Free Consciousness

We almost never know free consciousness in our everyday lives – all we know is the ‘trapped variant’ of it, the ‘distorted version’ of it. ‘Free consciousness’ is consciousness that isn’t attached to a story (or consciousness that isn’t defined by a story) and that hardly ever happens. All we ever know is ‘consciousness-with-a-story’ and this is a different type of thing altogether. It is a different type of a thing because consciousness-with-a-story is consciousness that is ruled by a factor that exists outside itself. It is ‘consciousness that always obeys an external mechanical force’. It is trapped consciousness.

 

It has often been said that how we feel depends upon how we perceive our circumstances. ‘There is nothing good nor bad, but thinking makes it so’, says Shakespeare in the second act of Hamlet. Another way of putting this is to say that how we feel is determined by how we think our story is going. No matter how we feel however (whether we feel good or bad, hopeful or worried, confident or afraid) this is not free consciousness. This is something else entirely – this is consciousness determined by an external factor, this is consciousness intertwined with an ongoing narrative structure. The crucial point we are making here is this: there is nothing the ongoing narrative can ever tell us – no matter how ‘positive’ it may sound to us – that can ever free us from the narrative…

 

We could also say that there is nothing the narrative (or ‘our thinking’) can tell us that can make us feel at peace. Peace comes from within, not from some factor that exists outside of us. Peace cannot come about because of the existence of rules that tell us that ‘we must be at peace’, in other words. We cannot be free because we are instructed to be free, or at peace because we are told to be at peace, or happy because our orders are to be happy and all the narrative can ever do is ‘instruct’ or ‘tell’ or ‘order’. Consciousness that is intertwined with the ongoing narrative of who we are and what is going on with our life can never be at peace therefore and this is a terrible thing to consider. It is a terrible thing to consider because – as we have said – the only form of consciousness we know is conditioned consciousness. Because it is the only form of consciousness we know we are prepared to ‘make do with it’ (we don’t really have any choice, obviously) and this means that we shall never know peace. And because we will never know peace, we will also never know joy or happiness since there is no way to know joy or happiness unless we can first know peace. Instead, we will have to make do with the conditioned version of freedom and peace and happiness (and so on), which is where the thinking mind tells us that we are free or unfree, at peace or not at peace, happy or not happy…

 

The external factor that is the mind-created narrative is our master therefore and as such it determines whether we are going to feel good about ourselves or feel bad. We are completely dependent upon this ‘master’ and this means that we are dependent upon illusion to feel good rather than bad, safe rather than unsafe, validated rather than devalidated, etc. Being ‘dependent upon illusion’ for how we feel about ourselves (or how we feel about life) is another way of saying that we are fundamentally disconnected from anything real. We only value illusion. Because we are fundamentally disconnected from anything real we cannot ever truly feel at peace, or truly happy, as we have just said. So not only are we dependent upon something ‘outside of ourselves’, we are dependent upon ‘something outside of ourselves that isn’t real’, and not only are we dependent upon something outside of ourselves that isn’t real, what that ‘external factor’ provides us with (instead of happiness and peace) isn’t ever going to be real either…

 

The mind-created narrative provides us with polarities – it provides us with the polarities of good and bad, right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, and so on. This ‘oscillation between opposites’ is what we have to make do with instead of reality. The mind-created narrative is always polar in nature – it can never be ‘not polar’. The narrative is polar because it is to do with the self that is the subject of the story and this ‘self’ is fundamentally polar. The self is polarity itself. Saying that the self is fundamentally polar is just another way of saying that it is fundamentally biased, prejudiced or ‘partisan’ in its outlook – it can never be non-partisan or unbiased no matter how it tries. This is what ‘self’ means – it means that there is an essential bias there! There is ‘me’, and there is ‘you’, and the two are not the same. There is ‘me’, and there is ‘everything else’ and the difference between the two is as big as any difference ever could be. This taken-for-granted difference between ‘self’ and ‘other’ is what fuels all my purposeful activity in the world. We might imagine that there can be such a thing as a ‘moral self’ which can behave in a fair and unbiased way but this is simply ridiculous – the self can be infinitely ingenious in the disguised that it puts on but what lies underneath the disguise never changes, as Alan Watts says. No matter what masks we wear, and how well we wear them, this is never going to alter the ‘wearer of the mask’, not by one jot. Pretending to be moral never makes us moral – actually, it has the reverse effect!

 

The fundamentally biased nature of the self means that the narrative which it spins around itself is always going to reflect this bias; that’s what makes the narrative interesting to us, after all. Saying that the narrative which we embed ourselves in is ‘polar’ means that it can always go in one of two directions – it can go in the direction of ‘things getting better for us’ or it can go in the complementary direction of ‘things getting worse’. Things can go well or they can go badly, as we all know. The polarity that we are talking about here is perfectly illustrated by our very great interest in this thing we call ‘luck’; luck comes in two basic forms, as we all know – there is the good type and the bad type! We never hear any talk about luck that is ‘neither good nor bad’… The capacity of our personal narrative to go in one of two directions totally fascinates us; it never ceases to soak up our attention. Yet what we’re fascinated with here has nothing to do with life (even though it may look that way) – what we’re fascinated with is ourselves!

 

The personal narrative might be endlessly fascinating but it isn’t real; it has nothing to do with reality. It is no more real than this thing we call ‘luck’ is. The narrative that we are so obsessed with can’t be real because it is at all times fundamentally orientated towards a central point which isn’t real – this central point (or pivot) being the concept that we have of ourselves. We are of course perfectly free to have a concept of ourselves, a concept of who we are, but that doesn’t mean that it actually exists. The very fact that it is us ourselves who have the ideas or concepts that we do have shows that they aren’t real – they belong only to us, like our facial expressions or hairstyles. Or to put this another way it is precisely because we are free to have ideas about who or what we are that these ideas aren’t real. These two things – the idea we have about ourselves and the personal narrative – are of course one and the same thing. The personal narrative is the self and the self is the personal narrative and so if one is unreal then so is the other. We can’t have a real narrative about an unreal self-concept! The personal narrative is as fascinating as it is to the self that is spinning it because that narrative is (of course) all about it and the narrative-spinning self is – quite frankly – fascinated with itself.

 

What we are talking about here is therefore a clear-cut case of 100% narcissistic self-engagement. There is no free consciousness here in this situation because there is no relationship with anything real, anything outside of the self. There’s nothing going on but ‘self-adhesion’ – the unreal self is compulsively engaged with (or obsessed by) its own un-owned projections. Whatever you might like to call this situation, the one thing we can be sure of is that it doesn’t have anything to do with ‘being conscious’. There is – it is safe to say – no prison as absolute as the prison of narcissistic self-engagement. It’s like getting a sticking plaster and folding it neatly in on itself so that it forms a sealed inert unit – a self-contained package that is forever sealed off from the world. This sealed inert unit is ‘us when we’re fully engaged, fully absorbed, fully fascinated in our own story of ourselves’. The glue that keeps us stuck to our own story of what is happening to us is, what did happen to us, and what might happen to us is ‘the glue of attraction/aversion’ and the key thing that we need to understand about attraction/aversion is that there is absolutely no freedom in it. Attraction-versus-aversion creates a completely compulsive, completely coercive situation – we are powerless not to chase what attracts us just as we are powerless not to run from what repels us.

 

And not only are we ‘powerless not to chase or run away from whatever either attracts or repels us’ we are also powerless not to believe that it is our own motivation that advises us to either chase what attracts us or flee what repels us. There’s no such thing as free motivation (or free will) in the realm of attraction/aversion, however. Not only are we ‘being controlled by something that isn’t us’ therefore, we’re also unable to see that we are being controlled – we’re unable to see that when we either like something or dislike it these reactions are not truly ‘ours’ but are forced upon us by the narrow coercive world that we have adapted to. The system tells me what I like and dislike, in other words, and I am so habituated to being told what to do by some external agency that I think it’s coming from me. The external set of compulsions (i.e. the mechanical system) ‘lives my life for me’ and I never know it. As we have already said, there simply couldn’t be a more absolute prison than the prison of involuntary narcissistic self-engagement – which is the situation that we’re all caught up in just as long as we’ve got a ‘story of ourselves’ running in our heads.

 

‘Free’ consciousness is consciousness that is not attached to a story, and this is the only sort of consciousness there is. Either consciousness is unconditionally free or it is not consciousness. When consciousness gets attached to a story, a narrative, a rational account of ‘what is going on’ then consciousness becomes identical with this story, this account. There is only the story then. We become the rational mind’s definition of us and we inhabit a world that has been created for us by the same rational mind that has defined who we are. We are never more than ‘our own thoughts about ourselves and the world’, in other words. The rule-based definitions are ‘who we are’ and ‘what the world is’ and ‘what life is all about’ become limits that we never go beyond, yet none of these definitions are true. ‘The story’ simply isn’t true, therefore. ‘The story’ is duality and duality is a construct of the thinking mind with all its opposing categories of  ‘right and wrong’, ‘winning’ and losing’, ‘existing and not-existing’, ‘me and you’…

 

If we wanted to know who we really are, and what the world really is, then the only definition we can ever have is a negative definition, which is to say, all we can ever say is that we are NOT what our thoughts say we are and that life is NOT about what the official story says it is about. The story – whatever it may be – is guaranteed to be false, and that’s the only thing we can know for sure. The ‘story’ regarding what life is all about (i.e. the central all-determining narrative that the rational mind (or society) keeps spinning) is always fundamentally distorted. We can see this very easily if we just consider that the whole point of ‘a story’ is that it is always belonging to someone. Life isn’t a story however precisely because it isn’t happening to anyone!

 

I think that life is something that is ‘happening to me’ but all that’s really happening here is that consciousness is being enslaved (or imprisoned) by an illusion. ‘All there is is life happening’, as Tony Parsons says. There is no limiting ‘story’, there is no ‘one to whom everything is happening to’,  and this ‘lack of a limiting story’, this lack of an ‘isolated ego or self to whom everything is happening to’ equals free consciousness….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Accepting Our Own Non-Acceptance

One of the biggest delusions that we are up against when we start practicing mindfulness (and there are many) is the delusion that we can (and indeed ought to) ‘accept ourselves’. This erroneous belief translates into a lot of frustration, a lot of suffering. It is therefore crucially important to realize – before we move on to anything else – that accepting ourselves is not something that we can ever do on purpose.

 

The very idea that we can or ought to be able to accept ourselves (or accept anything else for that matter) is self-contradictory – if I am trying to accept myself then clearly the reason for this is that I am not accepting of myself and so what I’m actually doing here – as Alan Watts says – is that I am ‘rejecting my own non-acceptance of myself’. So what I’m actually doing isn’t acceptance at all – ‘its non-acceptance flying under the flag of acceptance’. The way that I actually am is not-accepting and rather than accepting this non-acceptance of mine and seeing it in an impartial or unbiased way I am rejecting it – I’m rejecting it because I’m trying to change it. What I am really doing here is ‘rejecting myself as I actually am’ and this is – of course – exactly what I normally do anyway. Nothing has changed therefore – I’m at my old tricks again (as usual) and yet I’m hoping that things will somehow work out differently this time.

 

Acceptance can never happen as a result of a deliberate action or strategy on our part. Deliberate or purposeful action always comes out of our thinking and anything that happens as a result of thinking always comes about as a result of our non-acceptance of the way things actually are. Thought can never accept and acceptance isn’t a thought! We only think when we are interested in changing the way things are – if we were happy with things being the way that they are then where’s the need to think, where’s the need to control? If we don’t want to change anything then where’s the need for a method or strategy? Leaving things as they already are doesn’t require any strategizing, after all. There’s no problem and so there’s no need to intervene. Things can be ‘left as they are’ and so where’s the need for striving? Thought isn’t acceptance. Thought is resistance and resistance is thought, and this is all we ever know, generally speaking. We are all ‘addicted to control’ and if there are problems we automatically assume that this is because we’re not controlling effectively enough…

 

‘Acceptance’ has nothing to do with control – the one is the antithesis of the other. We can of course try to control ourselves to accept – we can try to control ourselves to accept until we’re blue in the face but it won’t do us any good! It won’t do us any good because we’re caught up in a self-contradicting struggle; we’re in a loop – we’re trying to control ourselves to stop controlling. So what can we do then? How do we free ourselves from the self-contradiction of trying to ‘accept on purpose’? The key to this apparently impossible dilemma is simply to notice the way things are, and getting better at leaving a gap between us ‘noticing the way things are’ and our automatic reacting, our automatic attempt to ‘do something about the situation that we have just noticed’. We’re can’t create a gap on purpose because control (or purposefulness) always ‘closes the gap’ – purposefulness is all about closing the gap between the way things are and the way we want them to be. What we can do however is to take an interesting in noticing the process that is taking place when we ‘automatically react’. Normally we don’t ‘notice ourselves reacting’, we just react and that is it. All of our energy, all of our ‘interest’ goes into the reacting and there is none left over to notice anything!

 

There is always a gap there between the awareness of what is going on and our automatic reacting to it (which is our thinking) and so just as soon as we do take an interest in the proceedings we will sooner or later notice it. The noticing itself is the gap, when it comes down to it – whenever we are aware of something there must always be a gap because without a gap between the noticing and the reacting there actually isn’t any noticing! This means that we aren’t creating a gap but rather we are just taking the time to get in touch with our own awareness, the awareness that was there all the time. Our awareness is never not there – it is just hidden beneath all the thinking, beneath all the reacting, all the compulsive goal-orientated activity. Another way of making this point is to say that the ‘key to everything’ is simply to be open to the truth. We simply have to notice the truth of what is going on without needing to worry about either accepting or not accepting it. So instead me of trying to ‘accept myself’ I just see the truth of the matter, which is that I do not accept myself. I own up to the fact that I am not at all accepting of myself and so there is no contradiction here. There is no contradiction and there is no needed for any sort of straining or striving. ‘The seeing is the doing’, says Krishnamurti.

 

What is really happening here is that we are taking back our freedom not to have to be scheming and calculating all the time. Only we’re not ‘taking it back’ because we had never really lost it in the first place. We’re just reconnecting with it. Somehow what happens to us is that we get ‘taken over by our own cleverness’ (so to speak) and as a result of being ‘taken over’ in this way by the rational faculty we think that cleverness (or rationality) is the answer to everything. We don’t have anything else but our cleverness – it’s as if we are our cleverness, it’s as if we are the rational intellect, whilst the truth of the matter is that we are much, much more than this. We are far more than just our rational-computational faculty – what we really are is this ‘capacity to unconditional accept’ that we have been talking about. The rational mind is pure and simply a system of limitations, it is the ‘incapacity to unconditionally accept’, whilst who we are in our essence is unlimited. It could be said that the thinking mind is a structure, whilst who we are in our essence isn’t any kind of ‘structure’ at all but the space within which all structures exist. We are this ‘all-accepting, all-facilitating space’, not the events that happen within it…

 

It sounds peculiarly passive (and therefore irresponsible) to say that we are our true nature ‘accepts everything’ – that sounds to us like being a doormat, as the expression has it. But awareness doesn’t accept in the sense of ‘passively going along with things’, it accepts in the sense of not being afraid of anything. Whatever is there it sees unflinchingly, in other words; it has no ‘preference’ about what it sees. When we put it like this therefore we can see that being ‘all-accepting’ isn’t a sign of weakness at all but rather it is an indication of tremendous strength. Our true or inherent nature is this tremendous strength therefore – it is the quality of strength that doesn’t need to ‘do something about it’. It is our false ‘cleverness’ that always needs to be ‘doing something about our situation’, that always has to have tactics and strategies ready at hand; it is our cleverness or trickiness that is weak and which, because of its weakness, always has to ‘go along with things’. It goes along with its own need to control, its own need to ‘prop itself up’. The thinking mind accuses unconditioned consciousness of being weak when in reality it is completely the other way around! Thought is always resisting because it always has a position to defend; awareness on the other hand has no need to resist because it is not tied to any precarious position that it needs to protect.

 

If we think that we ‘have to accept ourselves’ then this impression or belief is coming out of weakness rather than strength. If I feel that I need to ‘do something about my situation’ then this feeling comes out of my weakness not my strength. It is coming from my false idea of who I am, not who I actually am! Resistance (and also fear) always comes out of a false idea of who I am! ‘How then do I overcome my weakness?’ I might ask. I most probably will ask this. But the glitch here is clear – as soon as I feel that I have to do something about my situation and try to act on the basis of this impression then I am acting on the basis of weakness. Trying to remedy my weakness is a manifestation of weakness just as trying to overcome my fear is a manifestation of fear. We’re only going around in circles here. I’m not making things better no matter what I do; I am making problems no matter what tack I take. I am compounding weakness with yet more weakness, I am trying to overcome fear with more fear and this is just not going to help me…

 

When we see this glitch everything tends to seem utterly hopeless. How can I possibly get out of this? Every time I try to do something about my situation I am acting out of weakness and if I try to do something about that then I am still acting out of weakness. And yet at the same time I can’t not react; I am powerless – it seems – not to try to ‘do something about it’. I am compelled to try to fix or correct my situation. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of cope here therefore. There doesn’t seem to be any scope – the situation shows every indication of being a dead loss! What’s ‘hopeless’ however isn’t the situation but our distorted understanding of it; what’s ‘hopeless’ is our proposed ability to purposefully get things to be the way we want them to be. That’s a ‘no go’ for sure but nothing else is. Everything else is working just fine, just as it always did, just as it always will do. The insurmountable problems only exist in our rational/purposeful understanding, in other words.

 

Who we are in reality isn’t the idea that we have of ourselves; who we really are isn’t the limited and brittle concept we have of ourselves and so it doesn’t really matter that resolving the problem in the way that the mind-created image of ourselves would like to see it resolved is a ‘no go’. That doesn’t matter at all. It seems to matter an awful lot when we are identified with the mind-created image of who we are but because the impression that the mind-created self has of the situation is entirely illusory, entirely without substance, the fact that we think that there is an insurmountable problem isn’t a genuine obstacle! It’s just the illusory appearance of an obstacle – it’s the illusory appearance of a problem that is taken very serious by the imagined idea of who we think we are. The view that the self-concept has of the situation is illusory (just as that imagined self is) and this brings us to the crux of the matter. The concept of ourselves which is who we think we are can’t accept anything unconditionally – it simply doesn’t have the capacity to do so since it itself is a ‘conditional’ entity. But this doesn’t matter because it was never up to this fragile sense of self to do the ‘accepting’ – only consciousness, which is who we really are, can unconditionally accept.

 

As we cease to believe so much that we are this narrow and brittle little ‘idea of ourselves’ our capacity to accept (or be present with) our situation increases. This ‘capacity’ increases because we’re not relying upon an illusion to do the accepting, because we’re not relying on an illusion to be present! Unconditioned awareness accepts everything because it is its nature to do so not because we are requiring it to do so, or because we are instructing it to do so, and this shows the essential difference between the self and awareness:

 

The self operates on the basis of being told (or instructed) what to do and its nature is to resist (or judge), whilst awareness does what is in its nature to do (without the need to be directed or controlled) and its nature is to be impartial to everything, just as the sun shines impartially on everything or just as the rain falls impartially on everything.

 

Awareness and the conditioned self ‘run on two very different principles’, so to speak.We often hear the definition of mindfulness or being mindful as ‘being aware of what is happening as it is happening without judging what is happening’ and this is fine – the only thing about this is that the self can never refrain from judging, any more than the rational mind can refrain from analyzing or classifying things. To ask the self not to judge (i.e. to require the self to ‘unconditionally accept’) is to ask for the impossible. But we can clearly see that the conditioned self can never ‘not judge’, and this is a basic psychological insight. This is something that we can ‘get’. When we do see this then it could be said that we are ‘accepting ourselves as we are’, or that we are ‘accepting ourselves for what we are’. But the point about this is that the self is not unconditionally accepting the self here (that could never happen, as we have said), but rather we are being aware of the self and its nature (without judging it for having the nature that it does have), which is a very different thing.

 

 

 

 

 

The Game Creator

The default situation is one in which consciousness is held prisoner by the thinking mind on a full time basis. We don’t ‘think’ that this is the default situation but it is. There are – we might say – two elements here: on the one hand there is the thinking mind (which is made up of repeating patterns) and on the other hand there is consciousness, its captive.

 

Consciousness is the fair maiden and the thinking mind the fearsome dragon! This dragon – as dragons usually are – is more than a match for any ordinary opponent. Only a hero has a chance against such a powerful adversary, and heroes are few and far between these days. They are somewhat thin on the ground – this, it is fair to say, is not an age for heroes. Consciousness, it appears, is not about to be freed from its grim prison any time soon…

 

In this age, in this modern ‘enlightened’ era, we have no understanding of consciousness as being in any way different or separate from the lumbering thinking mind. The suggestion that consciousness has its own life outside of thought and the realm created by thought does not tend to resonate particular strongly with us. It does not tend to resonate at all. Without the over-arching framework of thought (so we ‘think’!) what could consciousness possibly get up to? How could it be any use – what ends could it serve?

 

As we have just indicated, this is what we think, and the thinking mind never sees its own limitations. It never sees that there could be any life outside of it and its tiresome machinations. As far as thought is concerned everything has to be directed towards an end; if something isn’t serving some end or other then what use is it, what’s the point of it? This is the way rationality looks at things. Because we live in a world that is governed by thought, has been constructed by thought, nothing is given any value unless it serves some end. Thus, to say that something is ‘pointless’ or ‘useless’ is to roundly denigrate it; when we say this there is real viciousness, real unpleasantness in it – the thinking mind has no time for anything ‘useless’. But when we consider the bigger picture – which is something that the thinking mind cannot ever do, since it can only ever concern itself with a single slice of the pie, not the pie itself – we see that all this talk of things ‘having a purpose’ or ‘serving some end’ is quite ridiculous. When we gain a bit of perspective all of this talk becomes utterly nonsensical.

 

When we consider the whole pie (i.e. life as a whole) rather than just the slice then we see that the notion of purpose (or ‘having a purpose’) is pure foolishness. It is not simply foolish, it is deranged. ‘Uses’ or ‘purposes’ exist only in relation to the narrow view of things; they only come into being when we are looking at the relationship between the elements that we see as existing when we look at a partial  (or fractional) view of life. I can say that I am doing X because of Y, that Y is the reason for X and this works fine just as long as we are looking at the fractional view of the world (which is to say, when we are unconsciously excluding anything that does not fit into or have any bearing on this narrow viewpoint). Causality (or ‘purposefulness’) only has any meaning when we take the part to be the whole, in other words; it only has any validity when we are not relating to life / the world as a Whole, which is of course what it is.

 

Living life on the basis of ‘purposes’ or ‘uses’ is like robbing Peter to pay Paul – it only seems to work on the small scale of things. In reality – as we all know perfectly well – it doesn’t work at all!  In exactly the same way we can generate the illusion of ‘progress’ by taking a very narrow view of what’s going on , but this again is pure trickery – we’re only chasing ourselves around in circles. All we’re ever doing is keeping ourselves perpetually busy, perpetually ‘on the hop’. The thinking mind is always working towards some end or other; the thing about this however is that – in reality – there are no ends!

 

What happens when we reach one of these supposed ‘ends’? Clearly when we get to the end we stop; we stop because we have to stop, we stop because there’s nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. So we just sit there in our imaginary ‘end-point’, satisfied that we have now ‘got there’, satisfied that we have now ‘arrived’. We dig in, we set up camp; we get entrenched and start erecting heavy-duty fortifications (just in case something or someone wants to dislodge us). We’ve attained the prize and we’re not about to let someone take it away from us! So we make a meal of not moving on, of staying stuck in our so-called ‘end’ that isn’t an end at all but only something that the thinking mind has made up. We make a virtue of being stuck, aggressively ignoring or pushing away all the other possibilities that life has to offer and this is the way that consciousness gets to be held prisoner so effectively by the thinking mind.

 

This ‘imprisoning mechanism’ functions (we could say) on two levels. The first and primary level is the one that we have just been talking about: because of the way we see the arbitrary mind-created position as ‘who we are’ and then spend all of our time defending and promoting it, trying to make everything in our environment serve it, we never see that we don’t have to be doing this. We have – because of what the thinking mind is telling us – made a virtue of our stuckness, our unfreeness, which means that we are now totally and implacably resistant to hearing a word said against it. We have become stubborn, we have become obstinate and the more pressure we’re under the more stubborn and obstinate we become! This is one way which in which we are imprisoned – by being brainwashed by the thinking mind (which loves concrete categories and fixed viewpoints) into implacably resisting change, or by ‘celebrating a fixed and reality-resistant self’ (which is of course the same thing).

 

The secondary way in which consciousness is imprisoned by thought follows on from the first. The thing is that when we are identified with a fixed and reality-resistant self (i.e. when we reach the ‘terminal destination’ of who and what thought says we are) then we find of course that we suffer greatly from our stuckness. Stuckness is suffering, ‘stuck’ is another word for suffering. We have become sterile, we have become barren of possibilities – all we can do is to keep on going through the same old manoeuvres, the same old stale and tortuously familiar routines. The compulsory repetition of the old, the familiar is torture, even if we are at the same time perversely fond of it, so at this point, rather than being about ‘exploring the new’, life becomes all about entertaining ourselves so as to distract ourselves from being aware of our terminal stuckness.

 

Our modality of entertaining ourselves follows exactly the same pattern we started off with when we identified with the fixed or final viewpoint that is the conditioned self – we pick out an arbitrary position as being ‘an end in itself’ and then work as hard as we can towards attaining or realizing this end. Once we have an ‘end’ in mind then everything else becomes subsidiary to it; nothing exists for us or has any relevance unless it has some sort of relation to the goal we are trying to attain. We develop ‘tunnel vision’, in other words, and this tunnel vision over-simplifies reality for us so that everything becomes about either succeeding in our task or not succeeding. This is a profoundly unreflective state of mind- we are in no way interested in asking questions about why it is so great if we attain the goal, or so bad if we don’t. All our attention goes into the ‘how’ of the situation not the ‘why’. Then when we have attained the goal we move on to the next, and the next, and the next, ad infinitum.

 

This terminal unreflectiveness is precisely what ‘consciousness’s prison’. This is what makes up the jail that we are perpetually languishing in – the compulsion that we do not see as a compulsion, but our own free will. The compulsion that we are talking about here is the compulsion to obey the rules of the game that has been set up for us to play, without ever questioning them. The game that we are playing is our prison, in other words. We think we’re playing the game but we’re not – the game is compulsory, which is to say, the tables have been turned without us realizing it and the game is playing us!

 

The thinking mind is the game creator. If we were to know the thinking mind for what it is, we would know it as the creator of games! It doesn’t let us know it as such however – it veils its true nature from us better than anything is ever veiled. We never see the mind’s productions as games! To suggest to someone that their thoughts are merely games, and that the mind-created picture they have of themselves and the world is also a game is to invite incredulity, if not outright hostility. Our thoughts are serious; our idea or beliefs about ourselves and the world are deadly serious – wars are fought over these arbitrary mental constructs. Actually, all the wars that have ever been fought are ultimately over ideas that we refuse to see as just ‘ideas’, thoughts that we take as seriously as can be. All aggression, all violence, all cruelty comes from taking the productions of the thinking mind seriously, and never ever looking beyond them to their mechanical creator, the rule-based mind.

 

When we do see beyond the humourless productions of the thinking mind then this is consciousness escaping from its prison of seriously, its prison of ‘a game that it cannot see to be only a game’. A game, as we have said earlier, is where we have a tunnel vision of reality. What attracts us to the tunnel vision of reality is the very thing that strangles and suffocates us – it’s closure. We are attracted to having everything decided for us, everything determined for us, because it is safe, because there’s nothing there that is ever going to take us by surprise, because we never going to learn that what we previously took to be true isn’t actually true at all. That really isn’t the type of surprise we want to have! What we’re forever chasing after are definites, outcomes that makes sense within the accepted framework, outcomes that reflect the values of the accepted framework, outcomes that are the concrete manifestation of the accepted framework. We don’t like to have the uncertainty of not knowing whether we should chase after these outcomes or whether we should not – we like to have all of these details ‘decided for us’ by the game. [We don’t like freedom, in other words.]Then all we have to do is put all our efforts and attention into achieving the designated goals, the designated outcomes.  All we have to do is ‘successfully obey the rules’…

 

So playing the game ensures that we will never have to be reflective, and this means that everything is going to be ‘safe’. ‘Safety’ comes out of never being reflective, which is the same thing as never being conscious. We could also say therefore that the thinking mind keeps consciousness in prison by constantly finding tasks for it to do. We are kept constantly busy; we are constantly tied up with petty tasks. Hence Socrates says, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” It doesn’t matter what game we are playing, or what the goals are – that’s not the point. The point isn’t the real point. The real point is to keep us busy, to keep us tied up. That is the point behind all games. The ‘horror’ is pointless never-ending self-validating busy-ness therefore and this is exactly what our culture or ‘civilization’ provides us with on a full-time basis. That’s what our culture is all about – empty distractions, empty entertainment, futile tasks, all dressed up and made somehow glamorous. We are in thrall to Norton Juster’s The Terrible Trivium.

 

The prison is unremitting concrete purposefulness. Purposefulness is the prison because when we’re caught up in it (i.e. when we’re taking our purposes seriously) – then we’re just not there. We’re absent.There is no consciousness in concrete unremitting purposefulness and yet consciousness is who we are.

 

What happens if we stop being busy? We notice the world around us with all its wonders. What happens if we don’t stop, if we stay locked up in our sterile games? Then we notice neither the world around us nor ourselves….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Paradox of ‘Turning Towards’

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In The Mystics Of Islam, Reynold A. Nicholson (1914) relates the following Sufi story:

Someone said to Rabi‘a:

 

“I have committed many sins; if I turn in penitence towards God, will He turn in mercy towards me?” “Nay,” she replied,” but if He shall turn towards thee, thou wilt turn towards Him.”

So God doesn’t bestow his grace on us because we ask, we ask because he has bestowed his grace. We find ourselves turning towards God because of God’s grace, not because of any connivance on our part. This Sufi teaching is applicable to all situations where we are trying to find peace of mind – we first need the peace of mind, the ‘inner stillness’, before we even know that inner stillness is what we are missing. Otherwise we won’t be thinking this way; it simply won’t be a concern of ours. Eckhart Tolle says somewhere that some stillness within us is needed before we can meditate – without it, all we know is forcing. Without some little seed of stillness within us all we know is aggression and manipulation…

 

Everything in mindfulness is based on us taking a genuine interest in our own inner process. This is why we hear words like ‘gentle’ so much – because the interest, the curiosity, the kindness has to be genuine rather than forced. It has to ‘come from the heart’, so to speak. Mindfulness – inasmuch as it has been taken over by clinical psychology – is invariably presented as a ‘technology’. In other words, it is presented as a ‘rationale for intervention’ along with a set of procedures or methodologies that when executed correctly will bring about the desired outcome.

 

So what’s wrong with this, we might ask? Isn’t this exactly what we want – isn’t this the whole point? If we think this however then we’ve missed the point. Mindfulness isn’t a technology – it isn’t a strategy (or set of strategies) that we can use to bring about a desired outcome. Mindfulness has nothing to do with outcomes; it has nothing to do with bringing about a particular or special state of affairs. This is the one thing that it isn’t! Mindful practice is actually the complete antithesis of this – it has to do with the dropping of our agendas, not the effective enacting of them. Mindfulness is about noticing the way things really are – not for any reason, not because we want to change the way things are, but just because that IS the way they are!

 

Our problem is that we only want to take an interest in the way things are because that might be a way of changing them. We can hardly deny that this is the case? If we have to ‘take an interest’ then we will do so. If we have to ‘allow stuff to be there, in a gentle, patient and non-judgemental way’, then we will give this a go. We will do our best to be accepting and non-judgemental, and all the rest. But would we be interested in our own inner state otherwise? Would we take an interest if it were not for the fact that we think it will do us some good? The answer is of course that we almost certainly would not be – we’re only taking an interest because we think that there is going to be some sort of pay-off, because we think that there is going to be some sort of advantage in it for us. That’s the whole point, after all. That is why – as a culture – we are interested in mindfulness, because of its benefits. Being an eminently practical culture, with very little interest in philosophy or mysticism, we just wouldn’t have cared otherwise!

 

Mindfulness (as far as we in the West are concerned) is a strategy and strategies are always carried out for a reason. Whoever heard of a strategy being carried out for no reason? Strategies are always carried out with an aim in mind; they’re all about the aim, in fact. Really – if we were to be totally honest – we would have to admit that we’re not interested in the way we are at all; on the contrary, we’re fundamentally disinterested. We’re fundamentally orientated towards heading off at top speed in the opposite direction – this is inherent in what we might call ‘the mechanics of the everyday or conditioned self’. This self maintains its integrity by not being interested in its own pain; it is only interested in a closed way, which is to say, it is interested only in learning how to do whatever it needs to do in order to make it go away. As G.I. Gurdjieff has indicated, the conditioned or everyday self is a ‘pain-avoiding machine’. Running away from pain (or insecurity) is the basic rule, the basic motivation. That’s our ‘essential tropism’.

 

Why – might ask – should this be so? Why should the everyday self be so fundamentally disinterested in its own pain, its own inner process? This seems like a rather dim view of things, to say the least. It has to be understood however that having an interest in our own pain, our own inner process, is a very big thing! Being interested in our own pain (without having an agenda behind the interest) constitutes a veritable revolution; it constitutes what the ancient alchemists called the ‘opus contra naturam’, the work against nature. We have to go against our own fundamental (conditioned) nature, and there can be no task harder (or more tricky) than this. Things will never be the same after we learn to go against our bed-rock psychological conditioning – the world becomes a very different place. Everything gets reversed – instead of automatically seeking security in all things, we become genuinely courageous (or ‘fearless’, as Pema Chodren says). We no longer go around doing stuff for a reason, always with an agenda, since when you are fearless you no longer need an agenda!

 

Inasmuch as our automatic allegiance to ‘preserving the status quo’ (which comes down to ‘preserving ourselves as we already – by default – understand ourselves to be’) we are absolutely NOT going to be fearless. We can’t have an agenda to preserve the way things are and at the same time be fearless, at the same time be ‘genuinely curious’ about the world. As we have indicated, the basic motivation of the everyday self is to preserve and perpetuate itself at all costs and ‘taking a genuine interest in oneself’ is going completely against this. We’d be going against the grain in a big way if we allowed ourselves to become genuinely curious; being curious is the biggest risk we’ll ever take – who knows what we might find out if we start getting genuinely interested in things (rather than just being ‘interested-with-an-agenda’)? Existence itself is the risk, as the existential philosophers have told us, and the conditioned self is never going to be ready to take that particular gamble…

 

We’re really making the same point over and over again here, in a number of different ways. Everything we do we do ‘for our own sake’ – we might like to imagine that this is not the case, but it is. As conditioned beings, we are fundamentally motivated by self-interest, as Anthony De Mello has said. Another way of putting this would be to say that any rational action we undertake necessarily involves taking our starting-off point (which is to say, the basis upon which we make all of our decisions) absolutely for granted. It just wouldn’t work any other way – we cannot proceed in a logical / rational way unless we first assume our starting-off point to be valid, or ‘right’. Otherwise we’d never get started; otherwise the whole endeavour falls to pieces before it gets anywhere. This is a basic principle in logic as well as in the mechanics of the conditioned (or rule-based) self – the axiom, the rock-solid basis has to be assumed; if we didn’t ‘assume it’ then it just wouldn’t be there…

 

When we apply any rationally-conceived / purposeful action therefore, we are necessarily going to be both conceiving and carrying out this action for the benefit of our taken-for-granted starting-off point. The action is an extension of our starting-off point, an extension of our hidden assumptions. We are – whether we care to admit it or not – ‘striving to uphold the status quo’ – the status quo being ‘everything in our life that we assume, everything in our life that we take for granted without ever realizing that we do’. Fundamentally, therefore, we’re not ‘risk-taking’, we’re ‘risk-avoiding’; anything we do on a rational/purposeful basis is always going to be for the sake of preserving and perpetuating the self which is who we think we are, the self that we’re very much in the business of ‘taking for granted’ in everything we do. There isn’t anything more inescapable than this. That’s what the purposeful self’ is – it’s something that takes itself absolutely for granted in everything it does!

 

As soon as we understand this point we understand why mindfulness can never be a system, can never be a strategy, can never be a technology. The moment we understand that the purposeful / conditioned self always takes itself absolutely for granted in everything it does we understand that mindfulness is by no means as straightforward a business as we might previously imagined. How do we turn around to face the source of our pain when our motivation for doing so is when it comes right down to it the motivation to run away from pain? How are we ever going to be genuinely interested in ‘what’s going on’ when – unbeknownst to us – our fundamental bedrock motivation is to preserve and perpetuate the standpoint that we’re coming from, which is ‘the self that we assume we are’? How can we be both ‘genuinely interested in seeing what’s going on’ and ‘fundamentally committed to preserving and perpetuating that self that we assume we are’? It’s either one or the other – it can’t be both.

 

This brings us back to the Sufi story that we started off with – if we are to sincerely ask forgiveness this does not come about as a result of our own agency; it is God’s grace that we do so. In the same way, if we are to take an interest in ourselves, in what’s really going on with us, this isn’t by our own agency. It is a grace that is bestowed upon us. This perfectly illustrates the difference between the Western and the Eastern / Middle-Eastern ways of looking at life – in the West it is all about the technology, the skills, the strategies, the tools, etc. But what have any of these to do with a grace that descends from above? What good are our technologies, our systems, our clever theories and models with regard to receiving grace?

 

We in the West are full of a type of false confidence, a type of confidence that looks good on the surface but which is really just empty bravado. We make everything sound so cut-and-dried, but it isn’t. We make it sound as if we are ‘in control’, but we’re not. We’re not in control and we never will be; after all, how can ‘who I assume myself to be’ be in control when this idea of ‘self’ is a wrong assumption to start off with? Controlling isn’t ever going to get us anywhere because it always proceeds on the basis of what we assume to be true but yet cannot ever verify. It jumps, but it never looks at where it has jumped from. It proceeds, but it can never examine its basis. The big snag here is therefore that everything we do is done (as we have been saying) on the basis of the self which we think we are and any journey from a false starting off point is guaranteed to get us nowhere! This ‘snag’ is inherent in the nature of the controlling or purposeful self, which is the self on whose basis we are doing the controlling. We should be a bit more careful before setting off on our journey; we should be a bit more careful before trying to control or manipulate everything in sight. Our ‘technology’ doesn’t really serve us, after all – it only serves the illusion!

 

 

 

 

Thinking is Suffering

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Thinking is suffering, as Eckhart Tolle says somewhere. Thinking is all about problems and the search for possible solutions to these problems. This is all thinking is – over and over again. The unspoken assumption is that the thinking is ‘a means to an end’ – that once we find the solution then everything will be fine and there won’t be the need for any more wearisome thinking. The assumption is that once the solution is found then all will be well. We will then find peace. We’ll have arrived.

 

This however never happens. We all know very well that this never happens – if it did happens then we would all be going around in a Zen-like state of calm the whole time and we aren’t! Each ‘solution’ only ever leads on to another problem; each answer only gives rise to a clutch of new questions. All is never well – if it was then there wouldn’t be all this thinking going on and there always is all this thinking going on. The thinking is there because all is not well, because there is some sort of a problem somewhere, and so clearly we are never without problems. Things are never OK…

 

There is always thinking because there is always a problem, because there is always an issue that needs to be resolved. This state of affairs doesn’t necessarily seem like suffering to us however. It doesn’t seem like suffering because we generally feel that we are getting somewhere – we experience the thinking as taking us towards some kind of resolution. As Alan Watts says in one of his lectures, we’re always ‘almost there’; the resolution or prize is always there just around the corner and because of this (erroneous) perception we don’t experience the process of thinking as being largely (if not entirely) futile.

 

This isn’t to say that rational thought is always futile. There are of course instances where the thinking process is genuinely useful! There are in other words times when there are legitimate problems out there and where we are legitimately trying to solve them. During the day this only happens from time to time however – as we would easily see if we started observing ourselves and our thoughts, we think all the time and only a few of these thoughts are there because there is actually a practical need for them! Legitimate problem-solving happens only from time to time – it’s not the main business of the day. The main business of the day – which is where most of our attention or energy is going – is a project that we are not actually allowed to be aware of, an ongoing project which is consuming the lion’s share of the resources (so to speak) and yet which at the same time we are not allowed to see ourselves being engaged in.

 

Being engaged in a full-time project that we not being allowed to acknowledge ourselves to be engaged in it is a strange enough idea by itself but it gets stranger – we’re engaged on a full-time basis on a project that we’re not allowed to know about and which is actually completely impossible to complete. This therefore is definitely as recipe for suffering. This is the best recipe for suffering there ever could be! But WHAT – we might want to know – is this undercover project that we’re not allowed to know about, and WHY is it so impossible to complete? The project that we’re talking about here is (we might say) the project of maintaining our arbitrary way of looking at the world, our arbitrary way of ‘being in the world’, and the reason this task / project is impossible to complete is because nothing that is arbitrary can be kept going forever. Nothing that is arbitrary can be made permanent. Because the task that we are engaged in is impossible it isn’t really a ‘task’ at all – it’s simply a jinx. It’s a jinx that we can’t see to be a jinx. It’s a jinx that is disguised as a legitimate task…

 

And even if the so-called ‘task’ of perpetuating our particular way of seeing the world, our particular way of ‘being in the world’ were possible (which it clearly isn’t) it would still be a completely pointless thing to do. Why on earth would we want to perpetuate an arbitrary way of looking at the world, an arbitrary way of being in the world? Why on earth would we want to perpetuate or make permanent a particular limited pattern of thinking and behaving in the world when it is no more valid than any other way? Why would we want to spend all our time stuck in a particular groove when there are so many other grooves to explore? What we’re actually doing here is, in this not-allowing-of-any-other-possibilities, is artificially keeping things the same when they don’t really need to be kept the same. We’re repressing change; we’re repressing the natural way of things. We’re actually blocking the life-process itself and this has got to be a ‘suspect operation’!

 

It’s a ‘suspect operation’ because on the one hand it is impossible to do and on the other hand it causes an immense amount of pain and frustration because we don’t know that it is an impossible thing to do (because we don’t know that it is a ‘jinxed task’). We’re going against the natural order of things for no good reason at all – we’re going against our own true nature. This isn’t a ‘moral’ or ‘ethical’ matter we’re talking about here. It’s purely practical – it’s about not being absurd or ridiculous. Why after all would we go against our own true nature? Why would we act contrary to what our heart actually wants? The reason is of course that we’re not in touch with our true nature; we’re estranged from ourselves, we’re estranged from our own wisdom and intuition. We have been ‘cut-off’ from the source of wisdom and intuition that lies deep inside ourselves. As we have said, we don’t even know what we are doing! We don’t know that we are engaged on a full-time basis in the particular ‘suspect project’ that we are engaged in. We don’t know that the project is suspect and we don’t even know that there is a project! We’re committed to ‘the jinxed task’ without knowing that we are…

 

To go back to what we started off by saying, thinking is suffering and the reason thinking is suffering is because we are trying – with our thinking – to do something impossible without acknowledging that this is the case. Of course thinking can achieve real things (genuinely helpful outcomes) in the world and if the only time we were thinking was on this strictly practical ‘thinking only when we need to think’ basis then all would be well. Thinking would not necessarily be suffering in this case. It might be demanding and arduous but there would be a real result. But just as soon as we take the trouble to observe ourselves and our thinking we can’t help seeing that most of the thinking which is going on is not of a practical / helpful nature. By far the largest part of our thinking is simply a type of ‘restless grasping’. What we’re grasping for – whether we realize it or not – is a type of security that just doesn’t exist in the real world. We’re looking for a sense of security in relation to the arbitrary construct, the arbitrary way of looking at things, the arbitrary modality of being, that we have somehow (without actually meaning to) identified ourselves with.

 

One way of putting this is to say that we are looking for the validation of our particular arbitrary viewpoint or position. ‘Validation’ in this context means proving to ourselves that our arbitrary viewpoint or position is not arbitrary at all, and this very clearly is not going to be possible. We’re trying to prove that something which isn’t true actually is true. We don’t of course see that this is what we are doing – we are driven by a need that we don’t examine, a need that we never question, a ‘need’ that we just automatically go along with. If we were to be slightly more aware of what is going on we would see that we are being driven by a type of deep-rooted insecurity – we’re trying to make an uncomfortable feeling go away. This attempt to run away from an uncomfortable background feeling of insecurity is what is driving our thinking – it is the only thing that is driving our thinking. We neither know what this feeling is nor do we care to know – we just want to make it go away and that is that!

 

It is also the case that we may have (temporarily!) succeeded in feeling secure in the way that we want to. Security-seeking isn’t our number One motivation in this case; it has been put to one side for the time being. It has been forgotten about. But the thing about this is that just as soon as we solve the pain of the insecurity we incur a different type of pain which then needs to be fixed just as the first type of pain did. The one itch replaces the other. ‘Security’ contains a type of pain all of its own – the pain of suffocating boredom, the pain of sterility, the pain of ennui or meaninglessness, and the way we try to fix this pain is by looking for diversion, looking for distraction, and so this is another thing that will drive our thinking (if we are not being driven by the need to escape from our own insecurity). Both the need to find security (which equals ‘validating our particular limited pattern of being’) and the need to escape from the tedium or meaninglessness of this security once we have found it, (i.e. the need to distract or divert ourselves) come from the same root, therefore. The need to be continually distracting (or entertaining) ourselves seems harmless or normal enough to us but it comes down to ‘covering up the problem’; this type of thinking it is therefore facilitating a problem we don’t know about, it is perpetuating that invisible problem.

 

When we look into the matter we discover that almost all of our thinking is about compensating (or trying to compensate) for the irresolvable insecurity that comes with being identified with an arbitrarily limited way of looking at the world, an arbitrarily limited way of being in the world, whilst trying to make out that it is not arbitrarily limited. In very simple terms, we’re ‘shoring up the self-image’ (or ‘trying to shore up the self image’) – this basic (conditioned) need gives rise to a range of different types of thinking but they all come down to the same thing. They all come down to ‘trying to make something be what it isn’t’, trying to pretend something isn’t there when it is there, trying to make something better when ultimately we can’t make it better. It’s like scratching an itch to relieve the unbearable irritation it is causing us – the scratching may provide relief from this intolerable itch, but only at the price of making it worse later on.

 

We might be trying to solve some kind of thinking – the kind of problem that triggers our repressed feelings of existential unease or insecurity – or we might be trying to pleasantly divert or distract ourselves. We might be experiencing our insecurity via an urge to prove ourselves or compete successfully with other people in a similar mind-frame to ourselves; we might be struggling to be accepted or approved of within a specific social context and as a result be thinking either that we’re doing well or not doing well, thinking that we’re either on the way up or on the way down. We might be in some sort of a desire state and thinking about how great it would be to get our hands on the longed-for goal, or we might be thinking about what strategy would be best for helping us succeed in our aim. We might be in an angry frame of mind and thinking about how thoroughly rotten someone is and how they richly deserve for something bad to happen to them (or we might be thinking about all the ways in which we could play an active part in making sure that something bad happens to them). We might be in an envious state of mind and be thinking about how someone has got something that we would very much like to have, or we could be paranoid and be thinking about external forces are working against us. Whatever way we’re thinking it always comes down to the same thing however – we’re trying to get hold of something that it’s just not possible to get hold of, we’re trying to get hold of something that just doesn’t exist.

 

This brings us to one last way of looking at why thought is suffering, why to think is to suffer. We’re looking for ‘the good thing’ but the thing is that we are looking for the good thing because of the way we think that it will validate us. If it didn’t validate us then that wouldn’t be any good at all! It’s not really the external value we care about, that we’re interested in, but the way in which that external value will say something about us, do something for us.

 

We’re looking to validate ourselves, as we have just said. But the thing about this is that it just isn’t ever going to happen – we can’t ever be validated in the way that we want to be. We’re grasping for the impossible. The conditioned self (which is the problem-solving self, the analytical self, the thinking or rational self) can’t ever be validated because ultimately it just doesn’t exist. Ultimately therefore, our thinking is driven by the unreal conditioned self’s hunger to be real (in the sense of being ‘permanent’ or ‘non-arbitrary’), and this is the root cause of our suffering…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Dancer

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In the non-dual tradition it is said that there is no dancer, only the dance. There is no singer, only the song. There is no ‘one who loves’, there is only love…

 

Or as we could also say, then we finally get the joke we realize that there is no one there to get the joke! In Israel Regardie’s words, when the magician attains to the summit, he discovers that the one who started the journey is no longer there. From a grammatical point of view, we could say that there no nouns or adjectives, only verbs. Or we could say, there is no subject and no object, only what Wei Wu Wei calls non-dual subjectivity.

 

Saying something like ‘there is no dancer, only the dance’ (or ‘there is no doer, only the doer’) sounds profoundly baffling from the point of view of the thinking mind (which is of course the ‘dualistic’ point of view). We have problems with it. To say that we have problems with it is putting it mildly – if there is no doer doing my life, enacting my life, living my life (when the whole point of all my actions / thoughts is to benefit this imagined doer) then this takes the wind out of our sails in a big way! Who am I doing everything for if there isn’t a doer? Why am I striving to achieve this goal and that goal if there’s no one to enjoy them when they are achieved? Why am I always busy making plans if there’s no one there to enjoy the fruits of these plans? And so on…

 

So in one way this is very perplexing. It’s so perplexing that we simply can’t take it on board. As we have said, the point behind (almost) all of our thinking, (almost) all of our doing, is to benefit the thinker, to benefit the doer. This seems so obvious that we really just can’t question it. To question this would be to question everything! Being aware of the unreality of the thinker, the unreality of the doer (even if we were willing to agree that this is a possibility worthy of discussion, which we generally aren’t) would straightaway make everything we think and do entirely meaningless.

 

The basic non-dualistic premise of the nonexistence of the doer is not necessarily such an alien concept as all that however. If we come right out and say that ‘there is no doer who does the doing’ then this seems too radical to take on board, too radical to consider, but it is possible to reframe this basic premise in terms of engagement and present it in a way that makes perfectly good sense – intuitive sense if not rational sense. There are two ways about engagement, as we all know very well: we can either engage or not engage. We’re free to go either way – it’s not that that one way is better than the other, it’s not that we ought to engage rather than not-engage, it’s simply that there are these two possibilities. The two (apparent) possibilities that we are faced with in life are ‘to engage or not engage’!

 

We all know what it means to engage with life. If we engage in something then that means that we enter into it fully – we don’t hold back. Whatever it is, we give ourselves to it without reservation. We give it everything we’ve got. We go right into it – we go right into it so much that we don’t even notice that we have gone right into it. This is the whole thing about engagement – if we are engaged then we aren’t looking at ourselves from the outside seeing that we are engaged. If I am dancing I don’t look at myself dancing or think about myself dancing. I don’t monitor myself to see how well I am dancing – if this is the case then there is no dance! Or if I am playing music in an engaged way then I do not reflect on myself playing the instrument; I don’t know how or why I am playing the music – I just play it. There is a profound type of ‘letting go’ that takes place…

 

In terms of creativity generally (in whatever form that takes) we can say that if I am entering wholly into the flow of the creative process then I don’t reflect on the fact that I am being creative; I don’t objectively observe the fact that I am being creative (or work out how I am being creative), but rather I lose myself in it. ‘Engagement’ means that I completely lose myself in the flow of creativity, it means that I’m no longer there!

 

So immediately we can grasp the point that wholehearted engagement in whatever we are doing means that there is no one doing it. There is no separate doer. Engagement means precisely that there is no doer, no author of the action – if there is ‘a doer’, if there is ‘an author of the action,’ then this is non-engagement!

 

Non-engagement doesn’t mean that I don’t do stuff – it just means that I do stuff in a non-engaged way! I look at my doing ‘from the outside’. I monitor my doing, I evaluate my doing, I regulate my doing, I measure my doing. I think about my doing, in other words. It’s not just that I am reflecting upon my doing – everything I do takes place within a framework that has been established by thought. Everything I do has been organized by thought, commissioned by thought, set in motion by thought. My actions – the entire pattern of my life – is a reflection of my thinking, an enactment of my thinking. My purposeful behavioural output (which is to say, the life I lead on purpose) isn’t just guided by thought, it is thought. It is ‘thought made concrete’; it is ‘thought acted out into the word’ and this isn’t engagement because the whole point about thought is that it is in its very nature fundamentally non-engaged!

 

When I think about life (instead of simply living it) then this is what we are calling ‘non-engagement’. I think about what I am going to do before I do it and so I never do anything that ISN’T an enactment of my thinking. I have ideas about myself and the world and when I act on the basis of these ideas, these beliefs then this is ‘non-engagement’. The thing about non-engagement is that I am always on the outside of life looking in! I’m peering in through the living room window. I’m watching my life on a TV screen! I’ve dissociated: I’ve turned myself into a mere ‘mental object’. Somehow I have managed to separate myself from reality and turn myself into a mere picture or image on the VDU screen of the conceptual mind!

 

We might quite reasonably ask what possible advantage there could be in this manoeuvre, seeing as how it doesn’t seem like a particularly pleasant or wholesome thing to do. Why would I want to turn everything into a mental object or image that can be held at arm’s length and rationally examined? Why on earth would I want life to be something that is happening outside of me? Why create this ‘mental distance’, this separation, this irresolvable fragmentation / alienation that comes with objectification?

 

The answer is of course staring us right in the face. The ‘advantage’ that we gain as a result of taking up this fundamentally alienated or dissociated position with regard to life (and any position we take with regard to life is going to be an alienated one) is that we get to feel that we are the doer. We get to feel that we – in some way – are doing life, that we are the decider (or controller) of what happens. We get to feel that we are the ‘responsible agent’, so to speak; we get to feel that it’s ‘all down to us’ – one way or another. I’m the unabridged author of all my rational decisions – I’m the guy in the driver’s seat. I’m the one steering. I’m the one who has the job of pulling the levers and pressing the buttons as and when required…

 

When we talk about having ‘made bad decisions’ (so that we are now in an unfortunate position rather than a fortunate one) it is this key idea of authorship, this key idea of agency that we are basing our statements on. The perception that I am sitting there in the driver’s seat, deciding what happens and what doesn’t happen, getting to be in control, is a double-edged sword: on the one hand there is the great feeling of pleasure / satisfaction / gratification that I get when I get things to go the way I wanted them to, and on the other hand there is the flip-side of this euphoria which happens when I don’t succeed in controlling successfully. There are the punishing dysphoric feelings of dissatisfaction, displeasure, dismay and dejection that come when I don’t get things to go my way.

 

Between feeling satisfied, gratified, validated, vindicated, and so on when we ‘win’ to feeling dissatisfied, de-validated, blamed, downcast, dejected and despairing when we ‘lose’ lies the whole of human life! Or rather it is – as we should qualify – the whole of ‘human life as it is lived from the point of view of the dissociated or disengaged abstract self’. Everything is strung out between these two poles – everything is either measured in terms of how well or of how badly we’re doing. It’s all pluses and minuses and all of these pluses and minuses refer to the framework of thinking that is assumed by the static or abstract self. All of these pluses and minus are the static framework in fact – the static framework expresses itself in terms of pluses and minuses. No matter where we go, just so long as we are identified with this defined self we can never ‘leave the framework’.

 

The life of the abstracted everyday self cannot ever ‘depart from the map’ of these particular mental states, pleasantly euphoric on the one side and unpleasantly dysphoric on the other. These euphoric / dysphoric mental states are the abstract self! Just like a coin, the abstract mind-created self has two faces: the pleased face of euphoria and the displeased face of dysphoria. From the very constrained viewpoint of the everyday self (if it were somehow to be confronted with the fact) this would not necessarily seem to be a bad thing because we always assume that we can ‘win instead of lose’. We always imagine that we can – if we are careful enough or clever enough (or lucky enough) steer our boat into the safe waters of the positive, enjoyable mind-states and keep well away from the choppy, shark-filled seas of the dysphoric ones. We think that we can collect ‘a bag full of pluses rather than minuses’ in other words. We think that we can (if we make sure to get it right instead of wrong) get a whole load of ticks on our ledger instead of crosses.

 

This assumption or belief is however what we might call ‘the defining delusion of the conditioned self’. We have to have this particular delusion or else we couldn’t go on with the game! But in reality – as we have already suggested – the life of the disconnected or abstract self is made up of equal portions of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, gratification and annoyance, validation and devalidation, elation and despair. That’s the territory. The very fact that I am able under the right conditions to feel pleased means that I am equally able (under what I will see as the ‘wrong’ conditions) to feel displeased. To take the extreme example – it is not possible to have the state of exultant triumph without at the same time setting oneself up for the complementary state of despairing defeat. The everyday self is equally both of these states – and all the various shades and gradations that lie in-between – for all that it can’t see it…

 

So we can set up this situation (or ‘way of being’) in which it is possible to enjoy the rewarding mental states, yet in setting this up we have at the same time unwittingly created the situation in which we are fair game for all the complementary punishing mental states. In order to obtain the rewards of the euphoric mind state all that is needed is a highly restricted, highly constrained, highly curtailed way of looking at the world in which some outcomes are seen as ‘favourable’ and others ‘unfavourable’. This highly restricted, highly constrained, highly curtailed (or ‘highly biased’) viewpoint is the one that belongs to the everyday self, which is only a function or artefact of the abstract framework that is assumed by the system of thought. As a result of narrowing ourselves down this much (i.e. as a result of the manoeuvre whereby we disengage ourselves from the ongoing flow of life) we enter into a world of interminable suffering, therefore.

 

It is the promise of being the recipient of all these deliciously rewarding feelings (the sweet, sweet nectar of euphoria) that sucks us into the game and as a result of our very restricted viewpoint (the very same narrow viewpoint that allows us to enjoy the euphoria) we cannot see that the rewards which we covet so much always come with an equal and opposite punishment in tow. Every plus comes with a minus. Even the good times are bad, when it comes right down to it. Even the satisfying / pleasing states of mind are suffering really because they are only pleasing or satisfying from the limited (i.e. conditioned) point of view which is not who we are at all. Or to put this another way, the feelings of security, satisfaction, validation, vindication, etc. that we prize so much (the conditioned states of mind which are for us the ultimate commodity) only mean so much, only mean what they do mean to a self which doesn’t actually exist. All conditioned states of mind are suffering really because they are all states of alienation from who we really are! As Wei Wu We says in Ask The Awakened –

Why are you unhappy?
Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself—and there isn’t one.

From the point of view taken for granted by thought (which is as we have been saying a static, ‘abstracted’ kind of a thing) statements like are bound to sound very negative. When the mind-created idea or image of ourselves takes itself – as it has to – to be the centre of everything, the underlying reason for everything we think and do then the uncompromising assertion that this self (this ‘me’) doesn’t actually exist comes as the worst news we could ever receive. To say that this particular bit of news is ‘disappointing’ or ‘dismaying’ or ‘depressing’ for the everyday self is to rather understate the matter!

 

But who we are isn’t the mind-created vantage point known as ‘the self’. We aren’t that disengaged static onlooker. We aren’t the measurer or evaluator or adjudicator of all that happens around us. Who we are is the flow of creativity which is inseparable from the universe itself. We aren’t the isolated dancer, we are the dance.