The Core of Who We Are

butterfly ship

The most precious part of ourselves, the core of who we are, is not under our control. Our inspiration, creativity and compassion are not under our control. Our joy and peace of mind are not under our control. The truly authentic part of ourselves (the essential spark of ‘who we really are’) is not under our control and that is how we can know that it is truly authentic, and not merely some act, some show, some pretence – some ‘accessory’ that we have picked up along the way. Coming at this the other way, we can say that all the stuff which is under our control is not real, not authentic, not true. We can say that all the stuff that is under our control is not who we are.


This is a very curious thing because it is generally only the stuff that we are in control of that we value, that we have time for! The side of us that isn’t under our control (which is actually not a ‘side’ at all but actually the whole of ourselves) is actually disowned – it isn’t seen as who we are at all. It’s something awkward. There is (as far as the thinking mind is concerned) an intrinsic problem with this whole business of ‘stuff not being under control’ – if I can’t control it, then how do I know that I can rely on it? How do I know that it won’t let me down just at the crucial moment? And it’s not just the case that we can’t ‘rely’ on the part of us that we can’t control – we can’t know what it is either. It’s a mystery to us. We can’t get it to do what we want, when we want it to, and we don’t even know what it is in the first place! So from the point of view of the rational intellect, this ‘side’ of us just isn’t trustworthy at all…


Actually, from the POV of the rational intellect, what we have been tentatively calling ‘the other side of ourselves’ doesn’t even exist at all. It isn’t granted the status of being a real thing. It isn’t mentioned in the psychology books (which as it happens are all written by the rational intellect). If there is something there that cannot be defined or measured, predicted or controlled then what this means – to the rational intellect at least – is that this so-called ‘something’ doesn’t actually exist. From the POV of the thinking, analysing, measuring mind all these short-comings spell one thing and one thing only – they spell the evident non-existence of whatever it is that is under investigation.


The type of rational culture that we live in is all about valuing the definable and the quantifiable, the predictable and the controllable. Since this is so (and who can deny it?) it is no surprise that we are brought up to discount and devalue what we have been calling ‘the other side of ourselves’. This is nothing less than full-scale repression – it’s not just ‘the stranger within’ we’re talking about here but ‘the unwelcome stranger within’, the stranger who is turned away from the door every time. The most precious part of ourselves, the core of who we are, has been abandoned, gotten rid of, jettisoned, betrayed, forgotten, etc, under the pressure of having to adapt to a rational-technological culture, a culture that values (although it won’t admit it) the quantifiable ‘machine aspect’ of ourselves over the non-quantifiable spontaneous aspect. The core of who we are (elusive and indefinable as it is) has been discounted and dismissed to such an extent that we don’t even know that it is there and instead we have put all our energy into the part of ourselves that can be defined and quantified, the part of ourselves that can be predicted and controlled.


How this gets to happen is easy to see within any social context – after all, we all want to be understood by those around us and so we strive to be understandable. We want to fit in and so we strive to develop the predictable and controllable aspect of ourselves that does fit in. This is a straightforward mechanical process – in order to be accepted we have to be identified as ‘belonging’ and in order to be positively identified (or recognized) in this way we have to be understood and in order to be understood we have to conform to the prescribed pattern, the prescribed format. We need to present ourselves within a shared context of understanding in order that we might be understood and so once we have done this then things generally seem to go very smoothly. Everything seems to be fine and we are able to get on with the business of living our lives. Adaptation is however ‘violence that we cannot see as such’ and violence cannot be glossed over quite as conveniently as all that, for all that we always do so. What has actually happened here in this mechanical process of adaptation is that the understandable side of ourselves (the quantifiable, definable side) has replaced the other side – the side that can never be understood by anyone, not even by ourselves. The generic has replaced the unique; the banal has been substituted for the extraordinary.


Within any social context (family, friends, work, the world at large) we are always expected to be a particular, specified way. This is how things work. This is the rule. As soon as we depart from this established role, this established identity, we start to receive funny looks, we start to receive censorship from our peers. Depart too much and we will experience social ‘devaluation,’ social exclusion, social rejection. Each one of us knows how this process of ‘negative feedback’ works only too well and this is why we make such an effort to stay within the appointed bounds of ‘who we’re supposed to be’. For most of us this becomes ‘second nature’ and we do it so well that we don’t even know we are doing it. Social censure occurs only rarely and amounts to no more than the occasional embarrassing moment, quickly forgotten about. For others of us (the ones who can’t adapt so well) we never feel very far from ‘standing out’ (or being ‘conspicuous’) in a way that we particularly don’t want to and so we are for the most part always painfully aware of the necessity to try not to stray from what is expected of us, and what happens when we don’t. In more pronounced cases, this discomfort gets diagnosed as ‘social anxiety’ or ‘social phobia’. Whether we see what’s going on or not however the mechanism is that we get rewarded for ‘fitting in’ and punished for ‘not fitting in’. Whether we like to accept it or not this is how society works…


The thing about this however is that who we are encouraged to be (the role we are required to play) is not who we actually are. On the contrary, it’s ‘who we are pretending to be’. It’s ‘who we are pretending to be in order to be accepted by the group’. It’s a generic template! We may not think that we’re adapting to a generic template but we are. The bottom line is that we have adapted to a social fiction in order to be understood, in order to feel that we ‘belong’. And the process of adaptation doesn’t stop here – it doesn’t stop on the outside. Once we have adapted to the social fiction (to the generic template) then we use this as a basis for understanding ourselves! This is doubly confusing therefore – we are confused on both fronts. We have been given a basis for understanding ourselves and the world that just isn’t true; we have been given a basis for understanding everything that isn’t true, and so there is absolutely no way that this is going to work out for us (even though the system that we have adapted to keeps on saying that it will, keeps on giving us promise after promise us that it will).


Life is never going to ‘work out’ when we try to live it on the basis of a generic template, a social fiction – even to imagine for a moment that it might do so is palpable absurdity. This endeavour can’t possibly work out because what we’re essentially trying to do here is make something that is fictional be ‘non-fictional’. To put this more bluntly, we’re ‘defending a lie’: because we’ve gone along with our social conditioning, we’re trying to make something that isn’t true be true and this is not exactly what you might call ‘a promising cause’ to get caught up in! Or rather it is promising, but the promises here are all lies. The incentives that we are bombarded with are all completely false; the guarantees we have been given are not worth the paper they are printed on. There’s no way in a billion billion years we’re ever going to succeed in the doomed task of trying to make what is not true be true. We’ve been conned into undertaking an impossible task and what’s more, we’ve been led to believe that we have to succeed at it!


Now in a way, this is OK. It’s a thing that we’re allowed to do – it’s actually a thing that is quite natural to do. This sort of thing is called ‘playing a game’. Nature – according to Heraclitus – loves to hide itself. Nature loves to pretend to be what it is not, we could say. We could also say that there is humour (or irony) in nature and that if we don’t get the humour, if we don’t get the irony, well – that’s OK too! That’s part of the game. Not seeing that the game is a game is part of the game – in fact it’s not just ‘part of the game’, it’s what makes the game a game in the first place! When we are very rational about life, and see things in a strictly literal way (so that we believe things to be what they seem on the surface to be) then this is ‘not seeing that the game is a game’. This is not seeing that the universe has a sense of humour, a sense of irony, and this humourless, mechanical outlook also makes us see ourselves in this flat, literal, non-ironic, non-playful sort of a way. We understand ourselves to be (literally) ‘what our thinking tells us we are’. This is the same thing as ‘who society tells us we are’ because ‘who society tells us we are’ is predicated upon a generic template and generic templates are never ironic (just like institutions never have a sense of humour)!


There is a hidden drawback in being literal-minded, in accepting the generic templates of the thinking mind, and this drawback is so substantial, so all-encompassing, that the word ‘drawback’ actually doesn’t come anywhere close to doing justice to what we’re talking about. The ‘drawback’ is – quite simply – that being so uncritically accepting of the image (or idea) of ourselves that our thinking (or society) provides us with inevitably means that we lose the core of ourselves. We lose who we really are. We become ‘coreless’. By losing our sense of humour, our sense of irony, we lose our connection with reality itself.


Our misunderstanding of ourselves is truly extraordinary – we are flatly convinced that we are the part of ourselves which we can control, which we can regulate, which we can name and analyse. We are convinced, in other words, that we are the same thing as the rational representation of ourselves, the rational projection of ourselves. Any part of ourselves that can’t be controlled, can’t be regulated, can’t be named or analysed, is – at best – something of an embarrassment. It’s a kind of a ‘loose cannon’ – a kind of a random element. And yet the part of ourselves that falls within the domain of rational knowledge is not who we really are at all. That’s not us – it’s just a projection of the rational mind, an abstraction that exists in the virtual reality world of its own construction. It’s just the ‘puppet-self’ – the self that is under the control of the dictatorial thinking mind. It’s a superficial theatre. It’s the game we’re playing and don’t know we’re playing…


We all know this really. If I have to stop and think about what I’m saying then clearly what I’m saying isn’t true! The very fact that I have to consider it, edit it, regulate it, etc, shows that it’s false. The only way what I say can be genuinely true is – as we all know – if it bursts right out of me with no premeditation, no regulation, no editorial control. This isn’t just true for things that we say – it’s true for the whole of us. The only part of us that is true, that is genuine, that is authentic, is the part that isn’t pre-meditated, that part that we aren’t regulating. And yet – as we have said – it’s only the part of us that is under our strict control that we bother putting time and effort into developing. That’s the only part we care about. It’s no wonder therefore that we are so bored with our lives! The only way we wouldn’t be totally bored with our lives (which is to say, totally alienated from ourselves) would be if we weren’t flatly (or non-ironically) identified with our mind-created identity, our conditioned sense of ourselves, the superficial theatre of ourselves.


When we see this truth – which is as we have said something that we already know very well underneath it all – it makes a mockery of everything that we normally do to help ourselves or benefit ourselves. How could it not do, seeing as the self we are trying to help or benefit isn’t actually who we are? The only thing we can do to help ourselves is to ‘let ourselves go’, to free ourselves from our restrictive thoughts about ourselves, and we can’t even really do this, when it comes down to it. We can’t even really do this because it’s out of our control! This isn’t just another technique that we can learn, another theory or model that we can master. It’s the greatest art of all and there is no one out there who can tell us how to go about getting the hang of it. There is no instruction booklet, no set of rules for it that we can knuckle down to and learn. Society can’t tell us how to ‘be ourselves’ – all society can do is pressurize us to conform to the generic template it has for us. Our own mind can’t tell us how to be ourselves either because the thinking mind isn’t who we are – all it can do is pressurize us to accord with its ideas, its categories, its standards for how it thinks we ought to be. There is no special theory it can come up with to enable us to be truly ourselves. How can the thinking mind teach us to be free from itself? How can there a theory for how to be free from theories, a technique to enable us to be free from techniques?


Getting in touch with who we truly are isn’t something that can be done by deliberately ‘changing the way that we are’ because the part of us that wants to change the way that we are is the part that isn’t really us. As Alan Watts says somewhere, the part of us that wants to change us is the part that needs changing! Once we see this it tends to take the wind out of our sails, but since our sails were only taking us astray anyway this isn’t such a bad thing. What does help – we could say – is developing an uncritical interest in ourselves just the way we are, rather than being rigidly fixated upon being the way we want to be, the way we think we ought to be. This is generally called ‘self-acceptance’! Self-acceptance doesn’t mean what we tend to think it means however. This is not something that we can make a goal of, it’s not something that we can aim at and try to methodically bring about. Purposeful self-acceptance is a contradiction in terms – it is an impossibility since, as Alan Watts says, the very moment I try to accept myself I am rejecting myself as I actually am, which is the me that is thoroughly unaccepting of itself. I am ‘rejecting my non-acceptance’ therefore, and this is not in the spirit of acceptance at all! Being deliberately ‘self-accepting’ is therefore a ridiculous impossibility that we only get caught up in as a result of having lost our sense of irony. It is an endeavour we can only take seriously when we are being flatly and humourlessly mechanical in our outlook on life.


The thing about self-acceptance is that it’s more about seeing who we are (or seeing the way that we are) than anything else. When we see ourselves without controlling or correcting or criticizing what we see something very interesting – we see that we aren’t who we thought we were at all. We see that we aren’t the pattern of being that we were previously stuck in, and helplessly identified with. Very strangely, therefore, when we see ourselves ‘non-judgementally’, we see that we are not the self (i.e. the ‘identity’) that we are seeing! There’s no problem here therefore! To see illusion is to depart from illusion, as the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says. And the flip-side of this is the insight that it was only because we were forever trying to change/correct ourselves (forever judging ourselves, seeing ourselves as either good or bad) that we were so stuck, so identified, so caught up in the ongoing drama of it all.


So it is at this precise moment – when we clearly see that we are not who we had always thought we were – that humour and irony come back into the picture. It is at this moment that we see that all that really matters about us (which is to say, the core of you we are) is forever beyond all possibility of control, or being ‘regulated’, of being criticized or corrected. We are freed from the thankless joyless interminable illusion of being the regulated self, the ‘approved or disapproved self’, the self which is forever being defined and controlled and monitored by the thinking mind…







Being Present is Not a Strategy


The optimum thing any of us can do in order to emerge from the confusion and strife of everyday existence into the light of non-dual awareness is simply to be ‘with’ ourselves, come what may, through thick and through thin, through the good times and the bad. If it were true that there is such a thing as ‘a therapeutic approach that actually works’ then this would be it! If it were true that there really was such a thing as ‘an optimum strategy for living life’ then this would be it! The problem here however being that there isn’t such a thing – there’s no such thing as ‘a therapeutic approach that actually works’ any more than there’s such a thing as ‘an optimum strategy for living life’. The idea is quite ridiculous – we’d have to be looking at things in a very peculiar way in order to take this notion seriously. We’d have to be somewhat deranged, in fact! It ought to be obvious that life cannot be lived according to a strategy…


It ought to be as obvious as the nose on our face that we can’t live life according to  strategy but it isn’t. Equally, it ought to be very obvious that there couldn’t ever be such a thing as a specific therapeutic approach to life’s difficulties that actually works but it isn’t. How can there be a generic answer to life’s difficulties when life is not a generic thing? The basic premise behind the idea of a specific ‘therapeutic approach’ is that there could be a way to deliberately encourage or facilitate the healing process (i.e. the process by which we grow as people). This premise however is quite absurd! The healing process cannot be guided or regulated from the outside – we might as well make a rule that all seedlings should sprout in accordance with this government guideline or that government guideline and then appoint officers to make sure that this happens. We can notice how a seedling sprouts and grows, and we can forbear from interfering with the process, but we can’t officiate over it. We can’t ‘take over’ what is happening or in any way make the process serve our ends rather than its own. We can’t turn our observations into a theory or model and then use this theory or model to regulate or manage how the process happens. The very idea of ‘regulation’ or ‘management’ is completely antithetical to the spirit of a natural (or ‘spontaneous’) process…


A spontaneous process simply happens – it unfolds ‘according to its own law’ and there is nothing we can do to try to take charge of it. We might be able to take charge of the process by which aluminium is extracted from bauxite, and regulate how and when that happens, but we can’t do the same with the processes that unfold in the psyche. The rational mind doesn’t regulate the psyche, no matter how dearly it might love to do so! In fact the opposite is true – the more the thinking mind gets involved with the inner process the less this process is able to unfold ‘according to its own law’. All the rational mind can do is block and postpone the processes that occur in the psyche and this happens every single time we try to ‘take charge’. It unfailingly happens! This is the obstacle to healing we never see – the obstacle is ourselves!


Similarly, the idea that there could be such a thing as ‘an optimum strategy for living life’ is quite ludicrous because life isn’t something we do. Life isn’t a problem to be overcome or solved, and strategies are only good for solving problems. When we try to ‘do’ life (which is to say, when we turn it into a cut-and-dried exercise in management) we block the process of life, we obstruct it, we ‘turn it against itself’. The extent that we try to ‘do’ life is the extent to which we can’t actually live it, therefore, and this is the obstacle we keep on running into without realizing it. We ourselves are the obstacle we keep running into, without realizing it!


There is no strategy for living life because we’re not supposed to be ‘in charge’. There’s no point in trying to figure out how to live life, because there is no way – there’s no strategic way, no way to do it in accordance with a design or plan. But suppose we say (as we have done) that the optimum strategy is simply to be with ourselves ‘come what may’, through thick and through thin, through the good times and the bad? Suppose we make this into a therapeutic approach? Suppose we say that this is the ideal thing to do? What would be wrong with this? Wouldn’t we have a better handle on things this way? Our initial response is of course to try to turn this understanding around and make it into some kind of a framework that we can use, into some kind of a ‘recipe’ or ‘methodology’ to help us navigate life and life’s difficulties but this just isn’t going to work. It isn’t going to work because – when it comes down to it – we really don’t have any choice! This is a point that Alan Watts makes: when we talk about ‘accepting life’ that makes it sound as if it is some kind of rational decision that we can make, just like we might decide to make a cup of tea or give up chocolate cakes for Lent. We might think that we can use the idea of ‘accepting life’ as a method but we can’t – we can’t because we simply don’t have any choice in the matter. What else are we going to do?


We pretty much have to be with ourselves as we live our lives. What else are we going to do? Where else are we going to go? There’s no choice here at all! And yet, having said this, we must nevertheless point out that we do have a kind of a choice. We have a type of ‘apparent choice’ and this is the choice of temporarily absenting ourselves from our own lives. This is – needless to say – a choice that we utilize most of the time, on just about a full-time basis in fact. We are adept at utilizing this choice, we’re fully-fledged experts. We are out-and-out geniuses when it comes down to being absent – if someone was handing out Nobel prizes for ‘hiding out from our own lives’ then we’d all be there at the award ceremony shaking hands with the King of Sweden…


The reason we absent ourselves from our own lives is of course because it gets hard going. We don’t want to be there – we want to be somewhere else. The other way of looking at this is to say that the reason we absent ourselves is because we’re continuously straining to be somewhere better. We have the impression that the grass is greener in the adjoining field and so we’re hankering to get there. We’re scheming and planning how we’re going to get there and so in our fevered imaginations we’re already there! The trouble with looking forward to better times like this is of course that we’re no longer present with ourselves. We’re in a future that doesn’t exist – we’re absent, in other words. We’re more interested in ‘where we’d like to be’ than in ‘where we are’ and as a result we’re not actually anywhere!


And even when we are interested in ‘what is’ (rather than ‘what we think ought to be’) the chances are that we will still absent ourselves. Even when the going is good, when life is good, the chances are that I will be absenting myself. The thing is that there are two times when we tend to get manipulative, when we tend to get controlling – [1] is when something there is something painful happening that I want to avoid and [2] is when there is something enjoyable happening that we want to get more of! When life turns difficult then – naturally enough – we try to defend ourselves against this difficulty, and this ‘defending’ inevitably turns into us not being present. But when things are going well, and we seem to have stumbled into having a bit of good luck for a change (as we might see it) we still move into defensive mode, only this time we’re defending the fortunate situation – we’re defending against anything that might jeopardize it. In the first case therefore we’re defending against what we don’t want to happen and in the second case we defending what we do want to happen – we’re defending against the possibility of it not happening anymore! But defending is defending whatever way around we do it and so we end up absenting ourselves from our own lives in both cases…


The point we’re making here is that any sort of strategizing – when it comes to our mental state – is going to rebound adversely on us. There is simply no such thing as ‘helpful strategizing’ when it comes to being in a peaceful or happy state of mind as opposed to a disturbed or miserable one. This really does need to be stressed over and over again as we are so predisposed to believing that strategizing is the thing that is going to save us. As we have said, we strategize when things are going well (so as to ensure if we can that they carry on going well) and we strategize when things aren’t going well (so as to change this situation into one that is more favourable to us) and the understanding that ‘not-strategizing’ might be the thing that will save us (rather than yet more controlling, yet more manoeuvring) is one that just never occurs to us. The understanding that the optimum thing any of us could ever do (in either scenario) is simply to ‘be with ourselves’ couldn’t be further away from us. It’s not so much that it’s the last thing we’d ever think of, but rather that it’s the one thing that we never ever would think of…


‘Being present’ isn’t a strategy. A strategy is something we engage in order to obtain some sort of a pre-specified outcome and we don’t ‘be present with ourselves’ in order to obtain some kind of an outcome! If we were attempting to be present with ourselves in order to obtain some kind of an outcome then we simply wouldn’t be present because strategizing – as we have said – causes us to be absent rather than present. We have retreated into our thoughts, retreated into our plans and our calculations and so the one place where we most assuredly aren’t going to be is in the present moment! We’re being ‘clever’ about it and cleverness is really only avoidance.


It can be seen that saying (as we have done) that the optimum thing any of us can do is simply ‘to be with ourselves come what may’ is a bit of a trick statement, therefore. It’s a ‘trick statement’ because if one thing is the optimum then all other things must be ‘not optimum’ and the situation where ‘one thing is more advantageous than the other’ straightaway leads into strategizing. Where else can this way of seeing things lead? It would be more helpful to say that wherever we happen to be, that is the optimum place to be, because this then cuts off the very root of strategizing, the very root of the deeply engrained need to stay in control. Being present means simply ‘being where we are’, and this is not a strategy! This is not a form of ‘being clever’!


If we could see that the process of life unfolds according to its own law, and that this has nothing to do with our desires, our need to feel in control (i.e. our need not to feel painfully insecure) then this would revolutionize everything. Our whole approach to life would be turned on its head. Instead of basing everything on the need to enforce ‘the way we think things should be’ we would be orientating ourselves in terms of ‘sensitivity to what is’. As soon as we say this we can see that ‘sensitivity to what is’ cannot be a strategy. Strategies are always about enforcing what we think ought to be the case, never about being sensitive to what actually is the case. There can’t be such a thing as a strategy to help us be more sensitive! That would be like saying that there could be such a thing as a strategy to help us be better listeners, or a strategy that would enable us to be more caring, or more creative, or more ‘aware’ – there are no strategies for these sort of things. There is only ‘being present’ and being present is not a strategy.


What we are saying here sounds very simple – and in one way it is simple, astonishingly simple in fact – but in another way it is not so simple at all! It isn’t ‘simple’ because of the way in which we automatically turn ‘not having a strategy’ into a strategy. We do this without being aware of what we are doing. We do this without even noticing – in passing – the total irony of what we have just done. For example, we can say – quite rightly – that being present means ‘accepting what is’, and ‘not judging what is’. So far so good. But if I say (either to myself or someone else) “Accept!” then this is a method – accepting is now my method, whereas before my method was this or that form of ‘non-accepting’. And if I say “Don’t judge” (again, either to myself or to someone else) then not-judging now becomes my method, whereas before my method was judging, or evaluating…


Nothing has really changed, therefore. I’m just upgrading my strategy – I’m just playing a more sophisticated game. Actually, without realizing it, I’ve tied myself up in knots. If I make ‘accepting’ into my new method (i.e. if I make a rule that says “I must accept”) then I have rejected non-accepting. But if I am rejecting my non-accepting then I’m not being ‘non-accepting’ at all! I’m just going around in circles! And if I make ‘Not judging’ into my new method (if I make a rule that says “I must not judge”) then I have judged my judging! So in reality I’m judging more than ever – I’ve created a whole new level of judging!


The problem is that the ‘purposeful self’ – which is who or what we usually take ourselves to be – can never NOT strategize!! Strategizing is all that it can do; strategizing is all that it can understand. If we could only understand clearly the nature of the purposeful self and how it works, then we would see that all it can ever do is obey rules. That’s how it operates – that’s the only way it can operate. The purposeful (or ‘conditioned’) self cannot ever do anything unless it first comes up with a rule saying that that it should do it. It can’t do anything without ‘a purpose’. The purposeful self is an automaton, in other words, because all it can ever do is follow instructions. It can’t do anything without first having a defined goal. All it can ever do is obey its own rules, it own purposes. So if this self gets the idea that the insanity of its unremitting purposefulness (the fact that it is always obeying one rule or another) is causing problems, is causing suffering, then it will straightaway (without reflecting upon the irony of what it is doing) come up with a new rule which says “I must not obey any rules”. The new rule is to not have any rules. The new instruction is to not follow any instructions. The new purpose is to not have any purposes. The new goal is to live without goals…


This sounds like a hopeless mess but it isn’t – there is still freedom here even if we can’t see it. We just need to stop seeing things through the eyes of the conditioned self. The thing here is that just as soon as we do clearly understand the purposeful self and the way that it works then this means that we are no longer identifying with that self, and if we are no longer identifying with the conditioned self then we are free from its mechanical nature, we are free from inbuilt invisible paradoxicality.


We can only understand that there is this ‘thing’, this ‘automaton’ we call the purposeful (or conditioned) self when we no longer automatically believe that we are it. To see the conditioned self is to be free from it; as Krishnamurti says, “The seeing is the doing”. Or as it says in the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, “To see illusion is to depart from it.” Normally we think that there must be something we need to ‘do’ but doing means strategizing and when we strategize we automatically identify with the purposeful self, which makes it impossible to see that self or know that it isn’t who we really are! When Krishnamurti says that ‘The seeing is the doing’ he means that the seeing itself is the thing, instead of the doing – and this is what is so hard for us to understand. For us – as we have said – purposeful doing is all that we know. Purposeful doing is also the thing that keeps us unconscious, the thing that keeps us firmly identified with the purposeful self. This is what Ken Wilbur is saying in the following passage taken from No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth:

Slowly, gently, as you pursue this dis-identification “therapy,” you may find that your entire individual self (persona, ego, centaur), which heretofore you have fought to defend and protect, begins to go transparent and drop away. Not that it literally falls off and you find yourself floating, disembodied, through space. Rather, you begin to feel that what happens to your personal self—your wishes, hopes, desires, hurts—is not a matter of life-or-death seriousness, because there is within you a deeper and more basic self which is not touched by these peripheral fluctuations, these surface waves of grand commotion but feeble substance.


Thus, your personal mind-and-body may be in pain, or humiliation, or fear, but as long as you abide as the witness of these affairs, as if from on high, they no longer threaten you, and thus you are no longer moved to manipulate them, wrestle with them, or subdue them. Because you are willing to witness them, to look at them impartially, you are able to transcend them. As St. Thomas put it, “Whatever knows certain things cannot have any of them in its own nature.” Thus, if the eye were colored red, it wouldn’t be able to perceive red objects. It can see red because it is clear, or “redless.” Likewise, if we can but watch or witness our distresses, we prove ourselves thereby to be “distress-less,” free of the witnessed turmoil. That within which feels pain is itself pain-less; that which feels fear is fear-less; that which perceives tension is tensionless. To witness these states is to transcend them. They no longer seize you from behind because you look at them up front.

As we usually are, we cannot see the purposeful self. We do not know what it means to be ‘identified with the purposeful or conditioned self’. We are it so we can’t see it. It’s invisible to us. We can however – if we pay attention – notice its strategizing! The purposeful self automatically tries to control – for it, ‘to exist is to control’. For it, ‘existing equals controlling’. So when we notice our strategizing (the rational calculations we are making with regard to our situation) then we are noticing the purposeful self. We notice ourselves trying to control things either the one way or the other (either in accordance with the attraction or aversion that we feel in relation to certain outcomes) and we also notice how we feel when we succeed in our controlling and when we don’t succeed. Normally we identify with the need that the purposeful self has to control, to strategize, and when we identify with it we can’t notice it. The same is true when we think when we identify with a thought we don’t see ourselves thinking. We just get ‘sucked up in the thought’ and that is that. So to see the ‘urge to control’ (rather than automatically identifying with it) is to see the purposeful self, just as to see the thought (rather than just getting automatically ‘sucked up in it) is to see the purposeful self. When we actually see the purposeful self we are aware that it is always something of an absurdity. How could it not be an absurdity when it always has to be trying to control everything, either the one way or the other?


This is really quite a remarkable thing to behold. What does it mean if we can never be at ease, but instead have to be ceaselessly controlling, ceaselessly strategizing, ceaselessly trying to get things to be the way we think they ought to be? What kind of a situation is this? The only time we get to rest is when we successfully get things to be the way we think they ought to be, and even this isn’t really ‘resting’ because if we were to genuinely rest then everything would start to slip again, everything would stop being the way we think it ought to be. I’m never at peace with the way things are therefore – I’m only ‘kind of at peace’ (on a strictly temporary and conditional basis) with the way things are when I have them under control. So when I am identified with the purposeful or conditioned self this is my predicament. And if I get tired with the state of affairs (as I am inevitably bound to) then what I am going to do is try to control myself to stop controlling all the time. I’m going to try to come up with a strategy to help me not to be trying to be in control the whole time. And yet no matter what I do I am only ever going to be compounding the mess that I’m in!


The more we try to accord with the Tao (the innate harmony of things) the more we deviate from it, Alan Watts states. And yet at the same time it is also true, he goes on to say, that we can never really deviate from the Tao, from the natural order of things. Ken Wilbur quotes the Zen saying, “That from which one can deviate is not the true Tao.” As soon as we stop seeing everything from the viewpoint of the purposeful self – which we do simply by ‘being present’, simply by taking a break from our ceaseless strategizing – then we come back into the innate harmony of things, which we will discover that we had never really left…