Time Is Anxiety

Time is anxiety. Time is anxiety and in time all tasks become the same task. There only ever was the one task really and it is the one task that we are guaranteed never ever to be successful at! All tasks become the one task and that task is the one that can never ever be fulfilled. Time is anxiety and we can never outrun anxiety. We can run as much as we like, but we’ll never get anywhere. We are running on the spot and the running IS the anxiety. Quick, quick, quick – we got to outrun time! Get a move on because there’s no time like the present. There’s no time like the future either. There’s no time to waste, we’ve got to get cracking, we’ve got to get cracking and get on with the task. All tasks become the same task but we never notice this. We never notice this because we’re far too busy to notice, too stressed out to notice. The man is standing there asking if we have completed the task yet. He’s cracking the whip. We never notice that all tasks become the same task because were under too much pressure to notice anything. We’re inundated with tasks and when we finish one there’s another one to take its place. We’ll never see that all tasks are the same task – if we did see this then we’d straightaway be free from it, we’d straightaway be free from the onerous responsibility to fulfil the task. We’d be free from the onerous responsibility of succeeding at the task because we’d see it for what it is. The task is to transcend time with time, the task is to ‘go beyond time in the course of time’. This is why time is anxiety. Time is anxiety because time can never go beyond time. Time can never go beyond time anymore than running can outrun running.

 

The hidden or covert task is the task of creating a self during the course of time (or ‘creating a self in time’). The hidden or covert task is the task of ‘fixing what is wrong in the course of time’ (or ‘fixing what is wrong in time’). Both tasks are impossible, both can never be fulfilled. Both tasks are the same task. A self can never be created no matter how much time we have at our disposal and ‘the problem’ can never be fixed via time – not if we had a million years in which to do so. When we try to fix the problem in time all we do is carry that same problem along with us wherever we go. We can never get away from it – just as we can never outrun anxiety, so too can we never fix the problem no matter how hard we work at it. Anxiety and the self are the same thing – we’re anxious about the problem, we’re anxious about the problem because we know deep-down that it can never be fixed. We know deep-down that it can never be fixed and yet we have to  fix it – or so we are given to understand! What is ‘the problem’, we might ask? What is it that is ‘wrong’ and ‘needs to be fixed’? The problem is that the self doesn’t exist and can never exist, and yet we are given to understand that it has to. Time – which doesn’t exist because we can never get anywhere during the course of it – IS anxiety. Time is anxiety and time is also the self.

 

 

 

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The Monkey-Trap

monkey trap

What creates a sense of identity is being trapped – as soon as we cease to be trapped, we lose our identity! As Jean Baudrillard says, “It’s always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are.”

 

This is a crucial insight – it is the crucial insight – without it we aren’t getting anywhere. Or rather, without it we are going to be continually thinking that we are getting somewhere when we aren’t, and aren’t ever going to be. Without this insight we are going to be continually thinking that we actually genuinely honestly do want to ‘get somewhere’ when the unpalatable truth is that – deep down – we don’t!

 

What we’re looking at here is nothing other than the ‘jinx’ behind everyday unconscious life, therefore – the jinx that we are permanently oblivious to, permanently ignorant of. Even psychologists – who we might expect to know all about this particular double-bind – know nothing of its existence, of its invisible centrality to human life. Any mention of it is conspicuously absence from the training manuals that health services require their therapists to follow. Therapy – or rather so-called ‘therapy’ – proceeds in the absence of any awareness of this fundamental jinx.

 

Our everyday existence is fundamentally self-contradictory and we know nothing of this. We remain sublimely ignorant of the glitch that we are talking about here – we couldn’t be more ignorant of it. We are maximally ignorant of it. We take it for granted that everything is all very straightforward so when we do run into a brick wall as far as this endeavour of  ‘changing ourselves’ goes all we can do is blame ourselves for not trying hard enough; all we can do is castigate ourselves for being weak or unaccountably ineffectual. Those around us are very much inclined to hold us accountable for our lack of progress too, although they may not say it in so many words…

 

The mental health industry is rife with this type of implicit blaming! There is no way for things to be otherwise if we hold (as we do hold) that it is possible for us to change ourselves from unhappy, self-sabotaging states of mind to happy and peaceful ones just by some straightforward application of effort via some kind established method or protocol. We are simply incapable of doubting our hallowed methods or protocols – rule-based procedures are God as far as we are concerned and we will not hear a word said against them! This being the case, how can we not blame – either implicitly or explicitly – those who are subjected to the therapeutic rationale and yet fail to change their thinking or behaviour?  We have no choice in our blaming because of our belief in the unquestionable efficacy of our mechanical methods.

 

The essential problem that we aren’t addressing with all our models and methodologies is that any genuine attempt to change is always going to involve the sacrifice of our identity, which is the one thing we never want to do. There is an unacknowledged paradox at the heart of all rational therapy – the paradox being that the self is fundamentally incapable of wanting to change itself. The self can never relinquish the self. The conditioned self only has one form of behaviour and that is behaviour that is geared towards securing its own advantage. The self always acts to maintain its own essential integrity, in other words. This is its ‘essential mechanism’.

 

The fundamental ‘rational motivation’ is the motivation to preserve and extend the self, the identity, and this motivation – for reasons that we have already given – is fundamentally incompatible with a genuine wish for freedom. We don’t really want freedom, as Erich Fromm has pointed out. Freedom is actually our greatest fear! We say that we value freedom above all else but we don’t really mean it. If the sense of identity which we are trying to optimize via rational thought and behaviour is created by being trapped, being limited without knowing that we are limited, and if the only way to escape the pain that comes with being trapped or unknowingly limited is by relinquishing these self-imposed limits, then this straightaway becomes a cure that we do not want. We no longer have any appetite for the cure, if this is what it entails…

 

This then is the dilemma that we find ourselves in. We can’t bear the misery that comes with being trapped but at the same time we are fundamentally dependent upon that trap for our sense of identity, which is the most important thing in the world for us. We really are caught here therefore – there’s no way we are ever going to sacrifice our precious sense of identity, our sense of ‘being this defined self’ and so there is no real possibility of us ever escaping the yoke of suffering that conditioned existence places upon us.

 

We don’t really want to change anything important, anything major, and yet at the same time we can’t simply ‘stay as we are’. We can’t stay where we are either because seeing that there is actually no way that we will ever be free from this pain, this unmitigated misery, would be fundamentally unbearable to us. We just couldn’t carry on the way we are if we had this insight – that’s how crushing it is. The awareness of the truth of our situation would totally banjax the mechanism of the conditioned self. We solve this dilemma in the only way we can therefore – by not facing up to the fact that we don’t actually want to change.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that we solve the dilemma by being fundamentally insincere. It’s not that we ‘choose’ to be insincere – we don’t have any choice in the matter. Our nature as conditioned beings is such that we always want to be moving away from pain; this drive to avoid pain is ‘built into us’, so to speak. As we have already said, the fundamental ‘rational motivation’ is to maintain our sense of identity, our sense of being this defined self, and mental pain is pain to us precisely because it threatens this sense of self. Just as physical pain is as inimical to us as it is because it threatens our physical organism in some way, mental pain is as profoundly unwelcome to us as it is because it threats the integrity of our self-concept. Another way to put this is to say that our fundamental motivation is fear – fear is the self-concept’s relationship with unconditioned reality!

 

So we say one thing and do another. We might – as part of our strategy – go through the motions of doing whatever it is that we (supposedly) need to do in order to change but we don’t really mean it. It’s all an act that I am putting on – not so much to fool others as it is to fool myself. I need to believe that I am taking steps to better my situation, to make things more tolerable for myself. This is as we have said my basic tropism – I have to be moving away from pain (or rather, I have to believe that I am moving away from pain). Because as a conditioned being I am driven by fear in everything I do, I have no choice in doing anything other than running!

 

It’s all running as far as the conditioned self is concerned. Even if I run towards pain (or take on difficult stuff) it’s only because I believe that I can in this way ultimately reduce my pain. Even my moving towards pain is running, therefore! Even when I take part in therapy this is running. All purposeful behaviour is running because all purposeful behaviour is ultimately driven by the need to avoid pain (or fear). All my goals are pain-avoidance – my goals are attractive to me in the way that they are because they represent an escape from fear. My goals ARE my fear, therefore.

 

Being a slave to fear means that I have to run. But even though I am ostensibly running away from pain, at the same time, on a core level, I have absolutely no intention of ever relinquishing the pain-producing trap that I am in. All I can do therefore is to carry on living the theatre in which I am working to better my situation, and this means making sure that I remain unconscious of my true motivation. I have to split myself in two, so to speak – I have to exist on the theatrical level where I believe the cover story of what is going on, and I also have to operate on the level where I have to stick around to make sure that there is never any chance of anything ever changing…

 

This situation sounds utterly hopeless but of course it isn’t. What we are looking at here is the classic ‘monkey trap’ – the monkey is trapped because of his greed, he is trapped because of the way in which has greed will not let him relinquish the precious fistful of peanuts that he has just acquired. Because he cannot let go of the peanuts he cannot withdraw his hand from the narrow neck of the bottle in which he found the nuts; because of his stubborn refusal to let go of the prize the monkey cannot bring himself to free himself! Escaping from the trap is the easiest, most straightforward thing in the world – all we have to do is forfeit the peanuts. All we have to do is value freedom more than we value the claustrophobic illusion of the self-image!

 

 

 

 

 

The Paradox of Being in the Present Moment

authenticity paradox

I can’t make myself be in the present moment. I can’t push or coax or cajole myself to be ‘in the now’ – that’s just not the way it happens. I can’t achieve this by following any method or developing a skill in using any particular technique. The reason for this is simple – there’s no me in the present moment!

 

The sense of there being a ‘me’ is a sense of separation, or a sense of ‘separateness’, and there’s no separation / separateness in the present moment. There is a complete lack of separateness and there is also a complete lack of a separate self who is there and who can therefore see this marvellous lack of separateness! There is no me there to experience the marvellous lack of a me, no commentating self there to comment on the wonderful lack of a commentating self…

 

Understanding this rather tends to take the wind out of our sails. If being in the stillness of the present moment is so great then who is it great for? Who benefits? The whole thing sounds rather perplexing – I can’t in any way cause myself to be ‘in the now’ and that’s because there isn’t a me in the now and never could be. So what the ‘me’ – who is the wanter, the desirer, the planner and striver – is trying to do is get rid of itself and this isn’t really what it set out to do here!

 

From the point of view of the self which seeks to instigate all this, the whole business of ‘being in the now’ – which sounds so marvellous and so straightforward – is fraught with paradox. It’s not quite so straightforward after all. The purposeful self is all about skills, all about methods, all about techniques; it loves accumulating ‘know how’, recipes or algorithms for how to do things. And yet there is no skill, no technique, no strategy for reaching the state of non-separateness! There is no algorithm for it; no matter how smart you might happen to be there is still absolutely no way for you to ‘hack into’ the present moment…

 

The big question –and the question that we tend to skip over very quickly – is “Do we really want to surrender our ‘separate sense of ourselves’ (and there is no sense of self that isn’t a ‘separate sense’, that does not involve separation)? If I say that I do want it, that I do want to surrender this sense of being separate then straightaway we have this old paradox again because the sense of separateness which is the self can’t want to lose its separateness. It is functionally incapable of wanting this. How can it want what it can’t conceive of, what it can’t ever hope to understand? The self can only ever desire its understanding or idea of what ‘unity’ means and that is a very different sort of thing altogether.

 

Being a ‘separate sense of self’ (or seriously imagining ourselves to be ‘selves’, if that isn’t too clumsy a sentence-construction) is always to incur irreducible pain. There’s no way for us to see things from the point of view of the self without creating pain that we can’t ever shake off, suffering that we can’t ever off-load. This pain – which in the usual run of things is not experienced for what it is – gets projected onto the outside world where it appears in the form of ‘attractive possibilities’. Or in the form of ‘goals’, as we might also say. We then experience desire towards these attractive / alluring possibilities which on an inaccessible level of our consciousness we equate to ‘an end of the pain of our separation’. All purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour (unless its carried out perfectly consciously) is an attempt to find our way back to the source that we are cut off from without knowing that we are cut off. It could be said therefore that all of our trying, all of our striving is at root the attempt to complete ourselves since deep-down we can’t help feeling that we are painfully incomplete…

 

We don’t really want to complete ourselves however because ‘completing ourselves’ means losing the only sense of ourselves that we have, which is our separate sense of ourselves. Completing ourselves means losing ourselves therefore and this was never really on the agenda. Nothing is actually being lost however because the thing that we think we’re losing is the sense of us existing separately and we never existed separately in the first place. We never had this! We’re losing the sense that we had that there was some kind of ontological security there, some way of effectively ‘checking up on ourselves’ so as to make sure of ourselves, but this imagined ‘ontological security’ doesn’t actually exist anyway. It’s a trick we play on ourselves!

 

But even though in reality there is ‘nothing to lose and no one to lose it’ the paradox remains. The paradox is that if I say that I want to be ‘one with everything’ (i.e. no longer separate) I don’t really. I like the idea of it (i.e. I like what that idea means to me) but because that ‘me’ doesn’t exist in the first place this idea that I have of unity is a red herring through and through.  What this idea of ‘being one with everything’ means to me is of course all about me and has nothing to do with ‘unity’ itself (which as we keep saying has no me in it).

 

Another way of approaching this paradox is to say that wanting always involves the wanter. There can be no such thing as wanting without the wanter. What this means therefore is that the whole idea of ‘wanting to end separation’ is inescapably jinxed. We never really want to end separation; we never really want to end the sense of there being a separate self. We just think we do. It’s a lie that we do because the very wanting itself creates the sense of separation!

 

Wanting to be in the present moment is thus a perfect paradox. Wanting to be ‘in the now’ excludes us from the now. “I want to end the sense of separation between me and everything else” is a statement that perfectly contradicts itself! The self only exists because it is not in the present moment. The alienated, isolated egoic self wanting to be reunited with everything, reunited with the ground of its being, is perpetuating its alienation, perpetuating its isolation. This is the game the separate self plays without acknowledging that it is playing any game. Wanting is my way of surreptitiously perpetuating myself – ‘wanting’ is the game.

 

It’s not that there’s this awkward paradox that stands in the way of us being in the present moment. That’s not what we are saying. What’s getting in the way of us being in the present moment is the game that we are playing without admitting that we are. We could talk about this in terms of insincerity – we’re being insincere in everything we do but at the same time we’re functionally incapable (as conditioned selves) of knowing that we’re being insincere. The egoic sense of self – no matter what it says to the contrary – is functionally incapable of sincerely wishing to sacrifice its (spurious) sense of being separate….

 

This is like wanting to be free from the misery that comes from clinging to a fixed position but at the same time being fundamentally unwilling ever to let go of this fixed position. It’s not just like ‘wanting to be free from the misery that comes from clinging to a fixed position but at the same time being fundamentally unwilling to let go of that position’ – it actually IS that! That’s exactly what it is – that is our essential predicament in a nutshell… This is a double-bind and the only way out of it is to entertain / distract ourselves with a whole load of tediously insincere stuff about how we really do want to be free, happy, at peace, willing to see our comforting illusions for what they are, etc. Our situation is absolutely that of someone who is unhappy with their situation but at the same time very deeply unwilling to ever do anything about it. Our only option therefore is to keep on complaining about things. That’s the only relief we can get – that’s the only way out of the double-bind that we’re in!

 

This is exactly our situation when we are trapped in the idea of ourselves which is the ‘separate sense of self’. All we can do is fantasize about ‘doing something about it’ – a fantasy life is our only option because deep down we know very well that we’re never actually going to ‘do something about it’. If there’s one thing that’s for sure it’s that we’re never actually going to put our money where our mouth is! That was never on the agenda; that was never a possibility. We know deep down that we don’t have the slightest intention of ‘doing anything about it’ but at the same time we’ll never admit this to ourselves. All we can ever do is complain about our situation not being right and make out to ourselves that it’s always the fault of someone else that we’re not free, not happy, not peaceful, etc.

 

This then is the dilemma of the insincere self which is functionally incapable of knowing itself to be insincere. No matter what we do on this basis (on the basis of our unacknowledged insincerity), no matter how hard we try, no matter what promises we make to ourselves, we’re never going to be able o get past this central paradox, this central flaw. Nothing we can do is ever going to get us out of this mess because the one thing that we could do is also the one thing that we never ARE going to do!

 

Everything I do as ‘my idea of myself’ is based on an unexamined self-contradiction so of course that’s never going to get me anywhere! This is like saying that nothing I do on the basis of a lie is ever going to get me anywhere. Anything I do is only ever going to add to the lies, add to the insincerity. And yet the whole time the way out of the mess is delightfully simple – all I need to do is see the paradox. All I need to do is be honest with myself about that the fact that I don’t really want to do what I say I want to do. This honesty will set me free. It will free me from the game that I am playing without knowing that I am playing – the painfully-frustrating game of being this ‘separate self’….

 

 

 

 

Increasing Perspective

elephant2_crop

What is perspective? Most people would probably answer that perspective has something to do with ‘seeing things from more than just one angle’ – of being able to get the true picture, i.e. not just a one-sided or narrow view of what we are looking at. There is also the implication of not being too ‘up close’ to our problem, perspective means being able to pull back so that we do not get trapped by one way of looking at what is going on. This means that perspective is basically a way of talking about freedom, we might say ‘freedom of perception.’ When I have freedom of perception I can look at an object in lots of different ways, and when I add up all these different viewpoints I get an ‘all-round’ view.  Once I have an all-round view, I am not so likely to jump to conclusions about my situation. I am not so likely to subscribe to a distorted view of reality, and therefore I will be able to act more effectively. If I have a problem, I will be able to see that problem (and my own part in it) that much more clearly.

BUMPING INTO ELEPHANTS IN THE DARK

There is a story about four men and an elephant that is sometimes used to illustrate this idea.  The story goes like this: Four men bump into an elephant one day, in the dark. None of them has ever heard of an elephant before, and they are all very interested in the strange creature that they have encountered. They have a meeting to try to come to some basic agreement about what sort of beast they have discovered. The first man bumped into the side of the elephant and he says that the elephant is a bit like a wall. The second man met the trunk and so he says that an elephant is rather like a giant snake. The third man came across an ear and he thinks that an elephant is just like a huge fan. The forth man found a leg and so he says that an elephant is like nothing so much as a massive tree trunk. All four are right, given the perspective they were operating from, and yet at the same time none of them are right, because they each try to use their limited perspective to explain the whole thing.  Complete perspective in this case would be to examine the elephant from every single side, and then take all the different aspects into account to see what they add up to.

 

If I jump to the (understandable) conclusion that an elephant is best pictured as a ‘wall-like creature’, and then proceed to interact with all the elephants I ever meet on the basis of this premature and incomplete understanding, then all my future dealing with elephants are going to fraught with difficulties. This is because I will not actually be interacting with an elephant, but only with my idea of an elephant – which is not at all the same thing! For this reason my actions will backfire on me – unexpected problems will keep coming up that I am quite unable to understand, and which, naturally enough, I never will be able to understand just as long as I stick to my one-sided theory (or ‘model’) of elephants.

THE MAP AND THE TERRITORY

This example is of course rather over-simplified and not entirely plausible either, but we can apply it to real-life situations all the same.  Everyone of us interacts with the world on the basis of an incomplete or premature understanding. That is to say, every single person has a model for what is going on.  It is a fact that models, without exception, are always incomplete; there is inevitably going to be a difference between reality and our idea of it – no one can get around that. If this wasn’t so then life could never surprise us, and it always does, sooner or later; that is how we learn stuff – through being surprised!  The trouble is, of course, that there is a part of us which doesn’t like surprises very much, and this is why we have a natural tendency to want to have a theory that ‘explains everything’.  Another way to put this would be to say that we really want to believe that our map matches the territory exactly, and that there is nothing significant that we have left out, lurking in the twilight zone somewhere. Once we believe that we have a map that matches reality in every detail, then we are able to do what we really want to do, i.e. hand over responsibility to it. Life is under control, I say to myself, I have it licked!  There is a big danger here, though: when we completely identify with our map of reality we can’t actually tell the difference between the idea and the truth any more. Our thoughts become the word, they become all there is – we never go beyond them any more. This is ‘loss of perspective,’ big time. When we think we know it all, we are no longer capable of learning and growing; as a result, life has lost its flavour – it becomes a technicality, a job, a foregone conclusion one way or the other.

KNOWING IT ALL

Usually when we hear of someone who thinks they know it all, we think that they must be big-headed or arrogant. There is however, another, more common, reason for us jumping to the unwarranted conclusion that we know it all, and that reason is fear! This might seem like a bit of an odd suggestion, but let us consider it a bit further. When I am frightened I feel that I can’t afford to hang around in the ‘scared place,’ I have to do something fast to get out of there. Now, there is no way that I can hit upon a plan and put that plan into action without jumping to the conclusion that I know what is happening – I need a map in order to act, and once I start acting there is no time to question whether that map was right in the first place. I cannot afford, at that stage, to question my basic assumptions; at least, I don’t feel as if I can. As long as I am doing something ‘definite’  about my situation I feel a bit more secure and the last thing I want to do is consider the possibility that my action is based on an inaccurate representation of reality, and therefore useless, or even worse-than-useless. I’d rather carry on acting, and feeling secure in acting – ignorance is bliss, as they say! This sort of unquestioning action is mechanical in nature, it is unconscious and automatic.

 

Fear comes in many guises – it might be that we really want (or need) something, in which case the fear is the fear of not getting it, the fear of not having our needs met.  Generally speaking, fear occurs because of the awareness of uncertainty, or ‘lack of security,’ and the behaviour it tends to inspire is action that is geared towards increasing our sense of security and control. It is my need for control (i.e. my insecurity) that makes me want a theory that explains everything.

TOTAL CONTROL IS NOT FREEDOM

If my theory explains (and therefore predicts) everything, then the possibility of ‘total control’ is only one step away. Total control is our dream – it equals ‘total security’. Or so we think. Total control means that we can have everything ‘our own way,’ and who does not want this?  This is what we tend to think of when we hear the word freedom – we think of ‘the freedom to have everything the way we want it…’  Put another way, we think of the freedom to have whatever we want. Great…..  Fantastic…… But is this really freedom? What if our underlying understanding is incomplete? What if we’ve missed out something important out in our haste to feel that we have things ‘under control’?  If all maps are incomplete, as we have said that they are, then the ‘freedom to have things the way we want them to be’ actually means ‘the freedom to escape reality,’ or ‘the freedom to live in an imaginary place’.  What we are dreaming of is the freedom to live in a world which exactly matches our incomplete idea of it, which sounds a bit strange, to say the least. Even if we could have this so-called ‘freedom’ to be in a place where reality cannot reach us, would that turn out to be as great as we think, or would it not turn out to be some kind of ghastly nightmare?  After all, if I am not in reality, then just where the hell am I?

THE SECURITY OF KNOWING WHO I AM

There is another question I could ask. If I am not in a real place, then perhaps I am not being my real self either. And when I am not being my true self, then just who am I being? When I am completely identified with my map of myself, I am not being myself, but only my false idea of myself. In other words, I am putting on a show, or an act. True happiness, it is said, comes about through discovering who one really is, being true to oneself.  “If only I could just be myself…” I say.  “Just act naturally, be yourself…” advise my friends (in the fond belief that they are saying something helpful).  But how do I go about discovering my true self? ‘Being myself’ sounds so simple, yet everything I do seems to take me further away from it; the more I try to control myself to be myself (or, more accurately, what I think ‘myself’ should be) the more wrong I seem to go.  This is the very root of the problem – my inability to be myself through trying is the very thing which stands in the way of my happiness. ‘Trying’ means that I act purposefully on the basis of my ideas, and because my idea about who I am is not who I am, trying only makes me more artificial.

 

Just like there is a feeling of security in having a 100% reliable map of reality, so too there is security in ‘knowing who I am’.  Society itself provides us with well-defined roles and identities: I am a father, a patient, an income tax accountant, a Hell’s Angel, a free-mason, a communist, an alcoholic, a sports-fan, etc. I also have a nationality: I am German, or Irish, or Japanese! All of these descriptions provide security and predictability, the only problem being that they are not really who I am at all. Okay, so I can take on these roles, but they do not define me – there is always more to me than just a father or or just a patient.  Someone may point at me and say “so, you are English…” and then think that this says something important about me, but it doesn’t.  It leaves an awful lot out! Because our roles are not the whole truth about us, this is a guaranteed recipe for trouble. There is a conflict going on between my map and the reality which it is trying to explain.

 

As we have said, there is always a strong tendency for us to identify with our descriptions of reality and take them to be 100% reliable. When we are under any kind of stress we do this, and then the actions that we take on the basis of our narrow view of ourselves becomes increasingly ‘at odds’ with who we really are, which has the effect of making the original problem even worse.  A lot of the distress involved in ‘mental illness’ arises out of this mismatch between idea and reality: we are trying to fulfil some idea of who we are; we are provided with a set of assumptions about ‘who we are,’ and then we try to live up to them. Therapy, we might think, ought to allow us to play out our roles and games without any conflict or ‘role-stress’. But this conflict cannot be eliminated, and, even if it could, that in itself would be a disaster – we would be truly lost then, with no helpful pain to remind us that we have lost our authenticity somewhere along the line.

NEUROSIS AS LOSS OF PERSPECTIVE

When I identify with a fixed idea of ‘who I am,’ then I lose vital perspective, and this loss of perspective causes inflexibility, the inability to grow and change as a person. Identification provides a feeling of security; identification gives us something to grab hold of – a solid, non-ambiguous structure to rely on in times of trouble. The disadvantages, as we have said, are that I lose contact with my true self, and with the true nature of the ‘troublesome’ situation that I find myself in. This means that the conflict is actually perpetuated, and exacerbated, despite the illusory feeling that we are dong something positive.  This basic idea, that we reduce our own perspective deliberately (yet without really knowing what we are doing) in order to cope with stress, gives us a good way of looking at all neurotic states of mind. Phobias, depression, anxiety, obsessions, compulsions – all of these come down to ‘loss of perspective’. We are not just talking about the more unusual extremes of neurotic disturbance either – everyday neuroticism involves exactly the same principle, and so do the common negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, bitterness, self-pity, sulking, and so on. In all of these emotional states we experience a collapse of perspective which makes it impossible to see anything that can help us get out of the mood that we are in.  We can take a few examples:

[1]    ANGER    When I am angry I focus on stuff that makes me angry, and lose awareness of all the things that don’t help me in justifying myself in my anger. I see only one side of the story!

[2]   JEALOUSY    When I am jealous all the information I receive seems to support my idea that my partner is betraying me – there is no such thing as an ‘innocent explanation’. All the other explanations are simply unbelievable to me, I am no longer able to keep a balanced outlook.

[3]    SULKING   When I am sulking or bitter, everything I see serves to remind me of the wrong that has been done to me. I make myself into the centre of the universe and as a result I cannot get beyond this ‘poor me’ story even though there might be things happening around me that are fun and exciting.

 

Perspective means ‘freedom of perception’, and so the loss of perspective means being trapped in just the one way of seeing things.  I am not free to move from one viewpoint to another; I am restricted; am in a hole and I can’t climb out.  Normally, the viewpoints listed above such as anger, jealousy, etc, still exist, but so do all of the others, too. The difference is that I don’t dally with them – they hold no special attraction to them, and so I move on effortlessly. Nothing is excluded from my view of the world, and it is precisely this lack of exclusion that makes it a free-flowing situation; once I want to (consciously or unconsciously) block out certain ways of seeing the world, then the fluidity and freedom is lost. Therefore, the answer to being stuck in a negative mood or a neurotic, obsessive state of mind, might be said to be to increase perspective. When someone tells me this my most likely response will be to say “Fine, but how do I do this? How do I increase my perspective?”

 

This sounds like a helpful question to ask, but actually it isn’t all. In fact if I ask this question then what this really means is that I am looking for a way to increase my perspective that I can understand with the perspective that I already have. Asking ‘how’ means that I want to understand how to increase my perspective using the limited perspective (i.e. the map) that I am starting off from because any answer you give me will automatically be understood using ‘the limited way of understanding the world that is my usual everyday rational mind’. There is no way to get around this – if I can understand something then this means that it makes sense within the terms of my current map, and so I am never going to go beyond my map. Asking closed questions (questions that require a specific answer) re-affirms the validity of my habitual way of understanding the world, and so there is obviously no way in which this can ever lead to an increase in perspective (or ‘an increase in consciousness’, which is the same thing).

 

The only way to increase perspective is not by active ‘doing’, but by allowing the situation to be exactly the way it already is. So rather than ‘muscling in’ in a heavy-handed way and trying to control the situation  – whatever that situation might be – I remain sensitive to what is going on without doing what I normally do, which is automatically (and insensitively) trying to gain some sort of advantage. Even if I do nothing apart from mental reacting to the situation I find myself in, this too is keeping in control of what is going on because I am insisting on having my say. I am insisting on interpreting things in my way – the way that suits me. This is a way of staying in control because I am controlling the way I see the world so that I don’t have to see things in a way that I don’t like. As soon as I ease up on reacting, or trying to put my own slant on the proceedings then my understanding straight-away starts to develop in an unusual direction and this ‘unusual direction’ is due to the fact that I am allowing myself an extra bit of perspective on matters – I am allowing myself perspective that I would normally be struggling to suppress by staying in control.

 

Another way of explaining this point is to say that our perspective increases when we pay attention to whatever is making us feel bad. We tend to think that mental pain such as fear, anxiety or sadness causes us to lose perspective and get trapped as a result in a smaller world but really it is our reaction to mental pain that causes loss of perspective. Actually, losing perspective is something we do ‘secretly on purpose’ in order to escape from whatever it is that is troubling us – even though having very little perspective is thoroughly rotten in an oppressively cramped, dismally predictable, wretchedly unfree and claustrophobic sort of a way we choose (without really knowing what we are doing) this self-created prison rather than facing whatever it is that we are afraid to face. This is a good thing to understand for the reason that if we understand that loss of perspective is due to pain-avoidance then we know what the key to increasing perspective is purely and simply to pay careful attention to whatever it is that is causing us pain.

 

This tends to sound awfully morbid and unhealthy – we naturally assume that the way to go is to concentrate on the positive and the uplifting and try hard not to be preoccupied with all the rotten old negative stuff. It seems positively reprehensible to pay attention to feeling bad when there are so many wonderful – or potentially wonderful – sides to life. Why focus on misery as a way to increase perspective when we could gaze on the splendour of the stars, or immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature, or listen to glorious music? Gazing at the stars, going for a walk in the country, and listening to music can of course on occasion miraculously increase our sense of perspective on life but this does not mean that we can use them as ‘methods’. If we could then every time we felt bad which could just do one of these things and straightaway we would feel wonderful but the point is that it is just plain impossible to increase perspective as a way of escaping pain. I can’t use such a sublime thing as perspective for petty personal reasons – if my motivation is simply personal gain then the stark ‘lack of perspective’ inherent in this motivation will ensure that my attempt to increase my perspective comes to nothing. The same is true for creativity – if I try to tap into creativity in order to deliberately benefit myself in some way it just won’t work. The motivation behind the attempt to be creative is itself uncreative – personal gain (or pain-avoidance, which is the same thing) is always uncreative because its agenda is always fixed in advance. In fact there is nothing as profoundly uncreative as the motivation of greed-for-personal-benefit or fear-of-personal-loss. Nothing helpful can ever come from either greed or fear – fear and greed are states of mind that derive from a fundamental ‘lack of perspective’ and so any action that comes about as a result of this closed (or uncreative) type of motivation is bound simply to indefinitely perpetuate that lack of perspective. Greed cannot be used to escape greed any more than fear can be used to escape fear!

 

One reason we give for not paying attention to painful feelings or thoughts is that it puts us in danger of becoming obsessively fixated on our own misery. But this isn’t really true at all because what causes us to become fixated (or ‘stuck’) is the fact that we are fighting against these feelings or thoughts. When we find ourselves with an inner state that is unhappy or fearful or painful in any way we automatically resist that state – we struggle to change it to a state that is easier to bear, in other words. This tactic is perfectly understandable but it is also the worst thing that we could possibly do because fighting against my inner state means that I am negatively attached to it, and if I am attached to it clearly it is going to stay with me. Paying attention to my inner state is not at all the same as fighting against it, or complaining about it. Paying attention is, on the contrary, a fundamentally non-aggressive sort of a thing and for this reason it dissolves the existing attachment rather than creating additional attachment. Actually there is absolutely no way to aggressively or violently dissolve attachment because aggression and violence are themselves prime manifestations of attachment. The only way to dissolve attachment is by peaceful means and a peaceful approach basically involves remaining open to whatever the state is, without reacting, without ‘doing anything about it’. The temptation is of course to either ‘do something about the painful state of mind’ or to ‘ignore it’. Ignoring your state of mind is aggressive just as distracting yourself from your state of mind is aggressive and so ignoring and self-distracting create attachment just as much as fighting or complaining do.

INCREASING ‘ACCURATE PERCEPTION’

The way Krishnamurti explains this is to say that we always bring our own agenda to the situation, and it is this agenda that ensures that we get stuck. Therefore, if I am feeling bad in any way I don’t accurately perceive what this bad feeling is about, and I don’t accurately perceive what it feels like to feel like this. What I do perceive is what the situation feels like from the point of view of a person who can’t drop his agenda, and what this means is that I am only getting a ‘distorted’ picture of things. Obviously, anything I do on the basis of this distortion is bound simply to make things worse by translating this distortion into reality. The distortion is a distortion because it is a misrepresentative or ‘one-sided’ view of things  – basically it is how things look to me when I have lost all perspective and any reaction that I make faithfully ‘echoes’ my original lack of perspective and perpetuates it indefinitely.

 

So what is the distorting agenda that we unnecessarily bring with us into difficult situations, and which guarantees that we get hopelessly stuck in the misery of counterproductive or ‘self-defeating’ behaviour? One way to answer this question is to say that the agenda always has to do with acting as if something matters very much indeed (or matters ‘absolutely’) when actually it doesn’t very matter at all. We can make this clear by giving a slightly silly example: suppose I have mislaid my special platinum pen that was given to me as a first prize in some sort of writing competition. This annoys me and I cannot rest until I find it, even though I could get by equally well using a biro, of which there are many on my desk. In this situation what happens is that I get upset and frustrated and do not get on with the work that I have to do and the reason I have such a hard time of it is because I have insisted on finding the pen that I had lost. No other pen will do.  The ‘distorting influence’ here is the allocation of a huge amount of importance to something that isn’t in reality as important as we say it is. The reason finding my special pen is so important to me – so important to me that I waste a whole morning looking for it and getting in thoroughly bad form in the process of not finding it – is because I have said that it is important. I have set my heart on having it, and so I ‘have to’ have it, but it was me who freely decided to insist on having it in the first place so there isn’t really a ‘have to’ at all. Or to put it another way – finding the pen is only important because I have made it important (i.e. it only matters because I have said that it does).

 

The ‘unnecessary’ nature of the agenda, along with all the unnecessary trouble it causes for us, can be easily seen in the case of the special platinum pen but what exactly is the agenda that causes us to get stuck in miserable, self-frustrating states of mind – states of mind that are characterized by what we might call ‘futile or counterproductive struggling’? In the case of these miserable states of mind, which are commonly referred as ‘bad moods’, ‘negative emotions’ and ‘neuroticism’, the agenda is that a particular type of mental pain should not be felt. This tends to sound utterly ridiculous because we think that of course it matters that mental pain, or physical pain for that matter, should not be felt by us. Physical pain usually means that there is some sort threat to our bodily integrity and therefore because it makes sense to avoid threats to our bodily integrity, it also makes sense to avoid physical pain if we can. Mental pain, however, is a different kettle of fish because it does not signify a threat to our ‘mental health’ that needs be avoided at all costs – on the contrary, if we avoid mental pain then this avoidance itself becomes a threat to our mental health.  What ‘mental pain’ actually comes down to is a type of awareness that for some reason we find threatening and that we are utterly determined not to feel, without knowing (or even caring) why it is that we are so determined not to feel it.

 

Strangely enough, this sort of reaction, the reaction where we automatically fight against certain possibilities of awareness without knowing or caring why we are so dead set against them is inherent in the very nature of the everyday self which – when it comes right down to it – has its allegiance to repeating or reiterating the patterns of the past, whether or not these patterns are useful, or even make sense at all. The reason that the conditioned (i.e. habitual) self is able to successfully do this lies in its indefatigable ability to validate its own patterns of thinking and behaviour to itself, no matter how absurdly counterproductive they might be!

 

The way that the conditioned self does this is by looking at things only in a particular narrow way, which means making sure that it does not look at things in any other way. It is for this reason that ‘increasing perspective’ is actually the very last thing that the conditioned self wants to do! A good example of what we mean when we say this is provided by anger – if I get angry because you have taken my parking space then the only reason that I am able to get so self-righteously angry is because I believe that the parking space was mine not yours. I have set my heart on having it and then you come along and take it from me under my very nose, so to speak. This makes me feel very bad and I blame you for this bad feeling, but actually the only reason I feel so bad is because I have said to myself that the parking space is rightfully mine, end of story.

DE-VALIDATING THE SELF

If I didn’t insist on taking this position I wouldn’t feel the intense upsurge of righteous anger that I do feel, but rather than seeing that I am ‘doing it all myself’ (by refusing to look at things any other way) I say that my mental pain is your fault, and so my anger justifies itself, over and over again. An increase in perspective would mean that I would lose all justification, and so the mechanism of anger is one in which the possibility of me looking at things in any other way other than the anger-producing one is effectively prevented. I am ‘permanently validated’, in other words, and this gimmick of being ‘permanently validated’ is what being ‘the conditioned self’ is all about. We are always justifying our position to ourselves, even though this position is at all times perfectly arbitrary, perfectly gratuitous!

 

If we were to become ‘aware of ourselves’ (i.e. accurately perceive what we are actually doing) this act of observation would therefore increase our perspective on what is going on, and this increase in perspective would de-validate us! This feels bad because we are deeply invested in ‘being right’, but even though it feels bad, it is profoundly freeing at the same time because we are now free from the onerous task of always having to be propping up an untenable position, a position that is ultimately unworkable because it is arbitrary, because it is ‘gratuitous’. Gaining perspective hurts, in other words, because gaining perspective shines awareness on mechanical processes that (as P.D. Ouspensky says) no longer function in the light. And yet this ‘pain’ – even though we do not see it at the time – is really nothing other than the joyful dawning of our dawning freedom…

 

Image taken from: wraunyblogspot.ie

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Mind

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According to Tibetan Buddhism we each have two minds – the good mind and the bad one. As simplistic as this may sound, this turns out to be a far more helpful psychological model than anything we in the West have come up with. It is ‘helpful’ in the sense that the thorough understanding of the principle actually makes us happy! Whatever else Western psychology may do for us, it certainly doesn’t ever do this. Whatever else we as a culture might be experts in, we are most definitely not ‘experts’ in being happy…

 

The good mind is so-called because its use creates happiness, whilst the bad mind is called ‘bad’ because it unfailingly creates suffering – both for ourselves and others. If we use one mind we move in the direction of becoming happier and more peaceful; if we use the other then we head inexorably (like a self-guiding homing device) into a world of ever-increasing misery. The key thing to grasp therefore is what constitutes the ‘good mind’ and how is it different from the bad mind? The answer given by Tibetan Buddhism is that when we think about how we can benefit other beings this is ‘the good mind’ and when we are concerned with how we can benefit ourselves then this is ‘the bad mind’.

 

This is not a question of morality however, no matter how it may sound. It tends to sound – to our Western ears – like “You should be unselfish rather than selfish” or “You should try to be better people” which is the stale old message that we in the Western world have been receiving for the last two thousand years. The basic Christian message – as it was very unambiguously preached from the pulpit in times past – was that if we are good we will go to heaven and if we are bad we will go to the other place, the place where things are not so much fun, the place where the devil will be sticking a red-hot pitch-fork up your ass. The Christian mystics didn’t say this, but the rank and file clergy most certainly did, and it was the clergy we listened to. This message sound very similar to what we have just said about the good mind leading us to happiness and the bad mind leading us straight into a morass of unendurable misery but it is not the same thing at all. One is a ‘moral message’, the other simply an observation…

 

The point is (the point that we so easily miss) is that it is only ‘the bad mind’ that wants to be good and go to heaven! Of course it is the bad mind that wants to be good and go to heaven because it is the bad mind that is all concerned with benefitting oneself. This is what this mind does the whole time, after all! Whenever I say “I should do this” or “I should do that” this is always about the mind that is trying to benefit itself. It is always this mind that is behind such statements. If I do what I ‘should’ do then this will bring benefit to myself and – on the other hand – I fail to do what I ought to do then this failure will be very much to my detriment. This type of crude ‘carrot and stick’ business is the stock in trade of the bad mind, the self-cherishing mind. Clearly this type of motivation is based upon self-interest – I am greedy for the prize and scared of the lash, and this is therefore all about me. We could also say that this type of motivation is all about fear, which means that the ‘bad mind’ is the mind that is secretly ruled by fear. It is the fearful mind that cannot admit the reality of its own fear to itself.

 

Compassion (or loving-kindness) has nothing to do with ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ however. How can we say “You should be compassionate” – that sounds wrong as soon as we say it. It sounds wrong as soon as we say it because it’s a non-compassionate statement! Essentially, I’m blaming myself (or the other person) for not being compassionate and blaming is the bad mind in action… As far as compassion is concerned, ‘should’ doesn’t come into it – if it does come into it then this jinxes everything, it effectively prevents compassion from arising. We have started off on the wrong foot and so it’s all going to be down-hill from this point onwards. The self-centred mind can’t tap into the compassionate mind to further its own ends – that’s just not the way things work. Compassion happens all by itself if it is given the space to do so – it doesn’t need to be egged on or cajoled by the moralistic self-centred mind…

 

This is our basic problem in the West – in our culture everything comes out of thinking and anything that doesn’t come out of thinking gets very quickly assimilated by the rational mind. We don’t really believe in anything in the West unless it can be checked up and verified by the thinking mind, unless the thinking mind is satisfied as to its credentials. When we talk about compassion we do so in an intellectual way; we’re using the well-oiled rational mind to say cogent things about it, to explain what it is and how it works. Compassion isn’t something we think about, or write academic articles about – it’s something we do. It has to do with the way we actually are. It goes beyond any logical framework.

 

There is no logical reason for compassion or ‘other-centeredness’ – it as we have said not something that can come out of a rational agenda. On the contrary, it is something that arises all by itself just as soon as we shake ourselves free from the small, self-contained world of the thinking mind. Life itself arises all by itself once rationality withdraws from centre stage – if this were not so then we could have ‘an agenda to live’ and what could be more ridiculous than this? Having an agenda to live life is the very thing that stands in the way of life; having an agenda to live life blocks everything because life can’t come out of thinking. We can live and then think – which is to say, thought can follow in the footsteps of life but it can’t precede it. Life is always bigger than what we think about it, in other words.

 

The point is that we can’t ‘make it happen’ just because we want it to, just because we think it would be a good thing for it to. As Jung says, we can’t control the psyche – we can’t switch it on or off to suit us. This is however very much at odds with our Western way of looking at things – we are forever talking about managing emotions, managing anxiety or anger or self-destructive behaviour but there is no managing the psyche. That’s putting the cart before the horse, that’s the tail wagging the dog! If we push the problem down in one place it’s simply going to pop up somewhere else, and we can go on playing this game forever. “Management” is completely the wrong approach, completely the wrong way to be looking at things…

 

Management is control and control is aggression and all of these terms are ways of talking about the ‘bad mind’, the mind which creates suffering just like the internal combustion engine creates exhaust fumes. The ‘bad mind’ is the conservative mind – the mind which is at all times wholly and completely dedicated to preserving and promoting the existing structure, the existing system. This is the mind that is forever fixated upon the task of protecting its core assumptions – the core assumptions that its very existence is based on – which comes down to stating them and re-stating them in lots of different way, but never questioning them. James Carse calls this ‘playing the finite game’, i.e. ‘playing so cleverly that one will never be taken by surprise’. The whole ethos of control is conservative – control is about protecting our core position, our core beliefs. If the bottom line of everything we do wasn’t about protecting our core position at any cost then we would be interacting with the world (and other people) in a totally different way. We would in this case be genuinely interested in the world, genuinely interested in other people, rather than only being interested in how we may best exploit it / them. These two approaches (the ‘explorative’ and the ‘conservative’ approaches) are mutually incompatible for the simple reason that if we become genuinely interested in the world or other people then we run the risk of jeopardizing the thing that we are trying to conserve. This is not a risk that the conservative mind ever wishes to take!

 

When we talk – as we always do talk – in terms of ‘management’, in terms of ‘tools’ and ‘skills’, in terms of ‘methods’ and ‘techniques’, we are always talking about being aggressive. This aggression is inherent in the nature of the conservative mind. Finite game playing is inherently aggressive…. Compassion – or ‘other-directedness’ – isn’t a tool, isn’t a skill, isn’t a strategy or management technique. It isn’t yet another form of ‘hanging on to what we already have (or rather, what we mistakenly believe ourselves to already have). Rather, it is the expression of our true nature. Compassion is the spontaneous expression of who we really are, which is something that our rational way of living has distanced us from, disconnected us from. Disconnected from who we really are, how are we ever going to be happy or at peace?  The very reason we placed all our trust in control and manipulation, in strategies and methods, is because we are disconnected from who we really are, and are trying in an unconscious way to ‘get ourselves back’. We don’t know that this is what we are doing, we don’t know that this is the reason for all our striving, all our driven ‘grasping-type’ behaviour, but it is. As Rumi says,

All the hopes, desires, loves, and affections that people have for different things – fathers, mothers, friends, heavens, the earth, palaces, sciences, works, food, drink – the saint knows that these are desires for God and that these things are veils. When men leave this world and see the King without these veils, then they will know that all were veils and coverings, that the object of their desire was in reality that One Thing… They will see all things face to face.

When we think about other people, concern ourselves with other people, act for the genuine benefit of other people (instead of what the conservative mind says is for their benefit) then we are tapping into our true nature. Otherwise we’re not. To be genuinely interested in others is the same thing as being compassionate – it’s only when our outlook is closed, when we are guarding our beliefs, that we cannot be compassionate. In this case we cannot afford to be compassionate. That door is closed. The door to our true self is closed and what this means is that we are buying into the ‘suffering-producing mind’, which Philip K Dick calls ‘service in error’. Chapter 35 in the Dao De Ching says,

He who holds the great sign
Attracts a great following.
He who helps the followers avoid harm
Enjoys great peace.
Music and good food can stop passers-by on their way.
The Dao, on the contrary, offers only a bland taste.
It can hardly be seen or heard.
Yet if one uses it, it is inexhaustible.

The Dao (or ‘the Way’) is of course another way of talking about our essential nature – how could our essential nature not be the way? And by the same token, how could what is not our true nature be any sort of a ‘way’ at all? When we draw upon our essential nature (which cannot be presented and re-presented as an image can be, or talked about as a concept can be talked about) our strength in inexhaustible. There is nothing we can’t do – the Dao is the source of all energy, all intelligence, all strength in the universe. When we call upon our true nature then we don’t need to be clever, to be conniving, to be an expert in the ways of manipulating the world or other people. We don’t need to be aggressive or controlling – we only need that bag of tricks when we don’t know who we are, which is when we are identified with the false, mind-created self, which has no strength or genuine intelligence in it at all. All it has is its ‘trickiness,’ its reflex-type cunning….

 

Once we see this then we can see straight way that we have gone wrong in the West with all our psychological techniques, skills at ‘self-soothing or self-calming’, our so-called ‘evidence-based’ methods of getting the result we want, the standardized result we are told we should want. Our approach is exclusively directed towards ‘saving the mind-created self’, rescuing the conservative or ‘finite game-playing’ self from the consequences of its activities. This is always the agenda of official psychotherapy. As a culture we’re caught up in playing what we might call ‘an infinite delaying game’ – we putting off the inevitable consequences of following what in Tibetan Buddhism is called the ‘bad mind’ for as long as possible. We’re pretending to ourselves that the path we’re on isn’t going to end in disaster – both collectively and individually. Essentially – in our blindness – we are trying to ‘have our cake and eat it’. We want to carry on playing our games and yet somehow be free from the suffering that comes about as a result of doing this. Or as Anthony de Mello puts it,

Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys. “Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.” This is what they want; they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

The whole of society, our whole way of life, exists for the benefit of the mind-created self (or ‘I-concept’) – it is all is geared towards the development, elaboration and consolidation of this particular suffering-producing illusion. Nothing we do has anything to do with happiness, therefore. Happiness is not an option when our primary (if unacknowledged!) aim is to preserve our core assumptions at any cost. Our over-riding concern is with the creation and maintenance of a two-dimensional image of ourselves, a generic concept of ourselves, an idea of ‘who we are’ that doesn’t actually exist. If we wanted to know (which we don’t!) what the whole show is about, what all this ceaseless frenetic aggressive busy-ness is about, then this is it! All of our ‘education’, all of our knowledge, all of our expertise, all of our technology – our entire way of life in fact – is geared towards promoting and perpetuating this suffering producing fiction of ‘who the rational mind says we are’.

 

Happiness is of no interest to us at all therefore, no matter what we might say, no matter what we might claim. How could it be when in order to be happy we would have to let go of the mind-created, fear-driven self and its sterile, narcissistic games?

 

 

 

 

The Habit That is Me

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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