Holding Onto A Solid Situation


According to the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, everyday life is made up of two types of situation. One type is solid and tangible and readily understandable to us – it is of a nature that we can easily get a mental grip on, so to speak – whilst the other type is where there is a ‘gap’ between one solid situation and the next one and where, therefore, there is nothing to get a grip on. So there are two ingredients here: there are the solid structures, and there is the gap that between the solid structures, which is called the bardo state in Tibetan. Sogyal Rinpoche defines bardo as follows –

Bardo is a Tibetan word that simply means a “transition” or a gap between the completion of one situation and the onset of another. Bar means “in between,” and do means “suspended” or “thrown.”

Saying that life is made up of solid situations on the one hand and the gaps that exist between them on the other isn’t final either – that’s only a provisional description, being based purely on our normal everyday way of seeing the world. Ultimately speaking, these reassuring solid and understandable situations aren’t really there – they just seem to be there. They just give the appearance of being there. In reality, there isn’t a gap between one solid continuous situation and the next, there is only the gap. It’s a ‘stand-alone discontinuity’. It’s like a crack in the pavement only there isn’t a pavement! It’s like the hole in a doughnut without the doughnut! Or as we could also say, it’s like the smile of the Cheshire cat without the cat…


Another – more technical – way of talking about the ‘solid situation’ is to say that it’s a logical continuity. An example of a logical continuity is the number line 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc., (or any other string of logically related numbers). There is an unbroken ‘thread’ that connects all of the numbers in the sequence and this ‘thread’ is the logical continuity. The continuity is therefore what offers us the opportunity of getting some sort of mental handle on what is going on – we just have to ‘catch on’ to what the connection is, what the underlying rule is. Suppose there is the sequence {1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32…} – I can in this case very quickly grasp the pattern that is behind these numbers, I can very quickly see what is going on. There is in other words a basic predictability to the situation as well as there being a sense of development or progression, a sense of ongoing change.


As ridiculously simple as this example is, it sets out very clearly the two essential ingredients needed to make what we are calling a ‘solid situation’ – the first ingredient is that there should be this basic predictability (or consistency) and the second is that there should be the apparent possibility of there being some sort of orderly progression. For the solid situation to come about there needs to be rules saying what can and what cannot happen, and in addition to these rules there needs to be the apparent possibility of us getting somewhere new, somewhere different as a result of us playing by these rules. When we talk about ‘holding onto a solid situation’ we mean two things therefore – we mean that we can [1] understand what is going on (which is the predictable element) and we mean that we can [2] have the possibility of controlling what is going on. ‘Understanding’ and ‘controlling’ both equal ‘holding on’ – although when it comes right down to it even if we can’t influence what is going on but do understand it then this in itself is holding on, this in itself is providing us with a basic form of ontological security.


A ‘solid situation’ is therefore a game. A game is an interaction (or series of actions) that take place on the basis of a fixed set of rules. If we didn’t have the fixed rules then we couldn’t have a game, but if we had the rules but didn’t do anything with them then there also couldn’t be a game. In order to have a game we need both to have the game-rules and play by them.


Everyone understands the concept of games but what we aren’t so clear about is the idea that all interactions that take place on the basis of rules are technically games. If we were to accept this definition of games we would see that by far the biggest part of all of our interactions in life (both with other people and the general environment) comes down to game-playing of one sort or another. A game is a mapped-out territory, a known domain – nothing that happens in it can ever be truly unexpected, truly surprising, because nothing can ever happen in a game that is not determined in advance by the rules of the game.


Nothing new, nothing unpredictable ever comes about as a result of following rules – this is the whole point of rules. What type of a rule would it be after all that gave different results each time it was followed? And yet at the same time there is always the possibility of trivial change (i.e. superficial variation) occurring within a game that will lawfully arise as a result of playing by the rules. There can’t ever be radical uncertainty (something that I simply couldn’t foresee) but there can be uncertainty of the trivial variety (i.e. when I flip a coin I wonder if the result be ‘heads’ or ‘tails’). Black or White, YES or NO are the only possibilities in the game…


We’re fond of games because we can rely absolutely on nothing radically unexpected ever turning up during the course of play, whilst at the same time being provided with an effective distraction from the underlying ‘static’ or ‘unchanging’ nature of the rule-based situation. Saying that we’re fond of playing games is the same thing as saying that we’re fond of holding on, therefore. ‘Holding on’ is playing the game; the ‘solid situation’ is the game. We’re fond of holding on because of the sense of security this gives us, because of the guarantee that we have in this situation that there will never be any radical challenge. We are protected from ‘radical surprise’ – holding on to the solid situation of whatever game it is that we are playing means not only that we are never going to encounter radical surprise, it also means that we don’t even know that there is such a thing! The reason the situation is ‘solid’ (and not ‘spacious’) is precisely because we don’t have any way of knowing that there could be such a thing as radical surprise.


The solid situation is a dream we don’t know to be a dream, it’s being asleep when we don’t know that we’re asleep. It’s a game that we don’t know to be a game because the game has replaced reality. Reality itself is the ‘radical surprise’ and the Number One rule of the game is that no radical surprises are allowed!


We don’t have any way of knowing that that there is such a thing as radical surprise because all we know is the game and the game doesn’t have any way of facilitating radical uncertainty, of representing it. The only thing in the game is the game. ‘Discontinuity’ (i.e. something that isn’t the game) is the one thing the game can’t facilitate, therefore!


We said earlier on in this discussion that the solid situation which we are always holding onto in life is essentially a logical continuity. We went on to say that an example of a logical continuity would be any sort of geometrical progression (e.g. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16…). Once we understand the pattern that is being manifested in the series of numbers (i.e. once we understand the underlying rule) then we aren’t ever going to be taken by surprise. We now ‘know what’s going on’. We’re orientated. We know how to play the game, and this is what gives us our sense of security about things. We know how to work the system and we also know nothing radically unexpected is ever going to jump out at us and give us a fright. We can look at the discontinuity in the same way and say that a discontinuity is where there is no underlying pattern, where there is no rule we can follow to tell us what is going to happen next. ‘No rule’ means that the numbers making up the sequence that we are looking at are not connected!


If the numbers we are looking at aren’t connected then clearly we can’t predict what is going to happen next. If the numbers aren’t connected by some sort of recognizable logical thread then there’s no predictability and if there’s no predictability then there’s no way to ‘work the system’. There’s nothing to hold onto in a discontinuity, there’s no way to predict, there’s no way to work the system. Instead of walking on solid ground therefore we are in freefall! As Chogyam Trungpa says,

The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.

So we hang on as tight as we do, as persistently as we do, as stubbornly as we do, because we are living in mortal terror of this situation that Chogyam Trungpa is talking about above. We’re terrified of suddenly discovering that we’re in free fall without a parachute! We’re terrified of the discontinuity (even though we don’t consciously know that there is or could be such a thing). We want everything to be a solid situation; we want everything to be known territory. We don’t want for there to be a gap. Our basic manoeuvre is therefore to jump from one solid situation to the next without ever seeing the inevitable break between the one and the other.


As Sogyal Rinpoche says in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying when we find ourselves (as we do from time to time) in that uncomfortable, eerie, uncanny ‘in-between zone’ where one thing has ended and the next has yet to begin then we straightaway involve ourselves with some familiar routine or procedure in order to re-engage ourselves with the next solid situation, the next logical continuity. We skip over the gap as quickly as ever we can to the next episode that is to be broadcasted by the rational mind (which is really only ever a repeat or rehash of the previous one) and we pretend that the weird in-between bit (the bardo) never happened. we gloss over it. We paper over the crack. We forget all about the bardo state, we develop profound amnesia around the whole subject. Amnesia about the gap means that we ‘go back to sleep’…


The thing about the logical continuity is as we have said is that it very much has the appearance of being a progression, of being a progressive state. It isn’t progressive at all really though – it can’t be progressive for the simple reason that it (by definition) contains zero possibility of radical surprise. If there was the possibility of radical surprise (or radical uncertainty) then there would be the possibility of change. Radical surprise or radical uncertainty is the only way things can change. That’s what change is! In the solid situation (in the logical continuity) nothing can ever change – there can never be any change in a logical continuity because the system simply doesn’t contain the capacity for change…


The logical continuum appears to be a progressive state just as a geometrical ‘progression’ (!) does, but this is an illusion. The whole thing about a logical progression is after all that we can deduce the underlying rule, but if there is an underlying rule then the one thing we know for sure is that this rule itself never changes. It can’t do. So if we take the geometrical progression {1, 2, 4, 8, 16…} the rule is that the starting number gets doubled every time. Simple! But what this means is that nothing new ever happens – it’s just the same old thing (the same old rule) being repeated forever. Once you’ve got the hang of the first step then you’ve got the hang of them all. That is after all precisely what we like the logical continuity for – it’s inherent and unremitting predictability. We like it because it comes with a guarantee of nothing new, nothing radically unexpected ever coming up. But the flip-side of this coin (the coin of ontological security) is that nothing ever changes. That’s what we’re really looking at here – stasis, lack of development, lack of change…


Another (perhaps simpler) way of putting this is to say that the logical continuity doesn’t really exist! After all we have this thing called ‘the logical continuity’ and it is a number line, a rule-based progression, but at the same time there’s nothing in it because it never actually gets anywhere. It only has the illusion of getting somewhere. In reality it never even starts off in the first place! It can’t start off getting somewhere because it’s a tautology. It’s a tautology because where it’s going is contained in its initial starting off position. If the ‘far side’ of the number line is simply a restatement of where it started off from (the ‘near side’) then clearly nothing actually happened. The whole endeavour is bogus. There is no number line. The whole thing is an illusion.


Solid situations are an illusion therefore – they are illusions that we hold tightly onto! The only thing that isn’t a mind-created illusion is the discontinuity, the bardo, which is the unaccountable gap between known areas of experience….









The More We Resist


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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









No Method

Cumulus Clouds  602691

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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