world the message is that ‘the more things you can cram into the day the better that is’. Our culture doesn’t value peace or stillness – we hear the word used a lot but nothing is meant by it. It’s only lip-service. It’s a hollow word, like ‘freedom’. Our machine culture doesn’t value anything that isn’t constructed, produced or manufactured; it doesn’t value anything that isn’t ‘managed’ or ‘regulated’, anything that isn’t ‘an official or authorized product of the system’ – i.e. something that can be packaged up and sold to us. All the emphasis is on the wrong things; our attention is continually being directed in the wrong direction…

 

This isn’t a conspiracy in the usual sense of the word (although it looks very much like it), it’s just how thought works and the world we live in has been built by thought. Thought – or ‘the thinking mind’ – always directs our attention to ‘things’, which is to say, it always points at its own constructs, its own categories, such what we call ‘things’ are nothing more than the way it organizes the world. The thinking mind can’t focus on ‘the gap between things’ because it if does this then straightaway it turns ‘the gap between things’ into a thing, and this of course defeats the whole point of the exercise! The thinking mind can’t think about something that isn’t the product of its own thinking process – when it tries to then what happens is that it just ends up doing what it always does, which is ‘thinking about its own thoughts’.

 

We can’t blame thought for doing what it does and always directing our attention at its own constructs, its own categories because this is what it does. We can’t blame it for always pointing our attention at the ‘things’ coming down the never-ending conveyor belt rather than at the undefined space within which all of this is happening  since this that is something that it could never do anyway – that would be ‘outside of its design specifications’, so to speak, that would be outside its remit. Thought does what it’s supposed to do, and that’s all it ever can do. If we can actually see this – if we can see that we’re asking too much of thought, if we can see that we asking it to do something that just isn’t within its remit – then this insight would amount to a massive breakthrough in our understanding. This insight changes the whole dynamic of what’s going on…

 

We imagine that thought can do everything. We ‘over-value’ it, as Jung says. The thinking mind can’t deliver the world to us, even though we implicitly believe that it can, even though thought itself – like a clever politician – promises us faithfully that it can. Actually, what thought can do is very limited – it is very good at what it is supposed to do but this doesn’t mean that we should let it run our lives for us, which is what we do let it do. When we trust the machine which is the thinking mind to ‘run our lives for us’ then what we unfailingly end up with is this unremittingly busy world of ours that is made up of nothing else apart from logical systems and structures and which has the unacknowledged (or ‘covert’) function of keeping us distracted on a full-time basis from the reality of our own lives.

 

The reason why we can’t be in the world without at the same time constantly thinking about being in the world (which actually blocks us from being in the world) is before we are always ‘looking for advantage’. That’s one way of putting it, anyway – we’re looking out for the advantage in our situation and at the same time we’re watching out for any possible disadvantage, which comes to the same thing. What’s more – by way of an ironic twist – the reason we’re so busy scanning for the advantage the whole time is because is because the constraining or limiting effect of thought on us is causing us to feel (either unconsciously or consciously) that we are missing out on life  somehow and so we’re trying to make good this deficit. The other way this works is to cause us to be looking out for potential threats and dangers because the ‘invisible constraint’ that thought is putting on us is manifesting itself as a worry, either conscious or unconscious, that some disaster is lurking out there somewhere, and we have to take steps to secure ourselves against it.

 

Where the ‘irony’ comes in therefore is because thought is the cause of our problem as well as the (supposed) cure for it! The reason we have this conscious or unconscious perception that we’re missing out on something (or perhaps that we’re under threat from something, which is anxiety) is because we’re letting the machine of the thinking mind ‘run our lives for us’ and when we do this when end up – as we have said – being kept busy on a full-time basis but never actually getting anywhere real as a result and there’s no way that we can’t know about this ‘hollowness’ on some level or other. Thought constrains us, limits us, boxes us in, and effectively prevents us from having any genuine connection with the wider (or ‘unconditioned’) reality and so of course we feel that we are missing something. We ARE missing out – but thought can’t help us find what we’re missing!

 

When we are living life purely within the systems and structures that the thinking mind has created for us then this gives rise to a type of underlying pain or anguish that we cannot ordinarily be aware of and it is the need to do something about this ‘pain that we do not directly perceive’ that drives us in a lot of what we do. The unacknowledged need to escape this invisible pain is what is driving us to be ‘looking for the advantage’ the whole time. It makes us hungry with a hunger that can never be satiated. It drives us to be always calculating and controlling in our approach to life because we have the fundamental ‘base-line perception’ that something bad is going to happen to us (or could happen to us) if we don’t. We are living in ‘a fundamentally impoverished mind-created world’, in other words, and so of course we are always going to be ‘looking for advantage’, or ‘looking for gain’. This is what always happens when we unwittingly end up letting thought be our master.

 

What facilitates the whole ‘loop’ is our unexamined assumption that thought can solve all our problems, including those problems which it itself has made for us! This unquestioning trust in the power of thought to save us keeps us going around and around in the same old loop – the loop of thought. As soon as we actually see this however this unwarranted ‘trust’ in the thinking mind is undermined, and this insight changes the whole order of things, the whole dynamic of things. It’s like not voting for a politician! Thinking and scheming and analyzing won’t help us – that will just perpetuate our limited or constrained situation. Problem-solving and goal-setting won’t help us – that will just keep us prisoners in ‘the prison of thought’. What helps is to see the jailer for who he is instead of trusting that he is going to somehow save us! What will help us – in other words – is to place our trust in our awareness and intuition, instead of in the over-valued rational faculty…

 

 

Image taken from: photobucket.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Problem of ‘Sitting with Pain’

When we try to ‘sit with our own pain’ (as we often do try to do when we are involved in psychotherapy or mindful practice) we generally run into a problem. The problem with ‘sitting with our own pain’ isn’t just the pain itself – which is of course what we think it is – but our purposeful attitude to this whole business of ‘sitting with pain’. The problem is that we can’t be present with our pain on purpose.

 

Because we have the aim or purpose of sitting with pain this jinxes the whole process – we want to become more present with ourselves but we become more absent instead! It backfires on us every time. There is no way that being purposeful about wanting to be present with our pain isn’t going to backfire on us because purposefulness is ‘control’ and control causes us to identify with the ‘abstract controller’ (which is another way of saying that it stops us being present). This is the very same paradox of ‘self-acceptance’ that Alan Watts talks about. The thing about self-acceptance, Alan Watts says, is that the self we should be accepting (i.e. the non-accepting self) is the very same self that we are trying to get rid of…

 

There is a point at which we decide that we need to change the way we are and become self-accepting rather than self-rejecting or self-denying and it is at this point that a new and problematic twist gets thrown into the equation. We’ve complicated things by turning our back on ‘how we really are’ in favour of ‘how we’d like to be’ (or ‘how we feel we ought to be’) and this means that our so-called ‘act of self-acceptance’ is really just another act of self-rejection – the latest in a long line of ‘acts of self-rejection’.

 

The problem is that every form of purposeful action that we might engage in is a rejection. Every purpose is a rejection just as every goal is a rejection – every goal is (of course!) a rejection of whatever it is that has not been designated as ‘the goal’. Purposeful behaviour is rejecting behaviour therefore – we’re rejecting anything that interferes with (or stands in the way of) the achieving of the purpose that we have set so much store in. Purposeful behaviour is all about attachment (or ‘like and dislike’) in other words – it’s all about ‘vehemently rejecting or eliminating what we don’t like’….

 

This tends to sound a bit complicated when we try to pin it down in the way that we have just been trying to but this is really just a problem with language (or a problem with thinking, which is the same thing). In short, ‘accepting yourself’ means – if it is to mean anything – accepting the self that you were before you decided to accept yourself and ‘sitting with your pain’ means – if it is to mean anything – being present with yourself as you were before you conceived the notion of ‘sitting with your own pain’. ‘Self-acceptance’ means – in other words – being unconditionally with yourself as you were before you got any clever ideas in your head about changing yourself or adjusting yourself to be some special way!

 

‘Adjusting ourselves so as to be some special way’ IS the jinx that always flummoxes us – that’s the whole problem in a nutshell. We are always trying to adjust, modify or change ourselves so as to be some special way – we do this so automatically, so unreflectively, that we don’t even notice ourselves doing it. We’re always being aggressive to ourselves – we’re not letting ourselves alone, we’re not giving ourselves any peace. Being aggressive towards ourselves doesn’t bear any fruit; it doesn’t change us to be the way we want to be – this has never happened in the whole of human history and it never will! Self-aggression has never resulted in anything other than ‘an increase in suffering’ and never could. Jinxes never stop being jinxes; that’s the whole thing about ‘a jinx’ – that it unfailingly catches us out every time. The whole point of a jinx is that it will never come good for us, no matter how long we keep on trying to beat it.

 

When we automatically try to adjust ourselves, modify ourselves, change ourselves, all that happens is that we create a barrier, a gap, an obstacle. As soon as we try to change or adjust ourselves we create a gap between ‘actually being in the world’ and ‘our experience of what it means to be in the world’ and this gap spells one thing and one thing only – it spells suffering. The ‘gap’ equals suffering and the reason that the gap equals suffering is because it’s a gap between us and life. We are life – we’re not something that ‘possesses’ life or is aiming or planning to gain life or maximize life – we actually are life and so a gap between us and life is a gap that stops us being what we really are!

 

What more terrible thing could there be than a gap between us and life? If there is a gap between us and life then where we are isn’t life – it’s somewhere else. We’re stuck somewhere else in a ‘non-place’ that isn’t life and we’re watching life at a distance through some kind of distorting lens. We’re alienated, dissociated, dislocated. We’re seeing life darkly, as if through glass, as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:12; we’re not seeing it as it is at all.

 

This is how we almost always are – it’s the human condition. It’s the usual state of affairs for us because we’re always trying to adjust ourselves, modify ourselves, change ourselves. That’s the thing we do without even knowing that we’re doing it. To live is to be constantly trying to change oneself and the reason for this is that we’re always living via the thinking mind. The thinking mind is a tool for changing things, a tool for analyzing and solving problems, and the one thing it can never do is ‘leave things alone’! The rational mind can never exist in a state of peace with the world – it always has to be trying to evaluate it and control it. The rational mind is a device for evaluating and cataloguing and controlling and it can’t do anything else.

 

Life’s a scab and we’re forever picking at it, in other words, even though this isn’t the prettiest of metaphors. When we’re coming at it from the point of view of the thinking mind life is continually irritating us, or perhaps even causing us actual pain, and we’re trying to fix that but by trying to fix it we’re maintaining the gap that is causing the pain in the first place. Generally speaking the gap between us and life is fairly imperceptible – it doesn’t cause us any conscious distress or sense of disconnection. For the most part the sense of disconnection and alienation that it creates is invisible to us; we don’t know that it’s there and we will in fact deny that it is if asked. We are used to it; we assume on some level or other that this is what life is supposed to be like so we pay it no heed. We assume that we’re supposed to be ‘separate from life’; we don’t miss that vivid immediacy of life because we don’t remember ever having it and this ‘forgetting’ is concomitant with the conditioned state of being….

 

When we are suffering from neurotic pain of one sort or another then the ‘gap’ that we are talking about gets exacerbated and because it has become exacerbated it becomes visible. The ‘disconnect’ becomes more severe, more pronounced, more painful and so we do notice it. We notice it all of the time; we can’t get rid of it in fact and our attempt to get rid of it, or fix it, makes it worse. Our mind keeps on working away at the problem and this restless activity of the mind keeps widening the suffering-producing gap. We’re caught in a loop, in other words – we’re caught in the loop of the analyzing/evaluating mind.

 

The mind always is a loop, whether we’re aware of this or not, and we’re always trapped in it. It’s only when the loop narrows so that we can feel the pain that it creates that we start to gain the possibility of seeing that we’re caught in a mental loop; otherwise life is full of enough distractions and diversions to keep us from seeing that our situation is in any way ‘prison-like’. That’s what distractions and diversions are for – to prevent us from seeing that we’re in prison, to prevent us from noticing that we’re caught in a mental loop. We could quite easily spend our whole lives without noticing this…

 

What maintains the gap is us automatically reacting to the pain that is created by the gap. We don’t notice that we are continually reacting in this way – it’s so normal for us that of course we don’t notice it. It’s just regular life, as far as we’re concerned. We’re too caught up in this mechanism that is forever ‘feeding on itself’ to ever question what is going on here. It is – as we keep saying – normal for us; the mental loop of the thinking mind is ‘normal’ for us because it’s all we ever know. To be is to react when we’re in the unconscious mode of existence; we’re owned by the mechanical forces of analysing and evaluating and controlling when we’re in this mode – just so long as we’re unconscious we are a vehicle for these forces and nothing more.

 

We often hear that the way to work with this situation (i.e. the situation of being the unconscious pawn of forces we do not understand) is by ‘not judging’, ‘not reacting’ and all this kind of thing, but this is only half the story. It’s only half the story and because it’s only half the story it’s not really going to help us! Being told to ‘not judge’ is actually a very confusing message, despite the fact that it sounds so straightforward. The problem is that the self (i.e. the thinking mind) can’t ever ‘not judge’, can’t ever ‘not react’. This is the supreme impossibility for it – the one thing the self-mind can never do is ‘stop judging’! The reason that this is a supreme impossibility is because the self-mind is created by judging, is created by reacting, so of course this entity is never going to genuinely embrace not-judging. It might pretend to (if it thinks that there’s something in it for it), but that’s as far as it goes…

 

‘Sitting with our own pain’ is a joke as far as the mind-created self is concerned. The very idea of it is ludicrous – the thing or entity that is created by resisting pain is supposed to be able to ‘not resist’, even though unreflective resistance is its very life-blood. All that’s going to happen in this case therefore (when we only have half the story) is that we’re going to learn to resist in a camouflaged way – we’re going to learn to disguise our resistance by calling it ‘spiritual practice’, by calling it ’sitting with my pain’…

 

The ‘missing half’ of the message (which is the half that we in the West don’t seem to be so keen on hearing!) is that we’re not this beleaguered self that is trying (and failing) to sit with the pain. We’re not that self and we never were. The whole thing is a ‘false problem’ therefore – it would be a problem of we were this self but because we’re not there isn’t. There isn’t a problem and there never was one – there’s no one who needs to ‘sit with the pain’ just as there’s no one who needs to ‘do the spiritual practice’.

 

In down-to-earth terms what we’re talking about here could simply be called ‘having a sense of humour’ or ‘not taking things too seriously’ (even though it might seem flippant to say this). We see that the task we’re setting ourselves is impossible and so we don’t take it so seriously. How can we take it seriously if it’s totally impossible? ‘Being present’ is an impossible task – it’s an impossible task because it isn’t a task. It isn’t something to be achieved. When we do treat ‘being present’ as a task we find that the more we try to succeed at it the less present we become. It backfires on us. Being serious about a task that isn’t a task is a double-bind – we’re jinxing ourselves by trying. We’re already present so how can this be a task? ‘Trying’ creates the separate sense of self that wishes to be ‘not separate’ and it tries to be ‘not separate’ (or ‘not disconnected’) by trying even more and this is the mental loop that we’re all caught up in…

 

 

 

 

The Phantom Striver

Meditation isn’t a way that we can get to be calm or still peaceful or wise or compassionate or anything like that. That’s all crazy talk! That’s entering into a world of projections, that’s entering a world of hallucinations. That’s a fever dream…

 

Meditation isn’t a way to improve or augment or develop ourselves, which is just about the only reason we ever do anything. The urge to improve ourselves or make things better for ourselves is just about all we know. For the most part, it’s the only motivation we know. Meditation isn’t this, though.

 

Meditation is where we drop backwards into a place where we aren’t, and where the things we believe in aren’t either. It’s a place of discontinuity – a place where whatever it was we thought was happening is seen not to be happening. There’s no logic, no cause-and-effect, no before and after, no striving and no results. It is ‘somewhere else’ – a place that hasn’t been created by the thinking mind’s narrative.

 

In this place there isn’t us being calm, us being still, or peaceful, or wise, or compassionate, or anything like that. There isn’t us being anything. There’s no augmentation, or anything being improved. There aren’t any of the things that we think are good – these things are only ‘good’ in relation to our idea of things, our idea of ourselves, and those ideas are all gone now! These things that we used to think were good were only ‘good’ in relation to the mind’s narrative and there’s no narrative any more – the narrative has been broken off…

 

Generally speaking, as we have said, we’re always trying to improve our situation in relation to this all-important narrative. It could also be said that what we’re always trying to do is reach some sort of personalized ‘heaven’ – the optimum situation for ourselves, the solution or resolution of all our problems… The point is therefore that ‘heaven’ is always about me and my assumptions, me and my unexamined expectations of reality. What I see as ‘the ultimate good’ is a delusory projection, in other words – it’s a fever dream…

 

When we drop backwards into the discontinuity (rather than straining forwards towards the idealized state) then what we’re dropping into a state of complete surprise – it’s not a ‘trivial’ surprise, it’s not the surprise of ‘something is going to happen to me but I don’t know what’ because there isn’t the constant of the mental framework into which everything has to be (or the constant of the ‘me’ to which everything has to be related). It’s not that the uncertainty involved is only about ‘what is happening’; it is equally about the framework which we use to make sense of whatever it is that is happening – radical surprise (we might say) is when there’s no way of knowing what is happening and also no way of knowing who it is happening to. But saying this isn’t quite right either because there’s no separation of the two – there is only a separation of ‘what is happening’ and ‘who it is happening to’ when we feed reality through the mental framework of the rational mind, and thus turn everything into a narrative…

 

When we drop backwards into the discontinuity then there is no more polarity, in other words. The mind-created polarity of ‘me’ and ‘the world’ is no longer there; this basic orientation is gone. That polarity was never there anyway really – it was just a strange game that we got caught up in. Nothing at all has been achieved as a result of ‘dropping into the discontinuity’ therefore because ‘achieving’ and ‘not achieving’, ‘gaining’ or ‘losing’ only exists within the game, only exists within the polarity.

 

So the question is, ‘Are we really interested in being radically surprised in this way by a situation that we can never get a handle on, or are we – when we practice meditation – simply looking for ‘an improved position’ in life, so to speak? Are we merely looking for a better way to play the game, or are we happy to let go of the game entirely and see what happens then?’ The glitch that comes in here is that when we are operating on the basis of the polarity which is self/world, the polarity which is the thinking mind, then we’re always going to be looking for a way of improving our situation. That’s the only way we can look at things when we’re looking from the standpoint of the polarity – everything is always good or bad, better or worse, improvement or disimprovement. Everything is always about control, in other words. Or as we could also say, when we’re operating on the basis of the polarity of self/world then we’re always chasing life…

 

When it comes right down to it, we’re always trying to get a hold on life so that it can’t run away from us. We’re trying to pin it down but the thing about this is that when we do this we end up with a situation where life is always running away from us and we are always chasing it! We might – every now and again – that we have it but then at some point or rather we realize that it’s gone and what we have clutched in our tightly-closed hand is nothing at all and so then we have to start searching for it all over again – hunting for it, dreaming up schemes to catch it, investing in control and power, playing games, setting clever traps for it…

 

The most essential way in which we try to ‘catch life’ is by conceptualizing it, by ‘knowing’ what it is, but as soon as we ‘know’ what it is then, as we all know, it stops being interesting. The allure appears somewhere else, it appears in an adjacent pasture, but then when we get to that adjacent pasture and set up camp there the same thing happens all over again – we’ve ‘killed’ what we’re interested in by trying to secure. We’ve cleverly trapped the song-bird and put in a golden cage but now it has stopped singing! Our relationship with the world is aggressive, coercive, demanding and so what this means is that we just don’t have a relationship with it! Instead of a relationship we’re caught up in a self-perpetuating polarity – we keep chasing ‘the thing’ and it keeps on running away from us. The elusiveness of the principle of life is symbolized in alchemy by the motif of the ‘fugitive stag’ and what we’re really seeing here, when we look at the continual ‘fleeing’ of everything that is precious in life away from us, is our own sterile aggression reflected back at us.

 

Everyday life, which is always based on ‘trying’ or ‘striving’, is quintessentially frustrating therefore. We create a polarity such that the desirable or valuable aspect of life is outside of us and then we grasp at it. Polarity is always going to be like this – we are always in the place where we don’t want to be! From a naïve point of view it seems that skilful or cunning enough action on our part can bring about an end to this painful separation from the ‘good stuff’ that we see all around us on the inside but as we have said, this never actually works out for us! It never can work out for us because it is our trying that is causing reality to flee away from us – the more we try (i.e. the more aggressive we are) the more estranged and alienated from the world we become! And yet all we know is trying, all we know is aggression…

 

When we’re operating on the basis of a mind-created polarity then what’s actually happening is that we’ve played a trick on ourselves – we’ve divided everything into two when actually this isn’t the case. Reality isn’t ‘two’, it isn’t a polarity! Because we insist on perceiving the world in this way however (and just as long as we’re listening to the thinking mind there is no way that we can help from perceiving things this way) we’re always seeing the good stuff as being somewhere where we’re not. It’s always on the outside, as we have said. But the thing about this is that there isn’t ‘an outside’! How could there be ‘an outside’? However did we get to see life in this way? The ‘outside’ doesn’t exist – it’s a ridiculous abstract notion and yet we take this ridiculous abstract as seriously as we could ever take anything! There isn’t anything we take as seriously as this notion of there being an outside – we even see ourselves as living in this ‘outside’.

 

Both the outside world and the self that supposedly lives in this outside world are ‘the polarity’ – both equal ‘the ridiculous abstraction’. We might live out our lives there, we might pursue our dreams or goals there, but that doesn’t mean that it’s real! All of our achievements in this abstract realm are phantom achievements, just as all of our ‘failures’ here are phantom failures. The sense of concrete selfhood that we cherish so much and cling to so fearfully equals ‘the phantom striver’ – the one who perpetually strives after illusory gains and perpetually tries to run away from illusory set-backs… If we meditate on the basis of this phantom striver, therefore, all we’re doing is perpetuating the game, perpetuating the fever-dream, perpetuating the fantasy….

 

 

Art: Dream Striver, by Grace H. Gutekanst

 

 

Being There Without A Reason

Whenever we’re doing something for a reason we’re not ‘in reality’ – we’re not in reality because we’re not in the present moment and there’s no reality other than the present moment. We can only be in reality if we let go of all the ideas that we might have of what we are doing and why so if we’re here for some reason or other then quite simply we are not actually here, we’re not actually ‘present’. We’re in our heads – we’re ‘there for a reason’ and this means that we’re not there. We’re not really anywhere – we’re absent rather than present. Doing stuff for a reason ensures that we’re not in the present moment…

 

And yet we’re always doing stuff for a reason – we’re doing it because of this, we’re doing it because of that, we’re doing it because of whatever. Even when we think we’re doing something for no reason that chances are that we still have an agenda there somewhere or other. We might be unconscious of this agenda but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Lots and lots of our activity occurs as a result of unconscious motivation – most of it in fact – so not being able to see what our reason is, not having any awareness of it – doesn’t mean anything. Truly spontaneous  behaviour is rare in adults – everything has become contaminated with some kind of agenda, some kind of calculation, some kind of rational validation.

 

To let go of all our agendas – both of the conscious and unconscious variety – is the hardest thing there is. In one way it could be argued that dropping our agendas is easy since we don’t actually have to ‘do’ anything – all that is needed is for us to stop doing something (i.e. all we need to ‘do’ is stop holding on). This ‘not doing’ turns out to be much more difficult that we might have thought however. It’s a very curious thing because we always think that the challenge in life is to fulfil our agendas, not let go of them. That’s what we’re always being told, that’s the kind of message that we have been brought up on. The basic assumption in our culture is that when we successfully realize our goals then we will be happy. Everything then will be OK – all problems will then disappear.

 

The message we are always given is that goal-attainment equals the ultimate fulfilment, the ultimate satisfaction, in other words. It means everything to us. But this just isn’t true – the only thing that brings joy and peace is letting go, not holding on. Holding on only ever brings misery – we hold on out of greed, out of fear, out of insecurity and this is never going bring anything but suffering. Holding on we do by reflex – letting go, on the other hand, has to be a conscious thing. It is an expression of being present in the situation, not being absent! ‘Letting go’ is the challenge; ‘letting go’ is the challenge because it is the one thing we don’t want to do. As Eckhart Tolle says, everything hinges upon our relationship with the reality of the present moment. If our attitude is that we are refusing to surrender to the present moment, just as it is, then it is as if we are fighting with life itself. It isn’t just ‘as if’ – we are fighting with life itself and this the most gruelling and thankless task there is. There’s nothing more futile than this; fighting with life is the ultimate ‘fruitless endeavour’ – the only fruit we are ever going to pick from this tree is the fruit of suffering!

 

When we refuse to surrender to the reality of the present moment (and this ‘surrendering is a profoundly courageous rather than a cowardly act) then what this means is that we are trying to live life on our terms and we don’t even know what these terms are! We don’t know what the terms which we are trying to hold life to are because we‘ve never examined them, because we’ve never really looked at them. If we had looked at these terms of ours we would no longer be clinging so stubbornly to them – we would have dropped them immediately because they are so ridiculous! This is the whole thing about ‘holding onto our agendas’ – we hold onto them alright but we never look at why we are holding onto them so tightly or what exactly the expectations are that we are imposing on life. This is because ‘holding on’ (as we have said) always happens out of fear and when we are doing something out of fear we do not want to examine what we are doing and why. We just ‘do it’ – the reflex is triggered and we just go along with it. Fear is all about going along with automatic reflexes – to act on fear is to hand over responsibility to a set of mechanical responses. To act on fear is to become mechanical, in other words. When we are obeying fear then we are moving away from being aware – awareness moves towards looking at what is going on whilst fear runs in the other direction!

 

Another way of putting this is to say that when we are afraid and we go along with this fear, then we are handing over our autonomy to rules. We are giving away our power to some external authority. We trust that the rules (or the ‘external authority’) will save us and – at the same time – we make sure never to look at the rule (or the behaviour) too closely. Naturally we don’t want to look at the rules (or behaviour) too closely because if we did then we would be running the risk of seeing that what we have placed our trust in is never in a million years going to help us! To examine the rules or behaviours or reflexes that we have handed over our autonomy to is to run the risk of losing our faith in them (since they don’t by their very nature ‘stand up to scrutiny’) and then what would we do? We’d be thrown back on our own resources again; we’d have to face up to the difficulty all by ourselves, without some handy formula that is supposedly going to save us…

 

This is why no one can ever tell us what to do in order to ‘beat anxiety’, or in order to ‘overcome fear’. If they do then we will straightaway cling to the instructions (or rules) that they have given us; we will hold on tightly to the  formula that we have been given and holding on tightly to some formula, to some reassuring ‘external authority’, means that we are running away from fear not up facing it. So how is this supposed to help us? How is running away from what we are afraid of going to free us from fear? We are desperate to give away our power, our autonomy in the matter and at the same time we are expecting this to save us from the fear or from the anxiety. Our anxiety is a symptom of our refusal to relate directly to whatever is frightening us (it is a symptom of our attempted running away, in other words) so how can someone trying to help us in our ‘running away’ ever be expected to help us? When we try to give someone methods to deal with fear or anxiety all we are doing is colluding with them in their efforts to run away in the opposite direction of the source of the fear and so this isn’t helpful at all. ‘Methods’ are always an abdication of autonomy; ‘methods’ mean becoming more not less mechanical.

 

How can we possibly hope to become free from fear or anxiety by moving in the direction of becoming more mechanical? The root cause of anxiety is our fear of being present in the situation whilst being mechanical means moving even further away from the reality of the present moment, so utilizing methods and skills and ‘tools’ to deal with anxiety isn’t any sort of a cure at all – it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of our very great reluctance to surrender to the present moment. It’s a symptom of our (unexamined) refusal to live life on life’s terms. What helps isn’t to invest in methods of dealing or ‘coping’ with life’s difficulties – what helps is to be present with these difficulties. Being present with the difficulty – whatever that difficulty might be – is the only thing that helps. Anything else is an attempted escape from something that can’t be escaped from!

 

‘Being present’ means not running away and so of course this is the only thing that is actually going to help us. The big challenge is however – as we have said – that no one can tell us how to be present with ourselves. There’s no set of rules we can follow. There’s no method for it – there’s no method for ‘being there without a reason’. If there was a method then there would be a reason, the reason being that it suits us to be there without a reason, and this itself constitutes a reason. This itself constitutes an agenda and so we have ‘an agenda for dropping our agenda’. This simply shows that ‘being present’ can never come out of the head, out of the thinking mind. Everything that comes out of the thinking mind comes with an agenda – there is no way that the thinking, purposeful mind can ever do anything without having a purpose in mind. The problem is therefore that we do everything out of our heads – we’re a ‘heady’ culture! We even try to ‘assent to life’ with our heads. The thinking mind – like some sort of terrible interfering busybody – wants to be involved in everything…

 

Much of what passes for mindfulness comes down to this glitched business of us trying to assent to life with our heads (which means ‘trying to assent to life for a reason’). Because we are so very used to seeing ourselves to seeing ourselves as ‘this mind’ (and we are brought up to see ourselves this very limited way) we simply don’t know any other way to be. The sense of ourselves as a ‘rounded and irrational whole’ rather than a type of ‘disembodied sharp-edged intellect’ is a stranger to us. It’s as if we live in a big house and never come out of the cramped and cluttered little room we use as an office. We don’t know ‘our Father’s house’ in all its spaciousness. Assenting to life is very clearly something that comes out of the Whole of us, not just a meagre part of us (i.e. not just the narrow rational intellect). Being here without a reason comes out of our heart, not our head! This is at the same time both an involuntary (or spontaneous) act of deep assent from the heart and a profoundly liberating insight – the insight being that there never was any possibility of us not being in the reality of our own lives.