The Purely Conceptual Reality


Positive and negative certainty (which is to say, concrete  facts that we like and which made us feel good, and concrete facts that we don’t like and which make us feel bad) are created by the evaluating mind, rather than having any existence of their own, and yet positive and negative certainty are all we ever take any notice of! Nothing else really registers with us…

 

The key to understanding this lies in the term ‘the evaluative mind’  – the process of evaluation involves (we could say) two steps, one being the act whereby we impose our own framework of meaning on the world, the other being the step in which we reference everything we come across to the framework of meaning. Alternatively, we could say that the process of evaluation involves comparing incoming information to our assumed categories such that when there is a match (or a ‘fit’) it’s a YES and when there isn’t a match then it’s a NO. The YES and the NO are our evaluation, obviously, and no matter how sophisticated the process gets it always comes down to this basic ‘act of comparison’ of information to our assumed framework of meaning.

 

There is huge security in YES and NO; there is immense security. What does this thing we’re calling ‘security’ mean, however? We use the word very easily, and we all think we know what we’re talking about, but what exactly is it? Obviously, security is some we are magnetically drawn to, something we unfailingly gravitate to, and feel safe with, but why? What’s going on here? One answer is to say (the sense of) security is what we get when we live in a purely conceptual reality! A purely conceptual reality is – clearly – a reality in which everything has already been decided; it is a reality in which everything has already been allocated its right and proper place (according to the all-important framework) and where – on this account – nothing will ever radically surprise us. How can our concepts ever ‘surprise’ us after all? Didn’t we make them ourselves? The purely conceptual reality is therefore a reality in which ‘the radically new’ has been forever excluded and it is precisely this ‘impossibility of us ever encountering the radically new’ that constitutes security for us.  That’s what makes us feel safe!

 

So this gives us one way of explaining what is meant by the term ‘security’ (or ontological security as it is sometimes called) and the other, complementary way of approaching this is to say that living in a fully mapped-out terrain represents security for us because it allows or facilitates the existence of the everyday self. Naturally the concept of ‘security’ boils down to the self – what else would it come down to? It’s only ever the insecure everyday self that keeps going on and on about ‘security’, and those things that stand for security; it’s only ever the insecure everyday self that finds ‘security’ so damn important. The reason for this (which we could see as clearly as day if we sat down and reflected on it) is that the everyday self doesn’t actually exist. It’s merely a construct, an arbitrary ‘made-up’ kind of a thing. It’s something we choose to believe in just for the sake of having something solid to believe in! We choose to believe in it and then we conveniently choose to forget that we made this choice. That’s the whole game in a nutshell.

 

The only reason we find validation important is because we don’t actually have any. We don’t have any ‘validity’ and so we have to keep on arranging it for ourselves; we have to keep on arranging it for ourselves because we know dam well (no matter what we say to the contrary) that we wouldn’t have any otherwise. The great thing about the purely conceptual reality is therefore is that the everyday self feels right at home in it – the everyday self feels right at home in the conceptual world because it too is a concept, like everything else in this world. It fits in perfectly – like a key in a lock or like a little cog in a big, smoothly running machine. It never stands out, it never ‘looks weird’, it never fails to engage properly with all the other concepts, all the other ‘machine-parts’. There are no discrepancies anywhere, no odd dissonances, no mismatches, no funny feelings, no unpleasant feelings of ‘not belonging’. The self fits into the purely conceptual world as well as it does because it is a concept in a world that is made up of them, a world where everything has to agree with the all-important ‘assumed framework’….

 

What a situation this puts us in though. We are obliged to maintain the integrity of the conceptual world without ever owning up to the fact that this is what we are doing, which puts a very odd strain on things. What’s more, we are obliged to keep reality itself at bay and make do instead with our cheap plastic substitute. Just to consider this, even for a moment or two, is enough to send a chill up our spines. Who on earth could be OK about this? What a fantastically bizarre (not to mention freakishly unpleasant) business this is and who – in all honesty – could claim that this is not our situation? No matter how dumb we might pretend to be, underneath it we’re not dumb at all – we know more than we let on to ourselves to know. We’re all doing this very strange thing therefore – we’re all keeping up this collective pretence (or pretence for the sake of the collective) that there isn’t a deeper truth than ‘the truth of our concepts’ when actually everyone knows deep down that there is. We have this ‘allegiance’ to the act going on, even though the act (or the pretence) is never actually going to do anything for us other than produce suffering.

 

The ‘deeper truth’ is that certainty doesn’t exist at all in this world; certainty only exists in the game, or – as we might also say – certainty only exists when we are too afraid to look deeply into things.  When we’re too afraid to look deeply into things (which is the usual state of affairs) then the purely conceptual world suits us down to the ground. The PCW suits us down to the ground because there’s nothing beyond it, because ‘what it says on the label is all there is’. It’s true that there can be frightening things in the conceptual world, but no matter how frightening they might be they’re not frightening in the sense that they cause us to question the reality of the conceptual self! The contrary is true – all those fears and worries that are related to the conceptual world confirm the existence of the conceptual self. In terms of ‘the game’, we can equivalently say that being afraid of losing at the game – no matter how afraid we might be – doesn’t cause us to doubt the existence of the game – rather, it makes the game all the more real to us.

 

There are those desires and those fears which belong to the conceptual world, and there are also those feelings that connect us or relate us to the non-conceptual realm, and which can on the one hand be frankly terrifying, but also on the other hand can be marvellously thrilling and magically evocative. Which way it goes depends upon our relationship to the ‘radical unknown’ – whether we are well-disposed towards it or not-so-well disposed to it (i.e. whether we are adventurous or conservative in our outlook). Insofar as our allegiance is to the Polar Self (the self which is made up of YES and NO reactions, positive and negative judgements) then our relationship with the non-conceptual world is going to be one of flat uncompromising terror, terror with no ‘give’ in it at all. This is not the ordinary everyday type of fear, which we can relate to something known, something specified, but the type of ‘super-fear’ that is evoked by the radical unknown, which is something that we have successfully (if temporarily) denied, and then forgotten about.

 

This is of course what happens every time we deny something that we are afraid of – by refusing to admit that it exists we make it not just a thousand times (or a million times) more frightening, it puts what we are afraid of into another league of fear entirely. Our denial (which is supposed to protect us from fear) actually creates a whole new dimension of fear. The PCW is both a support system for the everyday self, and it is our full-scale denial of reality itself, which has no relationship whatsoever with our concepts. What sort of relationship can our literal descriptions have with the non-literal world that they are supposedly describing, after all? Or to put this another way, what sort of relationship does our ‘imposed framework of meaning’ have with the reality that we are imposing this meaning on? Do we really imagine that our cut-and-dried categories of thought are to be found anywhere outside of our thoughts? The whole point of this business of ‘imposing a framework of meaning on the world’ is that if we don’t impose it then it won’t be there; that’s why we have to ‘impose’ it, after all!

 

Reality itself is different order of thing entirely from the models that are made of it by the thinking mind – there’s no comparison. The conceptual reality is made up entirely of boxes, of categories, of YES’s and NO’s; it is made up entirely of ‘predetermined answers to closed questions,’ in other words. Non-conceptual reality, on the other hand, is just what it is – it doesn’t relate to anything and it isn’t an answer to any question. Non-conceptual reality doesn’t have to relate to anything, it doesn’t have to fit into any predetermined scheme of things, any ‘framework’. Reality is free to as be ‘as odd as it pleases’, so to speak. From the point of view of any framework we might be using to orientate ourselves, reality is actually the oddest anything ever could be – it’s right off the scale! That’s why we always discount it. Reality – obviously enough – doesn’t need to relate to anything or fit into anything; it doesn’t need to relate to anything or fit into anything because there isn’t anything apart from itself. What is there apart from reality, after all?

 

Living in the PCR is an utterly preposterous business – there’s absolutely nothing good about it apart from the fact (important to us) that it confirms the existence of the conceptual self! No matter which way we turn we keep on bumping into our own over-used concepts, and if this isn’t claustrophobic then what is? Our house, our dwelling place, is full of junk, and all for the sake of maintaining the conceptual self, which is itself junk! The whole thing keeps chasing itself around in circles. The conceptual self is junk and yet we are very much attached to it, which is to say, we are very much afraid of losing it. We’re very much afraid of losing the conceptual self because we ‘don’t know anything else’ and we’re afraid of ‘knowing anything else’ because ‘knowing something else’ would fatally jeopardize the integrity of the illusory conceptual self! This is nature of the loop we’re stuck in.

 

What a situation to be in! To set it out clearly (as we just have done) is to immediately see how ludicrous it is – we have to live in a world from which everything radically unexpected (everything radically new) has been excluded. Any ‘newness’ (any so-called newness) has to come from endlessly recombining the same old basic conceptual units; the ‘real thing’, the ‘genuine article’, newness itself, has to be ‘off limits’ because if it isn’t ‘off limits’ then that would spell the beginning of the end of the limited self we think we are. We would no longer be able to carry on with this particular illusion. So we have to live in a world in which it is never going to be possible for us to be radically surprised in order to protect this painfully limited concept of ourselves, even though living as this painfully limited concept of ourselves isn’t doing us any good at all. We’re only playing this wretched game because we’re afraid not to, after all…

 

This world that we’re living in a ‘PCR’, of this there can be no doubt. If the world as we experience it is ‘intelligible to the rational mind’ then it must be the conceptual reality that we’re talking about. It wouldn’t be intelligible in the rational mind’s terms otherwise. The world we rationally understand (the intelligible world) is something that – as we have said – we have obtained for ourselves by imposing our ‘assumed framework’ on the world and then compelled everything to make sense in relation to it. The world doesn’t make sense though – not really. Nothing ‘makes sense’. The universe is an enigma, as Umberto Eco says. How often do we find ourselves in that world which fundamentally doesn’t make sense to the rational / conceptual mind however? Or as we could also say, how often do we relate to the world not as the conceptual self, not seeing things only as they appear through the distorting lens of the self with all its biases and prejudices? How often do we ‘step outside of ourselves’, in other words? Are we even interested in such a thing?

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing The Truth

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We don’t have to ‘accept ourselves’ in order to find peace – we just have to see ourselves the way we are. That turns out to be a lot less problematical! ‘Accepting ourselves’ is actually very problematical (impossibly problematical, in fact) since as Alan Watts says the desire to accept ourselves arises from our non-acceptance of our own non-accepting selves! That’s an irresolvable paradox but we don’t like to see paradoxes. We prefer to think that they don’t exist – paradoxes upset our nice, over-simplified scheme of things! And yet if we don’t confront the inescapable paradoxes that the rational-purposeful mind is founded on, how are we ever going to escape the morass of self-deception that we generally exist within? We like to think that we can accept ourselves – that we can ‘do’ this as a kind of perfectly regular and straightforward ‘volitional act’, just as we can put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. We like to think we can do this, but we can’t! What we can do however – although again not on a ‘regular straightforward volitional or intentional basis’ – is see ourselves. Seeing isn’t an intentional act on our part – it’s something that happens all by itself just as long as we don’t block it.

 

 

This of course presents a difficulty since inasmuch as we suspect or fear that we might see something that we don’t like we are going to be inclined to block the spontaneous process of awareness, of becoming aware. We are inclined (more than inclined) to block without even knowing that we are, and for the reason ‘seeing’ ourselves as we actually we are isn’t by any means as straightforward as it may sound. We have reframed the well-known formula of ‘accepting oneself’ because of the implication that this is something that can actually be ‘done’, in the same way that we might be able to tie our shoelaces or comb our hair. Actually, to tell someone (or ourselves) to ‘accept themselves’ is a meaningless instruction – it’s meaningless because it’s self-contradictory! So instead of talking about ‘accepting oneself’ we’re saying that what actually helps is to simply see ourselves just as we are in this moment. We might not like ourselves for being the way that we are, but then again if we see that we don’t like ourselves being the way that we are then this too is simply ‘the way that we are’ and so all we have to do is see this. This is a helpful approach precisely because it shows that there is no question whatsoever of us having to change ourselves, or of having any obligation or responsibility to change ourselves. We just see ourselves as we actually are, and this is NOT a self-contradictory instruction!

 

 

So the ‘original formula’ is that if you accept yourself then you will find peace, but – as we usually understand it – this ‘instruction’ it doesn’t lead to peace at all. On the contrary, if we try to follow the instruction, we end up caught in endless conflict and self-contradiction. We’re ‘up against ourselves’ the whole time if we try to accept ourselves. We’re fighting an enemy and the enemy is ourselves, and all this in the name of ‘acceptance’! Our ‘reframed’ version of the formula is therefore “If you see yourself as you really are then you will find peace’” If we’re ‘allowing ourselves to see the truth’ then clearly we are no longer struggling against the truth, and ‘not struggling against what is true’ is of course the same thing as peace!

 

 

Just to summarize one more time, what we’re saying here is that peace lies in ‘seeing the truth of our situation’ and not in some problematic (hypothetical) act of ‘accepting ourselves’. If I am deliberately trying to accept myself then this means that I believe that it is possible for me to be some other way than thee way that I actually am, by wanting to be a different way, by willing myself to be ‘other than I am’. Because I believe this, I try to accept myself in order to become ‘accepting’, which I understand – quite rightly – to be a more peaceful state than the state of non-accepting. If I didn’t believe that it was possible for me to change myself to become ‘accepting of myself’ when I am not then I wouldn’t try. Why would I try to do something that I know to be impossible? I might of course try half-heartedly (out of habit, so to speak); I might ‘go through the motions’, but I won’t ‘wholeheartedly’ try to change myself. I won’t be as invested in it as I might otherwise be because I can clearly see that it’s an insane (or self-contradictory) instruction.  Being 100% invested in the attempt to change ourselves is never a healthy thing therefore, no matter what people might say. Being ‘100% invested in trying to change ourselves’ comes out of an unexamined commitment in not seeing the truth!

 

 

All purposeful activity is ‘aggressive’ in this way, therefore. Purposeful activity comes out of having an agenda and having an agenda comes out of an unwillingness to let go of our ideas of ‘how things should be’. If we are unwilling in this way to let go of our assumptions of how things should be there is only ever one reason for this and that reason is fear. Unwillingness to let go is always due to fear; unwillingness to let go actually IS fear! This gives us a nice simple way of understanding our own behaviour – it is simple without being simplistic; it is simple without oversimplifying, as most models do. The point is that we only have these two ways of being in the world – one is aggressive and is based on fear, and the other is honestly and this is based on fearlessness. Being fearless in the way we are talking about it doesn’t mean acting bravely on the outside in terms of what we either do or don’t do (although of course it could do) – it means being able to see (to some degree) what we are doing and why. Being ‘psychologically fearless’ is all about being honest with ourselves about the way we are, therefore, and as we have just said this is not at all the same thing as wanting to change the way we are! It’s not just ‘not the same thing’ as wanting to change ourselves, it is the complete antithesis of this…

 

 

When we are straining and striving to change ourselves this is never coming out of fearlessness; it is always fear (or rather the aggression that comes out of fear). Being fearless doesn’t mean that we stop trying to change the way we are either – it just means that we are able to bring consciousness to our situation and see what we are doing. Seeing that our activity is aggressive is not itself aggressive, whilst fighting against our aggression – so as to try to stop it or modify it – is. This is almost always a very confusing thing for us to understand since struggling is second nature for us, and we always tend to see struggling (or controlling) as ‘the right thing to do’. Sometimes controlling is the right thing to do – if I am losing control of the car that I’m driving then bringing it back under control is of course extremely important. As regards how we feel, and what is going on in our heads, struggling or straining or striving or controlling is all only ‘fear by any other name’ and it is patently ridiculous to imagine otherwise! If we are ‘fighting against the truth’ then this necessarily means that we are running away from the truth (what else could we be doing), and running away from the truth equals fear.

 

 

Because struggling to control (or ‘regulate’) how we are in ourselves is only ever ‘fear in disguise’ this means that no benefit can ever come from it, no matter how good we are at struggling / striving / controlling! Regulating oneself always means unwittingly creating suffering. How can obeying fear ever possibly produce a ‘beneficial result’? How can good come out of running away from fear? Obeying fear can’t – from a psychological point of view – ever lead to a beneficial because if we’re doing this then we’re ‘stacking up suffering for ourselves in the future’ and we wouldn’t normally see this type of thing as being ‘beneficial’! Clearly there is a kind of an incentive – actually an extraordinarily compelling one – to doing this otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it and that incentive has to do with the way in which we feel good when we (temporarily) succeed at hiding from fear. Of course we feel good – hiding from what frightens us tastes sweeter than sweet! It’s sweeter than honey… So there is this immediate very welcome relief of thinking that we have got somewhere, or ‘accomplished something’ (i.e. succeeded in hiding from the fear, although we do not of course admit this to ourselves) and this relief sets us up – so to speak – from the disappointment, disillusionment and dismay that comes when we realize that we haven’t actually got anywhere, that we have in fact only been successful at fooling ourselves that everything is sorted (that everything is OK) when the truth is that it very much isn’t…

 

 

If our sense of well-being comes from believing that we have accomplished something real when we haven’t (that we haven’t just been deceiving ourselves because we’re too scared to confront the truth) then truth is going to be a very unwelcome visitor at the door. If the pleasure or sense of relief that we are experiencing is the result of fear-driven self-deception, then clearly this type of ‘good feeling’ is nothing more than a preliminary stage to profound suffering and so what this means – even though we don’t ever look at it like this – all of our efforts to obtain the short-term relief (that we don’t perceive as ‘short-term relief’) are actually efforts that are directed towards obtaining pain and suffering. Every time we chase a goal that has something to do with us feeling more in control, more secure or well set-up in the world, we are in pursuit of our own suffering. The ‘urge to control’ (when it comes to our own inner states of being, at least) is itself nothing more than a perverse tropism towards pain, a reaching out for pain, an inexorable ‘seeking out’ of pain…

 

 

This is just another way of saying therefore that when we run away from our fear we are stacking up suffering for ourselves in the future. We don’t allow ourselves to see that we are stacking up pain and suffering for ourselves in the future because we are focussed so intently on the short term goal of gaining relief – gaining that short-term relief is all we care about.  This is actually the way our minds work generally; all of our strategizing in life is short-term strategizing. We’re always working to secure comfort for ourselves in the immediate future at the cost of great hardship later on – this is our modus operandi. When it comes down to it, all strategizing is short-term strategizing. There’s no such thing as ‘a genuine long-term strategy’. This might seem like a strange thing to say but the point is that all of our understanding is incomplete since it is based only on our present, very limited way of looking at things, and so whenever we act on the basis of this limited viewpoint (this closed viewpoint) we are simply pushing trouble ahead of us, stacking in up for ourselves in the future. It is inevitable that we are storing trouble for ourselves in the future when we act out of the rational mind because this mind always acts as if it does not represent a fragmentary viewpoint on reality, when it always is. We crave the security of thinking that our viewpoint is not fragmentary, is complete (because we fear what we do not and cannot know) and the result of clutching onto this false mind-created sense of security in the way that we always do is as we have said the creating of suffering.

 

 

A more ‘essential’ way of putting all this is to say that this suffering-producing limited-or-closed viewpoint that we are holding onto so desperately (for the sake of the false sense of security it gives us) is nothing other than the everyday self. How tightly do we hold onto the everyday self? How tight is our grip? Obviously this is a rhetorical question since ‘holding on’ is what we mainly do! Our grip is pretty much absolute. That’s our stock-in-trade’ – all of our controlling is holding on, all of our goals and rational purposes are holding on, all of our theories are beliefs are holding on. All of our ‘certainties’ are holding on. And what this ‘holding on’ is doing for us is protecting us from the Big Unknown that we don’t want to let ourselves know about. And why are we so dead set on ‘protecting’ ourselves from this ‘Big unknown’? We have of course already looked at this question – ‘fear’ and ‘a false sense of ontological security’ (i.e. a sense of security where there is none) always go together. More than ‘go together’, ‘fear’ and a ‘false sense of security’ are one and the same thing. There is no separating them! We cling to a false sense of security because we are afraid and clinging to a false sense of security creates fear…

 

 

Everything we do out of the limited (or closed) everyday sense of self we do for the covert sake of proving that this sense of self is actually real, is actually genuine, that it isn’t just something that ‘comes about’ as a result of our fear-driven holding on. All attempts to control or regulate ourselves are necessarily going to be based on our limited (or closed) idea of who we are, and for this reason all theorizing, all planning, all controlling and regulating and strategizing, are always going to be for the sake of ‘propping up the illusion that we are so attached to’. This controlling / regulating / strategizing is all a manifestation of the ‘mode of being’ in which we are fighting against reality, therefore. In this mode of being we have no interest in seeing the truth; when we are in this mode of being (which is the mode of being / mode of existence most of us are in most of the time) we are very interested in not seeing the truth! Our allegiance is to the comforting illusion, even if it does so happen that this ‘comforting illusion’ is also a suffering-generating illusion…

 

 

To come back to our original point then – the everyday self cannot accept itself because its whole ethos is based on ‘not seeing the truth’ or ‘not seeing the Big Picture’. The idea of it ‘accepting itself’ is utterly ludicrous, utterly ridiculous… If it were to accept itself it would have to accept itself as it actually is, and this would involve seeing the truth! If on the other hand we did find it within ourselves to ‘allow ourselves to see ourselves as we actually are’, then this would mean that we are now seeing that in our ordinary, everyday life we are constantly being driven by the need to hide from our own fear. This would mean seeing that what we call our own ‘will’ or ‘volition’ is nothing more than fear in disguise. But if we are able to see that our everyday motivation is ‘fear in disguise’ then THIS would mean that we are no longer afraid!

 

 

 

 

The Habit That is Me

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Although it is possible to say something like ‘the ego doesn’t really exist’ (which in one way is perfectly true) a better way of putting it is to say that the ego is a habit, just like smoking or fidgeting or biting your nails is a habit.

 

‘A habit’ means that it doesn’t have to be that way – it’s just that way because somehow we have first started seeing things that way, and then carried on seeing things that way, and now that we’re further down the line it doesn’t even dawn on us that there is another way of seeing them. Therefore, it isn’t really correct to say that the habit doesn’t exist – we would be better off to say that it doesn’t ‘have to’ exist. Once a habit has been well and truly established it is rather ridiculous to say that it doesn’t exist because if we do say such a thing it will prove us wrong by repeatedly battering us over the head. It controls us so we can’t deny that it’s there. We can however say that a habit has a strictly provisional sort of existence.

 

Once a habit is in place not only does it ‘exist’, it pushes everything else out of the picture. It is very forceful and very aggressive and it gets its own way whenever physically possible. And even when it doesn’t get its own way it still makes itself known because if things don’t work out in accordance with the habit then there’s hell to pay. So even if the means of carrying out or enacting the habit is not there, that doesn’t mean that the habit isn’t. It is very much there as the hapless carrier of the habit can testify to – it is like a horrendously spoilt child who is going to whine and scream and sulk and generally create havoc until circumstances change and they get what they have set their minds on.

 

It is extraordinarily hard to see beyond a habit. If I have a long-standing habit of alcohol use then – even though I might say that I want to give up the drink – deep down I will wonder what on earth I am going to do instead if I don’t drink. After all, drinking is all I know, drinking is ‘me,’ and if I can’t drink any more then this will leave a huge void to fill – a void that for the life of me I can’t see how to fill. I only know myself as a drinker.

 

The point is that we orientate our lives around our habits; they give us our structure – as well as a reason (however trivial) for doing what we do. If I have been drinking for years and years then everything I think about is from the viewpoint of drinking. Even when I think about not drinking I am thinking about it from the point of view of drinking. I perceive the world through the eyes of a drinker – drinking is at all times my ‘bottom-line agenda’ and so naturally it underlies everything I think about. When you take drinking away from me you knock the stool away from under me because the type of thinking I have developed no longer makes any sense, or has any use, and yet it is the only thing I know.

 

The same could be said to be true with anorexia, just to give another example of a particularly vicious habit. Anorexia is such an all-consuming type of thing that the most frightening thought of all is how I can ever face life without it. If I lost my anorexia, then I’d have no problem to be concerned with – I’d have to face the world head on, I’d have to get on with life. I’d have nothing left to preoccupy myself with. The alcoholism or the anorexia might be killing me but at least if I stick with them I don’t have to face the unknown. Better the devil you know, etc. But even saying this isn’t really getting to the heart of the matter.

 

When I have a well-developed habit, that habit is supplying me with something very important: it is supplying me – as we have said – with a ready-made structure. It is supplying me with a pattern (or protocol) for passing the time, a framework for thinking about things, and a motivational system, all in the same handy package. It is supplying me with a whole way of life. If I am a heroin addict then this habit defines the pattern of my days: when I get up in the morning I know that I have to obtain the money to score, and then when I get hold of the money I then have to find a contact from who I can obtain some of the stuff. When I achieve these two steps I can relax in the knowledge that I have done all that I need to do within the context of the ‘addiction game’. The heroin isn’t just about the drug, it’s about ‘the game’, and ‘the game’ – in all its false completeness – is an unacknowledged substitute for life, an over-simplified version of life. The game of addiction provides me with the tracks and all I have to do is keep running around on them, following the circuit around and around…

 

Whilst a habit supplies me with a ready-made structure, it takes something away from me at the same time. This is like all deals that look good on the surface – we obtain the benefit that we crave at a cost, a cost that we wouldn’t countenance if we actually paid attention to what we were doing. A habit supplies me with a structure, but it takes away my autonomy at the same time. If I had autonomy then I would have the ability to think for myself, and so I wouldn’t need to be handed a ready-made pattern of living. But when a person is provided with a pattern of living, a code or protocol, then this pattern very quickly takes hold, and robs them of any ability to think outside the box.

 

The nature of the deal is that I get a ready-made system of how to live, a simplified pattern which substitutes itself for real life, which isn’t a pattern and can’t be dealt with by using ‘pattern-type thinking’. Life is ultimately threatening when it comes to our ‘need’ to have some sort of a safe, socially-prescribed routine to hide behind because its demands cannot be satisfied by following a pattern. The challenge life makes on us is to think for ourselves, to live our lives in an original and creative way and it is the fear of not being able to meet this challenge that drives us into our games. You may ask me to do anything – to get up at five in the morning and jog for six miles with twenty kilos in a rucksack, or to perform all sorts of strange religious observances to somebody else’s peculiar idea of God – but please don’t ask me to think for myself!

 

When I live according to a habit what happens is that the key assumptions or rules of the habit become the bedrock of my existence. No matter how arbitrary they might be, they are for me an ‘absolute given’. I will swear by them. After all, the habit gives me my structure, my reason for doing things, and the existential security implicit in this comes solely as a result of me taking the demands of the habit as being absolute rather than provisional. If I knew that I didn’t have to do what the habit wants me to do or tells me to do then this would totally take away my sense of security!

 

If I allowed myself to question the rules then they would no longer be a source of authority for me, and so I wouldn’t be able to base my life on them. Once the habit is in place, however, it proves itself to be extraordinarily aggressive – it doesn’t give us any chance to question it! It bullies and terrorizes us too much, and before long we are so busy trying to fulfil its demands that we simply don’t have the time or energy to question anything.

 

This is very much like being in the army – after only a small length of time we loose the ability to question orders. The only way to get by is to learn to obey instinctively, obey without thinking, obey automatically. The same is true for patients in long-term residential care – before long institutionalization sets in so that anything outside ‘the system’ appears very frightening and intimidating.  The real world appears very frightening and intimidating.

 

Our habits, along with our beliefs (which are ‘habits of thinking’) are the inner institutions which unfailingly rob us of our autonomy. The very thought of life outside the institution of our habits – as appallingly narrow, repetitive and utterly dismal as they are – terrifies us. The cause of such utter terror isn’t simply that we don’t know what to do to cope in the big wide world (the uncharted world that we have no handy formula for dealing with) – the cause of the terror is that we have no self other than the habit. The habit is the structure upon which I base my self; the habit provides me with the convenient framework within which I am to live my clock-work life…

 

The habit is me and I am the habit. If my way of thinking is based on my habitual way of existing in the world, then my idea of myself is also going to be based on this framework. Any sort of habit automatically creates a sort of ‘ghost-self’, which is to say, ‘the self who has the habit’. The habit creates the one-who-enacts-the-habit (or as we could also say, the game creates the game player).

 

When we say that having a ready-made pattern of doing things and thinking about things provides us with a sense of existential security, this is really the same thing therefore as saying that it provides us with the ontological security of the self or ego. This tends to sound pretty strange because we don’t generally connect the two things. All we are saying however it that if one lives in a regulated, mechanical and defined sort of way then the self which lives this life must also be regulated, mechanical and defined. An ordered and predictable pattern or modality of living creates an ordered and predictable ‘sense of self’.

 

But this is of course a circular argument – we could equally say that the ego – out of its fear-driven need to avoid uncertainty – loves to create an ordered and predictable system for itself to treat as ‘the world’. We need only to look around us to see that this is so. Rather than say that the self loves its habits, or that it is attached to its habits, or even that it is defined by its habits (all of which are true) we can turn everything around and say that the habits create the self. However odd it might sound, without the habits, there would be no self. We are after all – as we have said in the previous paragraph – using our habits to define ourselves. We create the habits and the habits create us; we create an orderly, predictable, regulated type of existence and that orderly, predictable, and regulated existence defines who we are…

 

Rather than saying that ‘the self creates the pattern’ or that ‘the pattern creates the self’ we might as well say that ‘the self is the habit’ (or ‘the habit is the self’). I don’t have to see myself as being ‘this particular, limited self’ and act accordingly – it doesn’t really have to be this way, that’s just a habit I’ve fallen into. It’s an aggressive, virulent habit that I can’t break free from. It’s not just that I can’t break free from it – I don’t even know that there is such a possibility. I don’t know that there is such a thing as ‘freedom from the self’. I couldn’t even begin to suspect it – all I know is that I have to try to keep on making things better for the self, keep on seeking advantage for the self, which is the Number One Rule of the game –  the game that I am playing without knowing that I am playing it…

 

We could of course ask just who it is that falls into the habit of being ‘this particular limited self’. Who is it that is so hopelessly trapped in the self? Who is it that is so very trapped, so very stuck, that it doesn’t even know that there is such a possibility as ‘being free from the self’? This is a awkward question to answer because the self can’t conceive of any other way of being in the world other than being ‘this particular or specific self’ (i.e. being ‘this but not that’ or ‘me but not you’.) There is another possibility but it is one which just can’t understand with the thinking mind, which necessarily operates on the basis of ‘this but not that’ (i.e. boundaries / categories or ‘either/or logic’). The problem is that the logical mind can’t understand anything that is bigger than its own categories!

 

The other possibility is a great deal bigger than anything the thinking mind could ever even come close to understanding, and this is the possibility of no boundaries. Even to call this state of affairs a ‘possibility’ is missing the point however; it’s not some mere ‘possibility’ that we’re talking about here – what we’re talking here is the Unitary State of Consciousness, which is the same thing as Reality Itself