Anxiety

One way to explain understand anxiety is to say that it’s an indication that we aren’t engaging with life (or ‘facing’ life) as ‘who we really are’ but rather as some sort of ‘idea’ (or concept) of who we are, which is clearly not the same thing at all! If we were consciously connected with our true selves then we wouldn’t be experiencing this anxiety, in other words. Or – conversely – who we truly are in our ‘Wholeness’ doesn’t experience anxiety.

 

This is not a way of looking at things that makes much sense within our highly rational culture. The suggestion that anxiety in particular (or neurosis in general) is the result of ‘us thinking that we are somebody who we are not’ isn’t something that we can easily relate to, generally speaking. We are very naïve that way! We can easily see this to be true, however. One simple way to approach this matter is to say that we are never actually in the present moment. This would of course be a very familiar idea to anyone who’s ever practice meditation. ‘Being in the present moment’ sounds easy enough, but even a beginner in meditation very quickly learns that we aren’t in the present moment anywhere near as often as we might believe. Usually, we’re shifted slightly out of the present moment and into the abstract framework of thought, and when we’ve been ‘shifted into the abstract framework of thought’ in this way then we are no longer connected to the actual Wholeness of ourselves. Two things can’t go together – ‘being connected with the Wholeness of ourselves’ and ‘living wholly within the context of the rational mind’!

 

This suggestion (the suggestion that anxiety is a ‘warning light’ showing us when we have the come adrift from our core, our true nature) doesn’t ring true straightaway. It doesn’t seem to fit. There are after all lots of folks around who are living exclusively in the rational modality – most of us are – and yet who are not anxious. They seem to be ‘getting away with it’! It’s quite possible – more than possible, in fact – to be ‘rationally dissociated’ yet at the same time be completely confident in ourselves (even though the confidence in question may not be worth a hell of a lot). How then does the rather simplistic-sounding theory that we have just put forward stand-up to examination?

 

What we are really looking at here – although we’re using unfamiliar language – is the life of the everyday ego or ‘self-concept’. When we operate exclusively within the rational mode (i.e. when we are ‘rationally dissociated’) then we are identified with a concept of ourselves. That’s how the everyday ego comes into existence – by virtue of the fact that there is a ‘disconnect’ going on. No disconnect (with ‘who we really are’) means no rational ego. Why this should be so is straightforward enough – I am simply not going to be able to identify with the rationally-defined ego (which is the ‘mind-created self’) if I am the same time connected with the true essence of who I am. The rational ego can only survive ‘in the shadows’, so to speak; it can only operate under conditions of ignorance, where there is not much too much ‘truth’ floating around. I can’t go around believing that I am this ‘self-concept’ and at the same time remember ‘who I really am’.

 

So to come back to the life of the everyday rationally ego (or ‘dissociated self’), in its natural habitat, we can say that there are two phases of existence that it can exist in. There’s nothing new in this observation; all we are really saying here is that the rational ego can either be in ‘good form’, or it can be in ‘bad form’. We all know this well enough – obviously! This isn’t a trivial thing to observe either, even though it sounds like it – the ‘bipolar nature’ of the self-construct actually relates to the nature of logic (or rationality) itself, which can only ever manifest either as YES or NO.

 

Logic itself is bipolar, as is abundantly obvious just as soon as we start looking into it. Logic is all about ‘boundaries’ and boundaries always have two sides. The choice between the one possibility and the other (the choice between one side of the boundary and the other) is actually the only form of freedom that is available to a logical system – either a thing IS a particular way, or it ISN’T, either the answer to the question is YES or it is NO. This is of course generally the only kind of freedom that we understand; the suggestion that real freedom hasn’t actually got anything to do with either YES or NO doesn’t make any sense to us when we are operating in rational mode! The suggestion that there is anything beyond YES and NO doesn’t make any sense at all to the thinking mind, and it never can.

 

Suppose that I am concerned with some issue or other; what’s going on here is that I am trapped between two poles – the pole of ‘successfully solving the problem’ and the pole of ‘failing to solve it’. The only type of freedom I care about here therefore is the freedom to have things work out for me the way I want them to. What I can’t see is that this is not real freedom at all – it’s actually ‘the freedom to keep on getting trapped in the issue’! That’s actually the antithesis of freedom. True freedom would be the freedom not to care about either pole, which is ‘the freedom that exists beyond RIGHT and WRONG, beyond YES and NO’.

 

The point that we are making here is therefore that when we are wholly subsumed within the realm of rationality the freedom to have YES rather than NO (or RIGHT rather than WRONG) is the only type of freedom we can ever understand (for all that it isn’t really freedom at all but actually the ‘disguised antithesis’ of it). Having got this far in our argument, it’s not any leap at all to come to the point of being able to clearly see that – in this rational domain – the only two options of possibilities for this self-concept are for it to either ‘feel good because things are working out for it’, or ‘bad because they are not. ‘Freedom’ for the self-concept means one thing and one thing only and this is ‘the freedom to succeed at whatever arbitrary task it is that the rational mind is setting us to solve’.

 

The world inhabited by the self-concept is a very crude one, therefore – there’s not a lot to it at all! Either we ‘succeed’ in relation to some goal or other (or believe rightly or wrongly that we are able to) and we experience euphoria as a result, or we ‘fail’ (or believe that we are probably going to fail) and experience dysphoria as a result. Here is the ‘emotional life’ of the rational ego in a nutshell, therefore – its perceived state of well-being is always determined by how the rational mind tells it it is doing in relation to the ‘all-important task’ that it has been set. We have no independent life whatsoever when we are identified with thought and its activities. Our whole life exists on the continuum of thought – strung out between the two poles of YES and NO, as we keep saying. Nothing else matters to us!

 

The self-concept can be euphoric or it can be dysphoric, but the one thing it can never be is ‘at peace’, which equals ‘neither being elated nor despairing’. We often hear it said – when discussion turns to the subject of ‘living without attachments’ – that this sort of life this sounds very drab, very lacklustre. How could anyone put up with the tedium of living without elation on the one hand and despair on the other!? What a dismal prospect that is! It is of course the prospect of living always stretched out between hollow elation at one end and an equally hollow despair at the other that is dismal – perversely, we have turned our back on real life and instead are making do with the empty dramas of the thinking mind. Either I feel good because I believe that I am able to succeed at whatever task thought has set me, or I feel bad because it seems to me that I can’t, and this ‘up-and-down,’ win-or-lose. goal-orientated life is the only life I want.

 

Everything is a task when we are living within the domain of thought. Even recreation is a task. ‘Passing the time’ as a task – passing the time is actually a major task, as Eric Berne points out. The biggest task of all that thought gives us is the task of ‘maintaining the self-concept’. This is a full-time job if ever there was one! It’s not just a matter of maintaining our physical organism and sorting out the issues that are attendant upon this; maintaining the self-construct means:

[1] Maintaining the illusion that the SC actually exists when it doesn’t, and
[2] Maintaining the illusion that the SC is who we actually are!

This is the trickiest task of all because not only do we have to keep on pushing this particular ‘heavily-laden wheelbarrow’ ahead of us wherever we go, we also can’t ever let ourselves know that we are doing it. We’ve got to keep it all rolling along smoothly, and yet at the same time we can’t ever let ourselves know that we are shouldering this most onerous of responsibilities – a ‘responsibility that we don’t know we’re responsible for’! The ‘responsibility’ that we’re taking on here – without knowing that we are – is precisely that responsibility of not letting ourselves know what it is that we’re responsible for…

 

Anxiety is not what we think it is, therefore. It’s not just a matter of ‘adrenaline surges’ or ‘increased cortisol levels’ or ‘flight-or-fight responses’ or ‘Type-1 or Type-2 personalities’ or ‘catastrophizing’ or ‘maladaptive thinking patterns’ or any of that sort of stuff. It’s not as simple as that, not as ‘obvious’ as that. There’s no way that we can get to the bottom of anxiety unless we first gain insight in the ‘secret task’ that we have been charged with, which is the task of having to maintain an idea of concept of ourselves that we wrongly imagine to be who we really are…

 

 

Art: Taken from Street Art // Kansas City, in leftbankmag.com

 

 

 

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The Purely Conceptual Reality


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

We Live In A ‘Content-Free’ World

What happens when we create worlds for ourselves that are existentially ‘non-challenging’ is that we promptly fall asleep on our feet. This isn’t just something that is probable (or even very likely) – it is an inevitability. It happens every time…

 

An ‘existentially unchallenging environment’ is one in which everything is defined for us and if everything is defined, if everything is ‘in its right conceptual box’, then where’s the existential challenge in this? Everything just becomes an exercise in accounting.  Because there’s no challenge in the moment there is no ‘being present’; because there is no more than ‘what superficially appears to be there’ there is similarly no more to us than ‘what superficially appears to be there’. We are (pretty much) the products of our environment – when we adapt to an environment that is only skin-deep then the same becomes true of us, when the only world we know is a world that has no actual content then neither do we. This is because – in the absence of an effort in the direction of self-inquiry – we can’t help using our environment to define ourselves.

 

This tends to be a point we don’t immediately get – we’re only too used to realities that have already been defined for us, predigested realities, realities in which there is never any more than ‘what superficially appears to be’. Because of this it is hard for us to see that there is anything peculiar or untoward about this situation. The reason the ‘world of appearances’ is a peculiar one is because reality itself is not merely ‘an appearance’ and so we’re diverting from what is real without knowing it. Appearances are what we see and relate to but that is strictly our own affair – what we see or understand as ‘being real’ has nothing to do with reality, nothing to do the actual nature of reality itself. Appearances have a particular form to them – they have hard edges which we can focus on to the exclusion of anything else. We ourselves create these ‘edges’ and having created them we proceed to treat them as if they are the only important thing in life – we treat the edges that we’ve made as if they themselves are reality. The ‘edges’ that we’re talking about here come out of our thinking, needless to say, because thinking is all about edges, or ‘cut-off points for our attention’.

 

When ‘an edge’ equals reality then everything straightaway becomes flat. The world becomes flat – there’s no depth involved. Depth doesn’t come into it – the idea of ‘depth itself is lost. Where the edge is then that’s what’s real and behind that sharply uncompromising edge there’s nothing, nothing has been defined, nothing has been presented and that means that as far as we are concerned there is nothing. It’s as if we have turned up the focus on our focussing mechanism to make the image we’re seeing as sharp as possible; it’s only the mechanism (i.e. the conceptual mind) that does this however – this two-dimensional sharpness doesn’t exist in the world itself. The world itself has nothing in common with the image that is presented on a flat plane, as if nothing else existed but that flat plane.

 

If we take the time to relate to the world without the help of this focussing mechanism (and hitting a flat-plane representation with nothing behind it) then we will encounter this unfocussed phenomenon that we have called depth. Depth means that ‘the more you look, the more you see’ (as Robert M Pirsig says); reality reveals itself when we give it the space to do so, when we don’t hurry it along by ‘pressing for a conclusion’. If we press for a conclusion then we get the conclusion that we have pressed for and that’s all we get. We never go beyond it, we never get surprised. When we don’t ‘take charge of the process’ in this way then we keep on being surprised, we keep on seeing more than we thought there was to see. This quality of there being more in the situation than we initially perceived there to be constitutes what we have called ‘depth’ and depth is therefore the existential challenge that we have said designed environments don’t contain.

 

The essentially open nature of reality constitutes an existential challenge for us because of the demand that is being made on us to be present with a reality that has no precedence and which on this account we are not prepared to deal with. All we have is ourselves and this is a challenge because we not used to dealing with reality ourselves – we’re used to dealing with it with the help of external authority of the thinking mind, which is a collection of gimmicks and procedures and formulae that have been passed down to us, not ‘all on own’, which is what is required of us now. Life is making a demand and that demand is that we attend to what is happened right now, which has never happened before, rather than assuming that we know what is going on and moving on to the next (known) thing, which is what we usually do. The demand to attend to an unknown present moment is also the demand to attend to (or question) ourselves, and this is the one thing we never want to do. This then is the boon that the constructed environment bestows upon us – the constructed (or ‘designed’) environment bestows upon us the boon of not ever having to look at ourselves. Because the world we are relating to is made up of sharply-defined surfaces with nothing behind them so too have we become a ‘sharply-defined surface with nothing behind it’ and because there’s ‘nothing behind it’ we don’t need to examine ourselves. There’s no point because we already know everything there is to know. We are thereby protected from what Chogyam Trungpa calls ‘a direct perception of what is‘.

 

The question here is then, why is the challenge of having to examine who or what we are so very frightening to us? Why are we so very keen to run away from it? One way of explaining our ‘reluctance to examine things too deeply’ is to say that we simply don’t want the apple-cart to get upset. Seeing that the world is other than the way that we took it to be means that we have to go right back to the drawing board and that means a lot of hard work. It also means seeing that we have wasted a huge amount of time and effort on the wrong idea of who we are and what life is all about, and seeing this is in itself hard work. That is actually the hardest work of all! Everything we thought was wrong. Having to let go of everything we thought we knew and go back to the drawing board is the hardest work there is and so it is hardly surprising that we would want to run away from something like this. Faced with the two possibilities of either carrying on in our denial and ‘putting off the moment of truth’ for as long as we possibly can, and deciding to turn around from the road of denial and go back to start again it is clear what the easiest (and therefore most attractive) option is going to be…

 

We had this comfortable little illusion going for us there – we thought we had everything sussed out, we thought we had a handle on everything, when all of a sudden the rug gets pulled out from under us and we discover that we were only fooling ourselves. We’d been asleep, in other words, so now is the time to wake up. This is still puzzling however because when we wake up there’s a whole interesting world there to find out about and this has got to be the most exciting challenge ever! Why then do we react so badly to this challenge? Admittedly – as we have just said – we have to overcome our initial resistance to seeing the truth, but is this enough by itself to explain our tremendous antipathy to encountering ‘reality as it actually is’? The world that is made up of defined surfaces isn’t that great a world, after all; far from being in any way ‘great’ it is completely sterile, completely lacking in anything that can ever genuinely surprise us, and so why are we so very keen to stay in it, not knowing of any other world and not wanting to know either? Why do we refuse the richness of the non-conceptual mind in favour of the generic ten-a-penny two-dimensional pseudo-world that the thinking mind constructs for us? What the hell – we might well ask – is going on here?

 

What we’re really asking here is “Why is psychological work so very inimical to us?” Why is the existential challenge that is inherent in life itself something that we are just not prepared – under any circumstances – to countenance? The answer to this question is very simple – when we have identified with the mind-created self, which is the self that is constructed out of edges, out of hard-and-fast boundaries, then psychological work is a complete impossibility for us. There couldn’t be a more complete impossibility than this. Psychological work (or ‘conscious work’) means going beyond our boundaries and the mind-created self can’t do this – it can’t do this because it IS its boundaries. That’s the whole point of the defined self – that it can’t be what it isn’t defined as being! The defined self is only what it is defined as being and so it can’t ever go beyond these limitations (no matter how much pain and frustration they might entail) – going beyond its own boundaries is the same for the defined self as dying. To embrace the new is to let go of the old and the bottom line is that we just don’t want to do this – our resistance (or ‘inflexibility’) here is absolute…

 

As soon as we being to attend to the world around us we are challenged. Our idea of ourselves is challenged and that idea is sacred to us. That idea IS us. Our orientation towards life is totally based on this idea of ourselves – our interest is totally in the direction of ‘acting on behalf of this idea’, not ‘questioning it’. That would be going in the other direction entirely! There are two entirely distinct modes here – ‘doing mode’ and ‘reflecting mode’ – and if we’re in the first mode, the purposeful mode, then questioning ourselves doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s giving up or sacrificing the very thing that’s most important to us (the only thing that’s important to us!) because it’s only through unreflective purposeful doing that we can perpetuate the illusion of the controller, the illusion of the doer, the illusion of the purposeful self. The purposeful self only gets to exist because of the way it always defines itself by consistently relating itself / orientating itself to the sharply defined surfaces of the constructed world, as we said earlier.

 

‘Being asleep’ means that we have identified ourselves with a whole bunch of mental constructs. We can’t even differentiate between what we have called ‘the constructed world’ and the idea of who we are (i.e. who it is that inhabits this world) because each requires the other in order to carry on existing. The purposeful self and the defined world within which it lives are mutually conditioning phenomena – they are the two sides of the same coin. Inasmuch as I experience myself to be this ‘mind-created me’ I am going to have no interest in what lies beyond the sharply-defined representations of the world that the mind has created for me; not only am I ‘not interested’ in the reality that lies beyond my concepts, I am mortally afraid of it. I am never going to admit its existence, no matter how much pressure I am under. Admitting the existence of a reality that lies beyond my concepts is the same thing as admitting my own non-existence!

 

Our relationship with unconditioned reality – when we are identified with the defined self – is the relationship of fear. ‘Fear’ is relating by not relating – we don’t know what we are relating to because we aren’t relating to it, but at the same time we can’t help knowing about it for the very same reason, because we are so deliberately not relating to it. To consistently turn away from something is to orientate oneself towards it in a negative or reverse fashion so when we are afraid of the unconditioned reality (which is the world beyond our constructs) then our whole lives are based on fear, even though we can’t see it. Fear is what lies behind our rigid posture in life, our constant tedious tropism towards defined goals or definite outcomes, but at the same time we never look at why we are the way that we are. We have no curiosity towards ourselves; fear does not examine itself, after all – if I am afraid I do not want to see deeply into the nature of this fear! We don’t see what we are afraid of for what it is – we don’t see unconditioned reality for what it is, we simply know that we need to avoid it at all costs… If we saw that what we were so afraid of is actually reality itself, then this would tend to give the game away big time, and that’s what we don’t want!

 

It is because we don’t want the game to be ‘given away’ that we are so very fond of conditioned environments, environments that we have created for ourselves out of the thinking mind, environments which are seamlessly defined so that there is no radical mystery in them anywhere. To gaze upon a radical mystery would be to gaze upon the beginning of our own non-existence – the self-which-is-a-construct-of thought cannot afford to have any dealings with the Great Mystery which is reality! The constructed self is most emphatically not a philosophically-minded type of an entity – it is – as we have been saying – purely practical in its approach. It just wants to know what the goal is, and how it is to obtain it, and then it is happy. It is like a wind-up clockwork toy in this regard – we just have to prime it and then we can let it off to ‘do its thing’. Being wound-up clockwork toys, all we want is to ‘do our thing’! We don’t want to know why we are to do it – we just want to ‘get on with the job’, we just want for there to be nothing obstructing us in the fulfilment of our mechanical task. If something stands in the way of us going through our predefined routine then this is immensely irritating, immensely frustrating to us. There’s nothing worse!

 

‘Going through our predetermined routines’ equals being asleep and when we’re asleep we want to carry on being asleep. We don’t want to be disturbed. Beware waking up sleeping people, as Anthony De Mello says! They won’t like it, they won’t be happy with you. When we’re asleep we just want to whizz around and around and around on the tracks that have been laid down for us. We don’t want anything to get in our way. We just want to play our games. It is for this reason that we have created a world for ourselves that is made up entirely of defined surfaces, which is a world that has had all the actual content taken out of it…

 

 

Art: Sean Norvet

 

 

Going Beyond The Game

‘Therapy’ is one thing, whilst ‘living our life consciously, just as it is’ is quite another. Therapy implies fixing – it’s hard not to use the word and yet not mean that we want to ‘do something about ourselves’. The whole point of therapy is that we aren’t happy with ourselves the way we are and we want to do something about it. One definition of counselling that has been used (just to give one typical example) is that if we engage in it we can make ‘meaningful and permanent changes’ to our lives. Simply living our lives consciously (which means something to the effect of ‘not looking the other way when something we don’t want to see happens’) has nothing to do with effecting change, either of a temporary or permanent nature. It just means being with ourselves during our day-to-day lives, and this is a very different kettle of fish. If we really do want to change ourselves then this business of ‘simply being aware of ourselves’ is not by any means an attractive prospect. It is in fact the complete opposite of an attractive prospect!

 

There is a good reason why becoming conscious of one’s own life as it is without putting any kind of a spin on it is deeply unattractive to us. Stuff doesn’t come any more unattractive. One is that we are bound in his case to see all the things about ourselves that we don’t like, which is what Jung referred to as being aware of the shadow – there’s nothing guaranteed to put us off as much as the prospect of seeing stuff about us that we would rather keep hidden. The shadow – as Jung says – is ultimately repellent – we’d do anything rather than see it. We will do the most extraordinary things rather than see it.There’s another reason too, which is not quite as straightforward to understand, and that has to do with the over-throwing of our most prized assumptions about life. We could phrase what we are talking about here in terms of ‘living your own life consciously instead of unconsciously’ which has a nice ring to it. If we did phrase it in such a way this would however be entirely misleading since the more consciously I live my life the more clearly I start to see that the life in question (the life that is supposedly ‘being lived’) isn’t actually mine!

 

There are two possibly ways we could take this dawning revelation, each being the ‘mirror-image’ of the other, so to speak. One way would be to find this insight tremendously interesting, tremendously exciting so that we want to go into it further and see where this particular road leads to, whilst the other way would be to find the whole thing deeply disturbing and unwelcome and – on this account – want to back away from it as fast as possible and go back to what we know and are comfortable with (which is the perception of this life being solely my life). If I start to perceive that the life I am living isn’t really mine at all and I am attached to the idea that it is, then this perception will of course be very unwelcome to me. If I am attached to the idea that this familiar and comfortable sense of self is a real thing and not a construct then any awareness that falsifies this sense will manifest purely as fear, purely as threat, and I will resist it with everything that I’ve got.

 

But the reason we resist the awareness that ‘I am not this self’ (and that as a consequence ‘this is not my life’) is simply because of fear, not because there is anything genuinely interesting or worthwhile about the familiar and comfortable belief in the concrete self and its viewpoint. We’re not ‘upholding a positive value’, we’re simply hiding from a challenging truth. The safe and familiar viewpoint of the everyday self is – when it comes down to it – unrelentingly tedious. We may not want to admit this to ourselves, but it is nevertheless true. Honesty would show it to be true every time. This business of seeing everything from that narrow, limited, eternally fixed viewpoint seems, at the start, to have great possibilities in it but this perception of possibilities is entirely illusory. The self can be pleased with what is happening or it can be displeased, but this polarity (i.e. the polarity of ‘like versus dislike’) represents the limit of what is possible for it.

 

From the narrow perspective of the self if something happens that is advantageous to me, that is to my considerable benefit, then this is the best possible outcome. Things don’t get any better than this. I am frankly not interested in anything that goes beyond this! ‘Beyond my own advantage’ doesn’t exist as far as I am concerned. And yet the thing is that we are not this limited little self – we are much, much more than that. The self is not who we genuinely are – as contradictory as that may sound – it’s just a sterile little that we’re caught up in. It’s just a sterile little game that we keep playing over and over again because it has this terrible hypnotic power over us. We play it compulsively, we play it because we can’t not play it. We play the game of the self because the game has total power over us, just as a hypnotist has power over his victim…

 

Given that we are so much more than this little self to be constrained in the game of good and bad, win and lose, pleasure and pain is incredibly tedious. How can it not be tedious? The game of self is INFINITELY tedious – if we could see it with unfettered consciousness we would see that it is a horror. The game of self is a living death. It is the tomb of life. The process of life is therefore the process of going beyond this game; if we don’t go beyond the game of good and bad, win and lose, pleasure and pain then the impulse of life has been thwarted and our suffering and frustration will grow as a result. In this case we can say that life has not kicked in yet; we can say that life has not even begun yet because life is a reaching out beyond the self and its tedious games, not the state of permanent fascination with them…

 

Life has only one direction – we might say – and that is the direction of moving beyond the self. The other direction – the trying of trying ever harder to successfully act out the narrow agenda of the self – isn’t a direction at all. It isn’t a direction at all because it doesn’t lead us anywhere, because it doesn’t take us anywhere. The self and its sterile game of ‘advantage versus disadvantage’ is not anywhere. It’s not anywhere because [1] This is self is not who we are, and so it is always taking us away from who we are, and [2] it doesn’t actually exist in the first place!

 

So of course the direction of moving beyond the self is tremendously interesting and tremendously exciting – this is the direction of life itself. This is the greatest adventure there is; this is the ONLY adventure there is! The only adventure worthy of the name is the adventure of leaving the self behind – anything else is merely distraction. Anything else is merely entertainment for the self. The repetitively tiresome antics of the self do not constitute an adventure – they constitute the avoidance of the adventure.

 

Moving in the direction of discovering that it is not ‘me’ who is living this life corresponds we might say to what Joseph Campbell calls ‘The Hero’s Journey’. The Hero’s Journey is when we move beyond our self-imposed limits, it is – according to Joseph Campbell – when we ‘leave the playpen’ and move out into the real world. Only a hero can make this journey become moving beyond the limits of the known is a hugely challenging thing – we need everything we’ve got to go on this journey, we need all of our resources as human beings. We can’t simply ‘do it on automatic’ in the same way that we do everything else. We can’t do it by following orders, we can’t do it in our sleep. Anthony De Mello is talking about the same thing when we says that when we go to see a psychotherapist this isn’t because we want to grow or change (or ‘wake up‘), it’s because we want to have our toys fixed so that we can go back to playing with them. We want to go back to the game; we want to go back to the play-pen where we feel safe. The play-pen has a terrible fascination, a terrible power over us…

 

The point we were making a moment ago was that anything which isn’t a ‘going beyond the self’ is an avoidance tactic, is a red-herring, is a decoy with which to divert ourselves. ‘Refusal of the call converts the adventure into its negative’ says Joseph Campbell and it is by utilizing distractions or red herring that we facilitate ourselves in avoiding the call to adventure. Society specializes in the provision of such distractions, such red herrings – distractions and red herrings are its ‘stock in trade’! The ‘collective of us’ – which we call society or ‘the social system’ – has nothing at all to do with our emergence as truly autonomous individuals; it stunts and represses our growth as the true individuals we are at every opportunity. It might seem strange (or hard to believe) that society should be opposed to our growth; we naturally assume it to be for our ‘common good’, as the expression has it. Society is however like a parent who provides us with food and shelter, but who refuses to allow our growth. They might say, “Aren’t I looking after you?” but being a parent involves more than just providing food, clothing and somewhere to sleep; it involves fostering independence of thought, it involves fostering autonomy – not making your charges into your slaves.

 

There really is no other way that what Jung calls ‘collective thinking’ can work – collective thinking necessarily works on generic lines and the generic is always inimical to the individual, to the unique. Society (like all groups, like all ‘collectives’) is an equilibrium system and as such it values only the equilibrium. All mechanical or rule-based systems only ‘care’ about one thing and that is that the rules are obeyed. The inbuilt tendency of the group to inhibit the psychological growth of the people making up the group is a very well known phenomenon. What psychotherapist has not seen her clients’ growth and mental health being compromised by either family or peer-group or society in general? The social group – if we may consider it as an entity in its own right, which is what it functions as – values only its own stability, it values only it own continuation, its own pointless perpetuity. If the group were to be favourably disposed to the psychological growth of its members then this would be the same thing as it being ‘favourably disposed to its own dissolution’. This is just not going to happen – the true individual may sacrifice himself or herself, but the collective never will.

 

If we think in terms of a large organization, in which there are always rules and regulations for everything, we can easily appreciate that it is no good you or me deciding that there is a better way to do things, and as a result disregarding the protocols that are already in existence. As far as the organization is concerned, this is simply ‘non-compliance’.  It is simply ‘an error in the system’ and as such it has to be corrected – one simply can’t exist as an individual in an organization, in a collective. It’s either ‘the organization’s way or the highway’. Collective thinking rules supreme – one just doesn’t ‘go against the group mind’! Even if it were possible (which in theory it may be) to make changes by going through the correct channels no radical change will ever be approved, only those changes that fit in with the over-all aim of the system. The system may be optimized, but it will never be meaningfully changed from within!

 

All human collectives actively block and repress ‘the Hero’s Journey’, therefore. You can’t be a hero if you’re owned by the system! The group of people (most of us) who agree to stay within the bounds of the world-view that has been provided for us by the group mind is the group of people who have tacitly agreed to allow themselves to be distracted or diverted from this Journey. Personal growth ends, individuality dies stillborn, and all in the name of our ‘allegiance to the common good’, all in the name of what is laughably called ‘being responsible’. We get to feel that we are being ‘responsible adults’ and we get to live the safe, predictable life that has been mapped out for us, but only at the price of the loss of our true individuality (which equals ‘our inner death’) – which clearly does not bode well for the future of the collective!

 

Society sneakily ‘blocks our growth’ by putting us under constant pressure to improve or develop ourselves. This is done in an apparently empowering way but what society really means when it talks about self-development or self-improvement is self-development or self-improvement in its terms. We are to get better at playing the game which it has given us to play; we are to get better at playing the game which is it. Really, we are being encouraged the whole time to adapt ourselves to the machine and this – of course – necessarily means becoming more and more ‘machine-like’ ourselves! The collective thinking that we have been talking about is the machine; the group-mind is the machine-mind. Naturally the group-mind is a machine because it is all about following rules and regulations and that’s what a machine is. That’s what a machine is – it’s a ‘rule-based system’. We’re a machine when we follow the rules rather than our own intuition. We are obliged to keep trying to better ourselves in line with the current trends, we are obliged to keep up our personal development even though this so-called ‘personal development’ actually has nothing whatsoever to do with who we really are! We’re ‘progressing within a dream’…

 

In short, the social system offers us the means of maintaining, promoting, upgrading and accessorizing the ‘self-construct’, which is the denial of our true, undefined (or unregulated) nature. Society is a machine and so is the everyday mind – both are based on precedent, both are based on rules, both function on the basis of fear (which is to say, ‘the automatic avoidance of the new’). So here we are caught between the two tyrants of the thinking mind and rule-based society (both of which being aspects of the same thing, as David Bohm says) and somehow we have to find our own way. Our way is not the machine’s way, our way is not society’s way. And as difficult as it is, this is the task that lies before us. This is the Hero’s Journey. Living one’s own life (and not some idea of what it ought to be) is the Hero’s Journey, and if we find the courage to take this journey we discover that the one who we thought was having the life in question, or living the life in question isn’t actually who we are at all.

 

Living one’s life consciously is no easy matter, even though it is at the same time the most natural and straightforward thing in the world. The curious thing is though that life isn’t something we have to ‘do’, it’s not a duty or ‘responsibility’ (in the way that we have been persuaded or bullied to understand it to be). The curious thing is that we don’t live life! Nobody lives life, strangely enough. On the contrary, life lives itself through us, if we let it…