The Greed Of The Runaway Simulation

Conditioned existence is an absolute limitation. We might think that it is a limited version of reality but that it is at least still some kind of a version but this isn’t the case. It’s actually something completely different, completely unconnected. As well as being an absolute limitation conditioned existence is also a trap because when we are in it can’t understand how they could be possibly be anything else. Conditioned existence is an absolute limitation and yet this absolutely limited state of being is now all we have got, and not only that but it is the only thing we can believe in. We have no capacity to acknowledge or recognize anything else.


What is it mean to say that ‘conditioned existence is an absolute limitation’, though? We can say it easily enough; we may even understand it – in a purely intellectual sort of a way – but what are we actually saying here? The problem is that unless we know what it means to be not limited then we can’t know what being ‘limited’ means either. Clearly we can’t. Otherwise, all we have got are our limited ideas of what it means to be ‘limited’, which is the same thing as ‘the machine’s simulation of what unsimulated reality might look like’. The thinking mind is guessing at what lies beyond it, but getting no further than itself for all its feverish guessing.


We can go a certain distance towards saying something about what this ‘limited’ modality of being is like, what it means to be living life in this extraordinarily limited way, however. We can for example say that conditioned existence is like a simulation that simulates everything, a simulation which simulates reality itself, but which is itself nothing. This is such an incredible thing – the simulation pretends to be so much and yet it is so very little. How – we might say wonder – is such a thing even possible?Why is it possible? How can something that doesn’t exist pretend to be everything, and get away with it?


And yet this is not only possible, it happens all the time! It happens on a routine basis – as far as we are concerned, it never doesn’t happen. It never doesn’t happen to us because we are always stuck to the thinking mind and its ideas; chief amongst them being its idea about who we are, its idea concerning our ‘identity’. This is a curious thing right here – there is no such thing as ‘identity’ anywhere and yet the simulation invents it – the simulation invents it and, what’s more, it makes it seem like an essential ingredient in the mix.We can no longer see beyond it. The simulation is actually based on identity, just as a game is based on ‘the player of the game’. The simulation needs the one who is to believe that the simulation is real just as a game needs the one who is to play it, the one who is to ‘take it seriously’ but this ‘identity’, this ‘player of the game’, is nothing more than a made-up thing. It’s a construct of the system, and the system itself isn’t real.


So as soon as we start taking this identity seriously we get caught up in the conditioned form or analogue of existence, and we most certainly do take it seriously. Identity is conditioned existence and conditioned existence is identity. The suggestion that identity is merely an invention, a fiction, and that it isn’t to be found anywhere in the real world no matter how hard we look, doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense to us. It can’t make sense to us because ‘identity’ is the most fundamental fact of existence there is as far as we’re concerned. It is ‘the most basic fact of existence’ there is when we are operating within conditioned reality but the qualification here – as always – is that conditioned reality isn’t actually real.


What do we imagine that ‘identity’ or ‘self’ is, however? What are our reflections on it? What does it look like, what is its essential nature? The point here however is that we don’t reflect on identity, and the question of what its essential nature might be. Identity is a baton which we are handed in a relay race and the point is to immediately run with it rather than stopping to question its ontological nature.The nature of this thing called ‘identity’ is that believing in it precludes any questioning of it and this is of course the case with all beliefs! A belief is a belief because we never reflect upon it, because we never reflect upon what it is that we believe, and an identity is an identity because we never reflect on what ‘having an identity’ actually means!


‘Having a belief’ and ‘being subsumed by this mind-created simulation of reality’ are very much the same sort of thing in this regard. A belief is no good without someone to believe in it just as a simulation is no good without having someone to perceive it as being real. We are generally very proud of our beliefs. ‘I believe…’ I say, as if this actually means something. Our belief isn’t really in the set of ideas we say we believe in however, what we really believe in is ‘the one who has the beliefs’! My ideas are me, after all – they are certainly not anything else. I project them onto reality but that doesn’t mean that they belong there. When I say that I am proud of my belief what I mean is that I am proud of me – I mean that I am proud of my identity. Reality itself has no need of any believer however. Why would it? Why would reality need anyone to believe in it, after all? Only the unreal needs someone to believe in it, someone to validate it.


A system of belief is never content to occupy only part of the space that is available. It’s not as if we can have a rigid belief about one portion of life and yet at the same time remain perfectly open-minded about all the other portions! We can’t have a mind that is closed and open at the same time; if I have a belief then I have a belief about everything and if I am open-minded then I don’t have any belief about anything. Belief systems always want to explain everything – they are greedy that way. Their greed is absolute. If they didn’t explain everything then what they didn’t explain would be a threat to them! A ‘belief’ is just like a ‘simulation’ therefore – even the simulation isn’t anything it attempts to be everything and even though a belief isn’t true it nevertheless attempts to explain the whole world…


Conditioned existence is thus a world that has nothing at all in it. It is infinitely impoverished. When I try to spell out my belief system to you it may sound as if it has lots of different terms in it, but it doesn’t. It’s all just ‘the belief system’, just as everything in a theory is ‘only just the theory’. Everything in the belief system is just the same as everything else in it – it has all got exactly the same flavour to it, and it’s a very bland flavour indeed. Theory is always grey, as Goethe says. When we are attempting to live our lives in the mind-created simulation of reality it may seem that there are lots of different choices in it, it may seem as if there are lots of different possibilities there, but they aren’t – it’s all the same thing, it’s all just ‘the simulation’. There is absolutely no diversity there, none at all. The other way of putting this is to say that everything I experience as all just ‘me’; after all, it’s all just my ideas, my thoughts, my assumptions, my presuppositions reflected back at me. Everything I experience is just ‘me’ reflected faithfully back at me at every turn, and that ‘me’ wasn’t ever a real thing in the first place…



Disturbing The Peace

What disturbs our peace the whole time is the I-Concept. This isn’t our usual way of seeing things of course – we never think of the I-Concept as being the culprit. On the contrary, we always see things its way and the I-Concept – when it is functioning in its default way – never blames itself for anything. On the contrary, it takes itself for granted, and this automatically means that the fault will be found elsewhere. There is variant on this displacement business and that is when the I-Concept loses its ‘robustness’ and starts blaming itself instead – it starts ‘internalizing the blame’, in other words. This disturbs our peace of mind as well of course and so it’s still the I-Concept that causing the disturbance – either way, it is the very narrow idea that we have of who we are that is the root cause of the agitation.


No matter which way it is working, the I-Concept is incapable of seeing any point of view other than its own. This is its ‘fundamental limitation’, we might say. If it could see things another way, it would no longer be the I-Concept. If it could examine itself (which is of course not the same as blaming itself) it would no longer be the I-Concept. For this reason therefore, its slightest whim immediately becomes law. Self-righteous indignation, resentment, blame and anger automatically follows if this ‘law’ is not respected (which is to say, if things go against us).


Because we can’t question whatever it is that the self-construct wants then naturally the ‘fault’ always seems to lie elsewhere. The universe is refusing to play ball with us and that – from our POV – is quite unacceptable. If we could ‘switch perspectives’, even for just a moment, would see that this attitude of ours is quite preposterous, but the I-Concept can’t look at things any other way, and that’s the whole point. If I am not the way I think I ought to be then it is the same inflexibility that is coming into play here – if I am being self-blaming instead of ‘other blaming’ then it is this very same rigidity that lies behind my ‘toxic or violent attitude’.


The I-Concept represents an ‘unfree way of seeing the world’ therefore – the concrete self can never turn around and laugh at itself for being so ridiculous and this imbues it with a clown-like quality, as Wei Wu Wei says. It’s as if it is always suspecting itself to be the butt of every joke going, both real and imagined, and this makes it inherently touchy, inherently defensive. This makes it inherently aggressive because we’ve always got to be ready to throw the shit right back any time it lands on us. We’ve got to be very quick to ‘deflect the blame’. We’ve got be fast on the draw with some kind of snappy comeback! ‘I’m not the idiot, you’re the idiot’, I say…


This outwardly directed aggression is one way in which the peace gets to be disturbed therefore; put a bunch of I-Concepts together and they will squabble like hell because each one of them wants to blame all the others for anything and everything that goes wrong! Each one of them is determined to shift the blame, without actually focusing on the fact that this is what it is doing. Mutual understanding is an impossibility. Naturally mutual understanding is an impossibility since – when we are identified with the I-Concept – we can’t understand ourselves. We can’t understand ourselves and so how can we hope to understand someone else? Instead of ‘understanding ourselves’ what we do instead is to make up convenient stories and then believe them. We spin narratives, in other words, and then we orientate ourselves to these narratives as if they were constitute the fundamental baseline of ‘what reality is’.


With regard to those around us, we can’t (when we are in the identified state) have any genuine mutual understanding and so what we do instead is to agree to follow a particular shared narrative. This way we are all coming from a common basis, a common point of view, and so this feels like ‘togetherness’. It isn’t really togetherness (or ‘connectedness’) however because it’s on a false basis. I’m pretending to be someone that I’m not (without acknowledging that I’m doing this) and the same is true for you. How then can there be any connectedness? When we relate to others in the world on the basis of the mind-created narrative that is always going to be the case; it’s always going to be the case for the simple reason that narratives are never true. There is no narrative that can define (or explain) who or what we are, either historically or in the present moment. The I-concept and the ‘personal narrative’ are the same thing – without the mind-created narrative there could be no concrete sense of self. The self is the product of the narrative.


So we could say that what ‘disturbs our peace’ (and goes on and on disturbing our peace) is the narrative or story that we have of ourselves and this would also be true. Or we could say what fragments our peace is our thinking, the very nature of thought being that it fragments reality, as David Bohm says. We can therefore talk equivalently about the I-Concept, the personal narrative, and thought itself. We usually (almost always) take it that we are the I-Concept, that the personal narrative is my story, and that thought is my tool to do with as I please, but actually this is the reverse of what’s going on – I’m not the I-Concept, the personal narrative is not the true story of what’s going on, and I am the tool of thought rather than vice versa! The I-Concept is an extension of thought, a construct of thought, so just as long as I am identified with the I-Concept then I am ‘the tool of thought’ – it can’t be otherwise.


Identification means rigidity, as we have said, and rigidity means that there can never be any peace, or any true ‘ease’. Rigidity means ongoing agitation, ongoing strife. We are glued to a limited (and therefore brittle) viewpoint and we are condemned, on this account, to make our way through life on this dreadfully awkward basis. The only freedom we seem to have is the freedom to get things to be the way we want to be – if we can correctly exercise this freedom then – we imagine – we will feel blessed relief from the lack of ease that is driving us. The ‘lack of ease’ and the brittleness of our position are the same thing – if we weren’t so brittle then we wouldn’t be so agitated; the ‘brittleness’ (or lack of ease) is what drives our controlling, in other words.


We will never find relief from our uncomfortable or tormenting brittleness however – the ‘answer’ to our brittleness isn’t to learn to control more effectively, as we think, because when we do this with simply importing this brittleness (which is the self-construct) into every new situation. We are perpetuating the need to go on controlling. The ‘answer’ is much more simple than this – the problem is my brittle idea of myself, not the world’s obstinate refusal to play ball with this idea. Our freedom doesn’t lie in control therefore (control being the way the I-Concept has of extending itself), our freedom lies in not having to control. When I don’t have to control then I am free – when I realise that I don’t have to control then I am free from the I-Concept, free from the personal narrative, and free from thought all in the one go…


So far, it could be said, we doing little more than going around in circles by saying the same thing in various different ways. This understanding can’t be rushed however; it can’t be rushed because it goes so very much against the grain of our ordinary thinking. Once we have a clear understanding of what identification is then we have the possibility of working meaning meaningfully with it – we can’t see identification, but we can see its consequences. The brittleness itself is invisible to us – it’s invisible to us because we mistake it for our own will, our own volition. We don’t experience the brittleness as brittleness (i.e. I don’t feel the pain where it belongs) but rather we perceive it as ‘things not being right on the outside world’. We deflect the pain outwards, in other words so that our inherent rigidity or brittleness is transformed into ‘an external problem that needs to be fixed’.


The very first place for consciousness to come in is therefore exactly here, in the upsets and irritations we experience on an ongoing basis. Every single thing that comes along and niggles or annoys us can be seen in two mutually exclusive ways – either I identify with the reaction in question and perceive it as being the ‘my righteous or rightful response to something that isn’t right’ or I perceive the reactivity to be a function of the rigidity or inflexibility of the I-Concept. When I fall into the trap of identifying with the mechanical reaction then the I-Concept (as it actually is) becomes 100% invisible to me and when I don’t fall into this trap then it straightaway becomes visible for what it is, which is to say – it becomes visible as ‘a mere thing’, ‘a mere mechanism’.


This is a very fascinating thing therefore – the fascinating thing is that when we are living life on the basis of the I-Concept then we have turned ourselves into a thing! We are ‘a thing’ but we can’t see ourselves to be ‘a thing’; we are ‘a thing’ but we perceive everyone out everything else (even other human beings, sometimes) as been things, not us. We’ve got it the wrong way around in other words – we have thingified the world around us when actually it is us that is the thing the whole time! We’re projecting our ‘thingness’ on everything else and making ourselves blind to it in ourselves, and this allows us to become violent in the way that we are. Ultimately, this is what allows us to become psychopaths or narcissists! This is what the state of identification is all about – becoming some ‘rigid reactive thing’ and being doomed to be continuously validating our stubborn rigidity and reactivity so that we never have to actually look at it in ourselves. We inflict it on everyone else instead.


Another way of putting this is to say that when we are living on the basis of the I-Concept then we are ‘clownish without knowing that we are’, as we said earlier. We are foolish, but we don’t know it. We are foolish, but all the same we are liable to go around thinking that we’re the ‘bees knees’; either that or we go around being down on ourselves and feeling that we are unworthy or weak or actually bad. Both of these perceptions – the euphoric and the dysphoric – are equally deluded however. Being great is a delusion just as being crappy is. The truth of the matter is that the I-Concept can never be either good or bad – it’s just ‘a mechanical thing’ and so what is helpful is for us to do it the respect of seeing it for what it is instead of oscillating up and down the whole time with regard to our conditioned self-regard. The ego wants to redeem itself (we might say) by being ‘good’ but it is never anything other than the mechanical ego, which is neither good nor bad but just a mechanism.


Seeing that the I-Concept is the I-Concept isn’t an inherently painful or disturbing thing unless we happen to be identified with it, which of course we are! The pain of seeing the truth about ourselves (or rather, the truth of who we think we are) means that we are always looking in the opposite direction from this truth, which is why we are always deflecting. The truth isn’t recognised as the truth but rather as an insult that we will either protest strongly against or internalise and ‘take to heart’, depending on our inclination. The very fact that there is pain there means that we can use it to draw attention to what is going on, however. In this case the painful sting that I am feeling – be it slight or more than slight – can act as a prompt to enable me to see where the pain is rather than allowing my attention to be deflected safely somewhere else.


When we are not paying attention – which is the usual way – then we automatically resent the pain that we’re feeling and so all our energy goes into reacting. We don’t particularly notice the reacting when we do this but what the reacting is against – we put all up all our attention on what the mind-created narrative says is happening and this reinforces that narrative, increasing its hold over us. The reacting is like a pointing finger and we so obediently look at where the finger is pointing. We find someone (or some situation) to blame for our pain. The I-Concept is thus validated and reinforced by the action of blaming or judging. Turning this around and blaming or judging the self-construct doesn’t help us however because this also solidifies the idea that we have of ourselves – we’re every bit as trapped if we blame ourselves as when we blame someone or something else. ‘Blaming’ means in essence that ‘you should be different to the way you are but you aren’t’ – this is utterly  ludicrous however because the I-Concept can never be anything other than what it is! How could it – it is simply a reflex or mechanism that can never be anything different from what it is. Why do we even want it to be ‘other then what it is’, seeing as how it isn’t who we are anyway?

Hooked On The Promise

We are as completely absorbed as we are in the ongoing fiction of our thoughts because we are hooked on a promise, because we are waiting for the next much-anticipated treat to come away. This business is wholly absorbing, infinitely absorbing – we really don’t have any interest in anything else, anything that isn’t related to the treat that is supposedly coming our way. We are ‘strung out’ – either in a good way or a bad way – waiting to find out whether the promise is going to be delivered or not. If we are optimistic in this regard then we’re going to find ourselves in the Gardens of Euphoria and if it’s pessimistic we are then we’re going to be lolling around in the Dark Kingdom of Dysphoria instead. It’s one or the other.


The curious thing about this that it doesn’t matter how mediocre or insipid the treat that we’re waiting proves to be; even if it’s the most dismal offering ever we are still going to be absorbed by the prospect of receiving it, hypnotized by the prospect of receiving it. The point is that we have to be waiting for something because that’s the only mode of being we know – no matter how tawdry the offering might be it still serves an important function, therefore. No matter how insipid or paltry the treat is it still facilitates the Waiting Game.


This isn’t a particularly hard idea to understand of course – we need only think of television and the way in which when we are habituated to watching television we will end up watching any old rubbish, or the way in which when we get habituated to browsing the internet we will end up clicking on all sorts of ridiculously trivial bits of nonsense. This is a very familiar pattern – once the system gets a hold on us that it doesn’t matter what sort of banality is it serves up for us for dinner – will still be there no matter how much our intelligence is being insulted. We’ll still be there because we’ve got nowhere else to go.


So it is with our thoughts – we are enslaved to our thoughts because we don’t know what else to be doing other than thinking! We’ve been conditioned by thought and thought is all we know – thought doesn’t have to provide us with anything interesting or valuable because it’s already got the monopoly on us. Thought is providing something that is important to us however, it’s just that we can’t see or understand what this is. On the face of it – on the explicit level of the mechanism – thought of providing us with ‘click-bait’, it is providing us with ‘ongoing distraction from where we actually are’. Beneath the level of the explicit however there is a more insidious mechanism at work and that has to do with the way in which our sense of actual identity is being maintained.


This isn’t a straightforward thing to understand because the true nature of our ‘identity’ is opaque to us just as long as we believe ourselves to be that identity. When we no longer perceive ourselves to be that concrete identity then the thick fog clears and we can see what’s going on much more clearly. The actual mechanism is very simple however, even though it’s impossible to grasp from the POV of our ordinary thinking – when we waiting for the next treat to come along came very about then this state of expectation (or hope) implies the existence of ‘the hoper’, it implies the existence of ‘the one who expects’. The euphoria we experience seems to be about the glorious fulfilment of this hope but it isn’t at all – that’s merely the cover story, that’s merely a smokescreen. The euphoria really comes about because we have created the believable illusion of the concrete identity!


Likewise, when we are in the state of dysphoric expectation (because we’re anxious about the delivery arriving as or when it’s supposed to, or because we are fearfully expecting a disadvantageous event rather than an advantageous one then this is also the mechanism by which the concrete sense of identity is created. If something is going to go wrong then there must be someone who it is going to wrong go wrong for; if a ‘bad thing’ is going to happen then there must be someone who it is going to happen to! Both ways the fiction of the concrete sense of identity gets to be confirmed, therefore. Both ways we are inferring the existence of a concrete ‘me’, a concrete ‘me’ who is either going to be the happy recipient of the treat or the frustrated/unhappy non-recipient of the expected treat (or in the case of what we might call ‘the negative treat’, ‘the one to whom the bad thing is going to happen’).


It doesn’t in the least bit matter whether the concrete sense of self is constructed in the euphoric or non-euphoric way – whether the CSOS is having a good time or not is quite relevant! The crucial point is that there should be a ‘timeline’, an unbroken continuity of one sort or another. Where there is no continuum there cannot be any trace of the self, not even a whisper or a hint of it. This is because the CSOS absolutely cannot exist in the present moment. If there ever was ‘an absolute impossibility’ this is it! This can be readily verified through personal experience: in the present moment there is no continuity of thought, there is no past and no future. Contrariwise, when there is a continuity, where there is a past and future all joined up together in an unbroken timeline, then there can’t be a present moment. The present moment stands alone – it has no history and no existence in this projected scenario that we call ‘the future’. It is a discontinuity, which is to say it is ‘a break in the continuum of thought’, as well as being ‘a break in the continuum of the linear or serial self’.


When we are in the present moment we cannot say ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ because all definitions require us to bring ‘something else’ into the picture and in ‘the now’ there is nothing else. That’s the whole point. The present moment ‘stands alone’, as we have just said, it doesn’t exist in comparison or in relation to anything else. It’s not part of the system of thought. The concrete self on the other hand can only exist in comparison to ‘something else’ and this is why we can say that there can’t be ‘a sense of identity’ in the now, in actual reality. The difference between the continuum of thought and the discontinuity of the present moment is inconceivable therefore – there’s no way to ‘compare the one with the other’. The COT is a series of regular events that continue forever with nothing truly new ever happening; the discontinuity of the now – on the other hand – is incomprehensibly unique. We have absolutely no way of saying anything about it at all.


When thought isn’t providing us with something to look forward to (either in a euphoric or non-euphoric way) or something to look back at (again, either euphorically or non-euphorically) then we have no way of constructing the concrete sense of self. We haven’t got the wherewithal to do that. The continuity of thought is under threat therefore; the timeline of the identity is at risk of disintegrating entirely. As we have said, we need to be thinking something no the matter how banal and repetitive these thoughts might be. Even if our thoughts are calling us great suffering and anguish, we still need to be thinking them. We still need these thoughts in order to provide the framework with which to construct the believable perception of the concrete sense of self. We’re addicted to thought and we can’t do without it, in other words! And yet the truly weird thing about this is that the concrete sense of identity which thought is providing us with has nothing to with us at all. It’s only a ‘mind-created fiction’…








We Can’t ‘Do’ Change

We can’t ‘do’ change – that’s an absolute impossibility! ‘Change that we do’ is always purely for the sake of shoring up our sense of identity and ‘shoring up our sense of identity’ is not change. It’s ‘entrenchment’, it’s ‘digging in deeper’, obviously…


Any ‘change’ (so-called) that I might myself enact is merely ‘me asserting myself’, in other words. I’m trying to ‘get things to happen the way I want them to happen’ and this is never going to involve any sort of genuine change. That’s just controlling. Genuine change can only happen when I give up trying to be in control – controlling means ‘holding on to my basic assumptions’, after all, and holding onto my basic assumptions is never going to get me anywhere different! The instinct or urge not to let go almost always predominates – even when something in us wants to let go and ‘give up the constant controlling’ there is almost always another, stronger part that doesn’t.


We are aware that change will come if we do relinquish control, the only thing being that we automatically assume that this will be change of the unwanted type, and so in this case it seems much better than to us that we should be ‘stuck’ rather than letting things actually get worse. We feel that we are on the edge – potentially – of some kind of catastrophic change, and this is therefore what keeps us locked into our frozen (or ‘defensive’) posture. Things are not good but we know that they can quickly get a lot worse if we let go of whatever control we have, and so it’s ‘stalemate’.


Our perception in this regard – however strong – is in error however. From a psychological point of view it is always ‘staying the same’ that is the most painful thing. Or we could equally well say that it is ‘trying to stay the same when we know that – ultimately – this is not going to be possible’ that is the most painful thing. We are fighting against something bigger than us in this case, and we’re also fighting against our own awareness into the bargain, and what could be a more uncomfortable situation than this? Who would want to be locked into this position?


What genuinely helps is not any type of effort that we might make; as we have already said,  any sort of effort that we make is only the fixed identity asserting (or trying to assert) itself and the aim of the fixed identity asserting itself is always to resist change, the aim is always to keep things the same. It’s consolidation it’s all about, not radical change. The fixed or static identity is a conservative force; the static identity is only the static identity because it resists change, after all! Even more to the point, the ‘stalemate’ defensive position that we were just talking about actually IS the static identity – the two are the very same thing, they simply can’t be separated!



This is – needless to say – a very different way of looking at identity to the one which we usually have. To our everyday way of understanding things, our identity is the most important part of us – it’s ‘who we are’ and so of course it’s the most part important part of us! This is a misapprehension however; it is something that we automatically accept as being ‘obviously true’, even though we could very easily see that it isn’t so ‘obviously true’ at all if we were to actually look into it. The ‘static identity’ as a defensive posture; it’s what happens when we hold on’ to ourselves, when we hold onto the status quo. When we truly relax then – as we can easily notice if we took the trouble – we can see that we are not this fixed, unyielding sense of identity at all. We’re not a ‘fixed thing’ (and why we want to be) – we are a fluid process, and what’s so hard to understand about this? There are no fixed things in nature, only fluid processes, so why should we imagine that we are any different?


When we relax (and stop holding on so tightly to ourselves) then we come ‘back to ourselves’, we ‘relax back into ourselves,’ so to speak. Only the funny thing here is that we are not just relaxing into ourselves, also relaxing out of ourselves. When we are stressed or very focused on something then the world narrows down until it is no bigger than what is stressing us or what we are focusing on. No one is going to argue about this! But alongside this narrowing or shrinking of our subjective world there is also a corresponding narrowing and shrinking of our sense of ourselves – the two shrinkages go together, naturally enough. When more perspective comes into the picture then we can see that the world is a bigger place than we thought it was and we can see that we are more than we thought we were too…


The problem is however that we are so very used to our more ‘clenched’ or defensive modality of being in the world that we actually think that this is who we are. Alan Watts says that in normal everyday sensors identity is actually nothing more than a knot of ‘chronic tension’ that we assume to be us. If the ‘knot of chronic tension’ were all of a sudden to go away then this would feel very strange to us – even though it would be a great relief at the same time, much as it is a relief when a cramped muscle finally eases up! The idea of letting go of his knot never occurs to us however and, in fact, it’s not just that letting go of the knot never occurs to (as a idea of something that might perhaps be beneficial) but rather that we go the opposite way entirely – we nurture and take care of the knot (or of the ‘fixed identity’) as if this were the only thing that matters in life.


‘Taking care of something’ is usually a good thing but in this case our ‘care-taking’ is working against us since we are supporting the very state of affairs that is causing us pain. We are sabotaging the health or well-being of the greater part of ourselves for the sake of the ‘well-being’ of the knot of tension that we have short-sightedly identified with. Really, therefore, we are caught up in a dilemma that we can’t actually see. We can’t ‘have it both ways’, but we want to! What we want is to be identified with the fixed identity (so that we can use it to serve as the centre of our world, to serve as ‘an unquestionable reference point’) but at the same time not to have to put up with the pain that comes from this fixed sense of identity. When the Buddha stated in his First Noble Truth that ‘existence is suffering’ it was the conditioned existence of the fixed identity he was referring to.


Our dilemma is that we are caught up in a blatant self-contradiction – we want good mental health and the cessation of all neurotic symptomology (of course) but we also want to hang tightly onto the cause of all that neurotic suffering. We don’t see this self-contradiction at all and this is why we are so very caught up in it. Instead, we are always searching for this ‘mythological creature’ – the mythological creature which is ‘the happiness and fulfilment of the static sense of identity’. We are searching high and low for this strange mythological beast – we are absolutely convinced that it must be out there somewhere so we never tire of searching for it, we never tire of inventing strategies to catch it.


As it happens, the fact that the fixed sense of self can never find the happiness and peace that it is searching for is in one way helpful to it – it is ‘helpful’ because it is this searching that keeps the game going. Deep down there is no dilemma; deep-down there is no ‘self-contradiction’ at all because our allegiance is – for the most part – ‘all the one way’ – our allegiance is to the fixed identity and its continuation, no matter what the price. Ultimately, this is a problem for us because the fixed sense of identity (this knot of chronic tension) doesn’t exist ‘in its own right’. Obviously knot of tension doesn’t exist ‘in its own right’ – it’s only knot of tension, after all! The fixed or static sense of identity has the same type of existence is that of a wrinkle in a tablecloth – it’s there in one way because we can see it but it’s not there in another, profounder way. If it was a bump in a carpet instead of a wrinkle in a tablecloth that we were talking about we could even trip over it and hurt ourselves! The wrinkle or bump still doesn’t actually ‘exist’ however because if we were pull it taut then there would be no trace left of it.


We get around the problem of ‘the static sense of identity not having any actual existence in itself’ by keeping ourselves forever preoccupied trying to find a ‘peace of mind’ that we can never attain; by keeping ourselves busy hunting for a happiness or sense of completion that will never be ours. This is ‘the paradox of happiness‘ – we can never be happy until we stop looking for happiness! Looking at this another way, we could also say that the paradox of happiness is that the happiness of the one who yearns and strives after happiness, is actually comprised of the absence of that ‘yearner’, that ‘striver’…


This ‘solution’ of ours does not change the fact that our commitment to the fixed identity is also our commitment to suffering. When we succeed in perpetuating the fixed identity we are also succeeding in perpetuating the root cause of our suffering, and so this doesn’t really help us any! We’re only clinging onto pain, after all, no matter what strategy we try. The emotional and mental pain that we are struggling against only ever grows as we struggle against it. Why wouldn’t it – it feeds on our resistance, after all! Sometimes – perhaps a lot of the time – there might be no visible sign of this pain, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t ‘stacked up somewhere’, waiting to manifest itself. If we imagine that we have successfully fought against the pain and gotten rid of it then this only makes matters worse – by ‘fighting successfully against the pain’ we have only affirmed the reality of ‘the winner of the game of pain-avoidance’, which is the static identity that has caused the pain in the first place. By ‘fixing the problem’ we have only reaffirmed the existence of ‘the fixer’, who was the original cause of the problem that needed to be fixed…


When the suffering that is inherent in our situation becomes too much for us then – naturally – this brings us to the point where we can clearly see the need for some major change and this is of course a crucially important insight on our part. The problem arises however when we try to bring about this change ourselves, as a result of the effort of will, as a result of our own cleverness or determination. This of course means that we have automatically turned our situation into ‘a problem that needs to be fixed’, and this – as we have just said – means that we going around in circles.


We can’t ‘change things on purpose’ as we started out this discussion by saying. We can’t ‘do’ change – change can’t occur as a result of our ‘purposeful output’. We can change things ‘on the outside’ – I can organise things this way or that way, I can put up a shelf on the wall I could not put it up, I can mow the lawn or not mow the lawn, there is scope for all sorts of purposeful activity, but this shouldn’t confuse us into thinking that we can change ourselves to. When the static identity tries to change the situation all it is really doing is imposing its own ideas of what that change should be, and the static identity’s ‘ideas about what the change should be’ are itself. The static identity is its set of ideas. The identity is trying to assert (or promote) itself but this just isn’t change! That’s not change at all, it’s just ‘the same old story’…



It is extraordinarily helpful to understand this. Normally we very strongly feel that we should be doing something to get ourselves out of the situation we are in and so if we can’t (which we won’t be able to in any real way) then we blame ourselves and feel guilty about it. We have already ‘failed’ – or so it seems – to be feeling so bad in the first place, and then we have ‘failed again’ by not being able to do something about this situation. All that responsibility (which is actually ‘false responsibility’) is weighing heavily on us and it’s turning into guilt and self-recrimination because we can’t fix the problem when we are convinced that this is what we should be doing. What helps us in this situation is to see that we aren’t this not of tension, that we aren’t this fixed sense of identity. We can’t get rid of a knot of tension by ‘making it into a problem’ and fighting against it, after all! Blind aggression isn’t really going to help us here…




Image: Great Buddha of Kamakura, taken from