Shrinking The Self

We build ourselves up with our thinking – we are constantly building ourselves up with our thinking, and this is not helpful thing! It doesn’t matter whether our thoughts are of the ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ variety as far as this is concerned; it doesn’t matter because we’re building ourselves up either way!  No matter whether our thoughts might be considered destructive or constructive, helpful or unhelpful, realistic or unrealistic, it’s a positive accumulation. All thought (no matter how we may see it) is an accumulation and that’s not doing us any good at all…

 

Now we might of course say that we want to build ourselves up in a positive way, we might say that this is a good and healthy thing. We probably will say this. We implicitly see a ‘positive accumulation’ as something that will give us a better life; we see having a solid well-defined positive self-image as being an indication of good mental-health. Having a positive (i.e. a confident and empowered) self-image is where we see our happiness lying. Happiness doesn’t come about as a result of an accumulation however, no matter what it might be that we are accumulating. Happiness isn’t synonymous with having a positive self-image; far from being synonymous it is fundamentally incompatible – the two cannot co-exist.

 

It is our simplistic preconception that happiness and fulfilment in life can come about as a result of an accumulation of the right sort of things and this is a preconception that – needless to say – has informed our modern way of living. This assumption it what underlies the whole of our Western consumer society – we are all trying to ‘consume our way to happiness’ as fast as we can! ‘Consume’ equals ‘accumulate’ – we add more and more stuff to the pile and the bigger the pile the better it is. Successful accumulation equals a happy life whilst failure to accumulate means an unhappy life – or at least, that’s what the adverts say!

 

Accumulation occurs on two levels. There is the ‘outer’ accumulation of ‘stuff’ and there is the ‘inner’ accumulation of memories, ideas, beliefs, techniques, theories, models, and so on. The two processes run along side-by-side and we can’t really separate the two – there’s the inner clutter and there’s the outer clutter and both of these stand in the way of our genuine happiness. We all know that clutter isn’t conducive to happiness but somehow we don’t see our thoughts about ourselves and the world as being mere ‘clutter’, which they totally are. Thoughts aren’t the ‘real thing’, after all, they are simply stuff we say about the real thing. They are just our comments. Our thoughts and beliefs are an opaque overlay that covers up reality so that – in the end – all we have left to relate to are our own mental constructs. Or as Alan Watts says, all we have to think about are our own thoughts, which is a process that doesn’t take us anywhere good…

 

There isn’t a ‘beneficial’ type of clutter, as opposed to a ‘harmful’ type. Clutter clogs up the space around us, eventually reducing our mobility (our freedom to move) to zero and then we’re stuck, frozen into a single cramped posture. Clutter chokes our creativity and – eventually – turns us into clutter too. This is easy to see with clutter that exists on the outside but not so easy with regard to our positively constructed idea of our self, our memories and habits, our history… We would be shocked, on the whole, to hear that our ‘accumulation of ourself’ (or the ‘personal narrative’) is nothing more than clutter, nothing more than dead wood and not who we essentially are at all. The accumulation of undigested mental impressions and constructs that surrounds us hems us in and chokes who we really are because who we really are is always new, always fresh – it isn’t a ‘yet another reworking of the old’, even though we are totally convinced that it is.  Our thoughts about ourselves become our mausoleum; or as John Berger says, ‘the past gradually grows around one, like a placenta for the dying’. There is no sort of an accumulation of thoughts or ideas about the world and ourselves that does not put a stranglehold on who we really are, and since happiness can only about as a result of us being ‘who we really are’ (and not as a result of us being mistaken or deluded in this regard) the accumulated or constructed self can never be happy.

 

But if the constructed self can never be happy then why do we have such an unhealthy obsession with it? Why don’t we just ditch it? Why don’t we give up it (as one gives up on a bad thing or a road that doesn’t take us anywhere) and stop putting all our energy into it? If obsessing over the mind-created self and its fortunes doesn’t make us happy then why pursue the matter in the way that we do? Unhappiness – we might say – is an indication that we have wandered away from ourselves, an indication that we have got lost along the way, and yet somehow we never go into this enough to see what it is that we have wandered away from. Instead of paying due attention to the loss of our natural happiness (or ‘inner freedom’) we implicitly treat this issue as somehow not being very important, and substituting other values in place of it, so as to try to ‘make do’ in some way. Instead of going down the road of philosophical enquiry, therefore, we opt for whatever cheap tricks we can come up with to mask the pain that we’re in.

 

Modern society is all about looking for substitutes for genuine happiness! We have – even though we will never admit this to ourselves – given up on happiness and have opted for other ‘commodities’ instead. We have made goals of being secure, being approved of, being in a desirable social / financial situation, having a position of power over others, having a belief structure that we don’t have to question and all these types of things. As John Berger says, we have opted for the good feeling that comes with being ‘envied by others’ even though this is a hollow attainment at best because even if we do play the game well enough to get other people to envy us we can’t help knowing – deep down – that we have nothing worth envying. Deep down – no matter what we say – we know very well that there’s nothing there, that it’s all a sham…

 

As a society, we have all agreed together (whether we know it or not)  to play this hollow game in which we strive as hard as we can to accumulate the theatrical analogues of happiness, the markers or indicators that we say show that we are happy, even though we are not. We have opted for the theatrical analogue of happiness which is the outward appearance of happiness, the outward appearance we agree not to look beyond. The best possible outcome of this game is therefore to have the perfect mask which we are not ever going to be able to look beneath, to see who is actually wearing it. Playing this game actually means that the more successful we are the more miserable we are! This is the paradox involved in chasing theatrical happiness – the better we do at the game the worse off we are. And if we fail at the game, if fail at the very serious task of creating an enviable mask that everyone, including ourselves, can believe in, then we aren’t going to be happy either because we’re going to believe (quite wrongly, as it happens) that we’ve missed out, that we’re not getting our slice of the pie that everyone else is enjoying. This is the great irony that we have made ourselves quite incapable of seeing…

 

The question is however, why would we do this? Why would we actively chase misery in the way that we do? Why would we pursue something that actually precludes us ever being genuinely happy? Why would anyone be so denying of themselves that they would want to do this? One answer is simply to say that we do it because we’re confused – we have confused the mental image that we have of ourselves with who we really are. We have confused the ‘positive self’ (the self that can be defined, and made understandable to ourselves and others) with the negative self, which is the self that is not an object of the rational mind with its cut and dried categories.

 

That’s one way of answering the question that we just posed. Another – parallel – way is to say that we aren’t ‘thinking for ourselves’ (so to speak); we’ve handed over responsibility for living our lives to the theatrical self, the mind-created self, the self which exists purely for the sake of appearances. As a result of this endeavour, we obtain, if we are lucky, the plausible appearance of happiness – a version of happiness that we can both buy ourselves and sell to others. When on the other hand we fail to obtain a version of happiness that convinces both ourselves and others, and not only this but start to gain insight into the fraudulent nature of the whole enterprise, then our peers will say that we are depressed. We will be prescribed medications to correct our abnormally negative way of seeing the world; we will be medically treated for the socially-constructed sickness of ‘seeing through the fraudulent nature of the theatrical self’…

 

 

From the point of view of the theatrical self (the self which is who we’re not, but cannot see that we’re not) happiness never really was a goal anyway. It was never our agenda to be genuinely happy. If happiness only exists for the true self (the self that doesn’t define itself) then what good is it to the theatrical self? Naturally enough therefore, the theatrical self has zero interest in real happiness – if the truth were known it would actually run a mile if it ever came across the genuine article. The theatrical self is mortally afraid of happiness because it knows that happiness is only there when it isn’t! Any time genuine freedom or happiness starts to appear on the horizon the everyday self will start sabotaging as fast as ever it can – it knows on which side its bread is buttered. The reason we never want to give up our neuroses is because these neuroses serve a very important function – they are what keep the theatre of ourselves going.

 

This then is the reason we gravitate towards misery in the way that we do. This is the reason we cling to our unhappiness as stubbornly as we do – it’s because we are letting the theatrical self run the show and it’s only interested in itself. It’s only interested in perpetuating itself, whatever the price; the agenda of the theatrical self is simply to ‘hang in there’…  If we’re feeling good because our self-image has been affirmed by events, or by other people, then this makes us think more because we’re trying to perpetuate the experience, and if we’re feeling bad (as a result of the self-image being disrespected by events or other people) then as everyone knows this makes us think more too – we’re thinking more because we’re trying or correct or ameliorate this insult to the self-image. We’re busy spin-doctoring the narrative. But whatever type of thinking it is that we’re engaged in it only ever adds to our misery; we accumulate more and more causes for suffering as we go along and we can’t help doing this. We accumulate suffering no matter which way we turn; we’re powerless – so it seems – to do anything other than accumulate suffering and the causes or suffering!

 

‘Shrinking the self’ (which is the only way to reduce or free ourselves from suffering) is the one thing that can never be done deliberately, on purpose. This isn’t the obstacle it sounds however because the shrinking of the self-concept is something that happens quite naturally just as soon as we develop an interest in seeing the truth. To see the truth is to see that we are not the self-concept and to see that we are not the self-concept is to stop putting so much of our energy and time into maintaining and promoting that construct. The self-image is very greedy for attention and resources; it is very high maintenance and so as soon as we start to see that its benefit is not our benefit then the dynamics of the situation are going to change all by themselves.  The truth is what frees us, not our perennial machinations; as the well-known verse reads in John 8:32 –

 ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’.

 

As we stop putting so much of our energy into maintaining the theatrical self (or self-image) it starts to shrink – it stops taking up quite so much space and as it stops taking up so much space we become lighter, we become less driven and therefore more playful. This doesn’t mean that the self-construct disappears but rather that we are no longer restricted to just this one (humourless) perspective on things. We can look at the world in more than just the one way. What this means therefore is that we are living life on two levels at once: we’re living life on the basis of the self-image (just the same as we always do) and we’re also living more freely, not from any fixed or determinate basis. The insight that we’re not who or what the thinking mind says we are means that we have more mobility, more flexibility, more freedom. In this new, more essential way of living we are aware (to some extent, at least) that we are not this concrete self but the space around it. We’re aware – sometimes more so, sometimes less so – that we aren’t our thoughts but the elusive gap between them. We’re not the positive or defined self but rather we’re ‘the negative self’ – if we can say that there is such a thing! We’re something far more subtle and hard to get a handle on than that clumsy old ‘concrete self’….

 

This playful awareness arises just as soon as the self-concept gets small enough for us to see around it. This is the unexpected benefit that we receive as a result of letting the self be shrunk by our ‘willingness to see the truth’! This doesn’t mean that we see it as a good idea to have our sense of self shrunk and take steps to bring that about – it’s not that we’re trying to ‘attain some advantage’! If we were, then that ‘advantage’ would be for the self-concept, and so we would be going around in circles. When it comes to it, the self-concept is only ever interested in expanding itself, not shrinking itself. It can never shrink itself, even though it might pretend that this is what it is doing, or that this is what it is interested in doing. But when we find the courage (or curiosity) within us to let reality shrink the self-image, we discover that we have gained something, not lost it. We have gained space, with all that comes with it. ‘Less is more’, as they say!

 

This isn’t a matter of deliberately ‘humbling oneself’ or ‘denying oneself’ – that would only be another strategy, another mental manoeuvre designed to provide us with some sort of advantage in the game. It’s not some manoeuvre that we’re talking about here but simply not taking ourselves so seriously.  It’s not that we have a found a new and highly effective way to improve our situation, but rather that we no longer feel compelled at every turn to keep on ‘playing the game’…

 

 

 

 

The Devaluation Of Consciousness

Consciousness is the least valuable commodity there is – we can sell just about everything else but we can’t sell this! Consciousness is garbage to us; we would not stoop to pick it off the street. It’s worse than garbage actually – consciousness is something that we have put on the banned list, it is something that we make every effort to keep at a safe distance. Consciousness is the uninvited guest at the party who will be thrown out unceremoniously by heavily armed security men if she ever dares to show her face…

 

To say that consciousness is inconvenient to us is of course to put it very mildly indeed! Consciousness is the one thing that is guaranteed to upset every apple-cart. It is guaranteed to throw all of our structures into disarray, and reduce them to rubble in moments. Consciousness destabilizes our structures to the point where they are not able to exist anymore. It falsifies all of the assumptions that our systems rest upon. How then can we possibly value consciousness, given that we are so very heavily invested in all of these structures and systems that we have created? To value consciousness is to value truth and truth is the very last thing we want to know about in this modern world of ours, no matter what we say.

 

It might seem that we live in an enlightened era which exists in stark contrast to earlier times when the human race was ruled by ignorance, prejudice and superstition, but if we think this then we’re looking at things with rose-tinted spectacles. People are not behaving very differently, when it comes down to it. What has happened (and it is admittedly very dramatic) is that we have got a lot better at controlling our physical environment and manipulating whatever we are able to manipulate. We can pull off a lot of tricks and they are quite spectacular. We have become very skilful at carrying out certain technical manoeuvres but if this skilfulness exists without any relationship to actual consciousness, then we’re in big trouble – to put it mildly. When there is no consciousness in the picture (and there isn’t) then things can hardly be expected to work out well…

 

If we have this hugely enhanced ability to manipulate the physical world but at the same time our actual level of awareness hasn’t changed very much (if at all) then we are in heading in one direction only and that is the direction of deceiving ourselves, and then enslaving ourselves with our self-deceptions. It has been said many times that when our cleverness outstrips our wisdom then we’re headed for disaster and how could this be otherwise? We don’t tend to see this because we imagine that technological prowess and understanding is the same thing as wisdom, but this is very far from being the case. The tools might be impressive but the user of the tool most definitely is not; our agenda for using all of the tools that we have access to is not impressive – on the contrary, it is distinctly uninspiring. It’s all pretty squalid. We’re only ever concerned with personal advantage; we’re only ever concerned with promoting the interests of the narrow little group that we’re affiliated with and this allegiance to the self or the group is a symptom of unconsciousness not consciousness.

 

Consciousness has no agenda whilst the rational mind always does. The rational mind cannot not have an agenda and its agenda has nothing to do with becoming conscious. The only way we can become conscious (or ‘globally aware’) is when we drop all of our rational agendas and it can be readily seen that our contemporary rational/technology culture has absolutely interest in doing any such thing. If we have an enhanced ability to control, and we are moreover very much invested in control and the outcome of controlling, then why on earth would we want to relinquish all our agendas? Actually, dropping our agendas turns out to be the very same thing as dropping the rational-conceptual mind and we definitely aren’t about to do this anytime soon! When it comes down to it, we think that we are the rational-conceptual mind and so of course we aren’t about to drop it – that would be the psychological equivalent to suicide. That would be throwing away the thing we hold most precious.

 

This – we might say – is our biggest delusion – the delusion that we are the thinking mind, that we are the same as our thoughts about who we are. As long as this is the case then it goes without saying that we won’t have any genuine interest in becoming conscious. Becoming conscious would mean sacrificing our precious illusions about who we are. Instead, we’re going to be very interested indeed in controlling because we imagine that if we get very good at controlling then we will be able to produce some especially favourable conditions for ourselves. Producing especially advantageous circumstances or conditions for ourselves is our chief interest; it’s just about our only interest. Although we may not necessarily put it quite like this, our Number One Assumption in life is the belief that if we get very good at controlling then this will mean that we will be able to bring about the ultimately beneficial situation for ourselves. Naturally enough, this (thoroughly deluded) thought has an enormous amount of appeal! It’s quite intoxicating…

 

We could hardly get things more wrong, however. We couldn’t get things more wrong – that would be an impossibility! The more we invest in controlling the more deluded we are, and the more trapped by our delusions we are. We are always looking for better and better outcomes and because of the intoxicating lure of ‘improving our situation’ we are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in cleverness and controlling. We are constantly being driven to invest more and more of ourselves in the rational mind, in other words. The more we invest ourselves in the rational mind however the more alienated from actual reality we become – our viewpoint is getting narrower and narrower the whole time as we focus more and more on the particular details that we are interested in. The more we specialize the less we are aware we are of the indefinable Whole; to know everything (or nearly everything) about one particular set of details at the expense of having any awareness or appreciation of the bigger picture is to be not-conscious. That is to be unconscious and being ‘unconscious’ is very clearly what we as a culture are all about. We’re not about the bigger picture at all – we think that our narrow rational understanding of the world is the bigger picture! We call anything else an illusion…

 

Our assumption is then that the outcome, the special conditions that we will have brought about with our skilful controlling, will be highly beneficial for us, highly advantageous for us. We are on this accounted highly attracted to the goal or outcome that we see in front of us – it exerts a tremendous magnetic effect on our attention. But how can a mind-created illusion (because that’s what it is) possibly be ‘beneficial’ or ‘advantageous’? How can it possibly do us any good? The answer is of course that it can’t do us any good; it will actually do us harm – over-valuing a mind-created illusion is bound to cause us harm because we’re neglecting what matters in favour of what doesn’t matter. Only the Whole can be beneficial, only the Whole can do us any good, but we have no regard for it. We have no regard or respect for the Whole – all we care about is our controlling and what this controlling is supposed to bring about for us. We’re obsessed with our narrow agenda and this agenda is purely toxic.

 

On the face of it, what we value is the desired goal-state, as we have just said; we value the special conditions that are going to be so beneficial to us. If we go deeper into it however we can see that this means we must also value the abstract viewpoint that gives rise to the mirage of the goal (or to which this goal seems so meaningful and so important). Without this narrow, abstracted way of looking at the world the goal means nothing at all. In simple terms – if we value the goal at which we are aiming, and which is exciting us so much, then we also have to value the state of ignorance that gives rise to it. Whether we want to admit it or not, we actually value our own ignorance and so – this being the case – of course we don’t value consciousness.

 

We either have it one way or the other therefore – we can’t have it both ways and the way that we have chosen to have it is to protect and preserve our own ignorance at all costs. The thinking mind can’t operate any other way, strange as it may sound to say this. The thinking mind has to ignore the Whole Picture because if it doesn’t then all its deliberations, all its activities, immediately become entirely meaningless. What ‘goal’, what ‘outcome’, what ‘specially-engineered situation’ can hold a candle to the Whole, after all? The ‘Whole’ we’re talking about here isn’t some kind of metaphysical fancy – it’s what actually exists. It’s the only thing that exists. The part, the fraction, the detail, only seems to exist when we pretend that the Whole isn’t there – this is the game that thought is playing. Reality itself doesn’t not contain any divisions; it does not come with any boundaries or limits.

 

The thinking mind is a jealous god and it doesn’t look kindly upon any extra-curricular activities, anything that doesn’t support the party line, anything that doesn’t have anything to do its all-important goals, anything that doesn’t support it’s all-important agenda. As we read in Saying 47 of the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said: It is not possible for a man to ride two horses or stretch two bows; and it is not possible for a servant to serve two masters, unless he honours the one and insults the other. …

Once we’re in the business of controlling then consciousness goes out of the window straightaway because consciousness is what lies outside of the framework of thought. Consciousness is what doesn’t serve the master of the thinking mind. The engine of thought and all of its devices requires a lot of investment; as we keep saying, this means that anything which has ‘no relevance’ to our viewpoint (i.e. anything that doesn’t fit with our prosaic assumptions) has to be forgotten about. We have no time for it; we have no regard for it. We’re far too busy with the endeavours that the mind sees as important. Yet what we’re forgetting about is Everything because the special goal-state we’re lavishing our attention on isn’t real. It’s not part of ‘Everything’ because it’s a mind-created abstraction. What we think is important is never ‘where it’s happening’ – on the contrary, it’s always where it isn’t happening! There’s nothing more sterile than thought’s creations.

 

We’re always looking in the wrong direction – we’re always looking in a direction that isn’t even a direction. We’re deludely convinced we’re onto something but we’re not. We’re gambling everything on the wrong thing because even if we did win the prize it wouldn’t do us any good. It wouldn’t do us any good because the prize is a mind-created abstraction and so we would have to become a mind-created abstraction too in order to believe in it, in order for it to seem substantial to us. We would have to become a ghost, in other words – we would have to become a ghost whilst still alive. Chasing the glittering images which the mind creates in such abundance means that we have turned our back on reality itself, and what possible good do we expect to come from this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thinking Mind

How can computation, calculation, and data-gathering be the centre of all things; how can the measuring or quantifying mind be the basis for the whole world? And yet it is. There can be no doubt that this is the way things are – all we have to do is to pay careful attention to our day-to-day experience of what it feels like to be us, what it feels like to be a person. What the experience of being a person usually means is that we are always in the middle of a whirlwind of mental activity – evaluating things, judging things, analysing things, categorizing things, quantifying things, thinking about things…

 

We have made computing or calculating (or ‘measuring’) the centre of all things. We have done this without realizing what we have done, without appreciating that this is in any way strange. Whatever happens, we’re in a hurry to measure it, to compare it with the evaluating yardstick of the concept-making mind and see what we make of it. “What is this, what is this, what it this?” the mind is asking all the time. Every time a new datum comes along the mind tries to fit it into its overall picture of reality, to consolidate that picture. All the activity that goes on in the thinking mind is geared towards this end.

 

The questioning that the thinking mind engages in isn’t questioning of a philosophical type – it is on the contrary a pragmatic questioning, a form of questioning that is directed towards consolidating our conceptual ‘grip’ upon the world. We’re not asking open questions with our thinking in other words, but rather what we’re doing is that we’re trying to makes sense of the world within the same narrow framework of understanding that we always use to make sense of things, and this is a different matter entirely. There is no doubt whatsoever that our experience of being in the world is one of being in the centre of this maelstrom of thinking and evaluating – we can hardly pretend otherwise since if this were true then we would be going around in the centre of an oceanic sense of calm and serenity, and how often is this the case? The way things usually are is that we are agitated rather than calm, busy in the head rather than peaceful.

 

The question this raises is “Why?” Why is all this activity going on? Why have we made computation and measuring the centre of all things when it is clearly not necessary that we do so? We don’t need to be thinking about life the whole time, after all – we could just be living it. We don’t need to be analysing and evaluating and second-guessing our situation – we could just be taking it as it comes and enjoying it! Since everything is already perfect at being what it is, what is all this mind-created commotion about? What’s to be gained by it? What are we trying to achieve? What’s behind it all?

 

We have of course already alluded to what the answer to all these questions might be – we’re mentally busy in the way that we are because we’re trying to squeeze everything into a framework when it doesn’t really belong there. All the activity is because we’re trying to make sense of the world so that it makes sense in the way that we want it to. One thing is absolutely for sure and that is that if we were happy for everything to be the way that it already is then we would immediately be in a state of the most wonderful inner peace. Words would not be able to describe how peaceful we would feel – we would be at the centre of a veritable ocean of peacefulness. There would be a quality of serenity such as we are unlikely ever to experience in life. If we did experience it then we would be unlikely to forget it in a hurry…

 

We know that this oceanic sense of serenity and unity with the world comes our way only very rarely therefore – if at all – and so what this shows us is, very clearly, is that we aren’t OK about things being ‘the way that they already are’. Our day-to-day state of mind indicates clearly that we aren’t ‘accepting of things as they are’ but resisting of things as they are. Because we aren’t OK about things be the way that they are we are compelled, instead, to be forever trying to control and manage and regulate them instead. This draws our attention to a very curious thing therefore – how could we be resistant to reality across the board, and only be in favour of it when it meets our special requirements?

 

Even to ask this question is to begin to be aware of what it is that’s going on here. The point (which we have already alluded to) is that our relationship with reality is a controlling one, not a respectful one. If I am in a relationship with you and I am trying to control you (as is often the case in relationships) then I am only going to be happy with you when you do what I want. I’m not happy with you the way you actually are; I’m only happy with you when you’re the way that I want you to be and this is exactly what our relationship with reality is like, whether we like to see it or not.

 

Needless to say, a controlling relationship isn’t any sort of relationship at all, and yet we’re constantly fooling ourselves that it is. We’re constantly fooling ourselves to think that our relationship with reality is an honest and respectful one when this very much isn’t the case. The truth is that we don’t care what reality is in itself – we’re actually frightened to find out – we only care about what we say it is. As long as we have this type of controlling ‘relationship’ with reality we’re never going to be happy; happiness is out of the question, as is peace of mind. Everything is on a strictly conditional footing when we’re in ‘control mode’ – everything is conditional upon how well we do in our controlling. So if our controlling goes well then we’re ‘happy’ but this is only conditional happiness. It’s conditional happiness because it depends upon us getting our own way and what this means is that the so-called ‘happiness’ will turn around at the drop of a hat and become its opposite when things don’t work out according to plan. Satisfaction then turns into dissatisfaction, apparent ‘good’ humour turns sour. Contentment turns into angry frustration, and so on. All conditioned emotions are like this, all are liable to turn around at the drop of a hat, depending on circumstances. There is never any chance of genuine peace or happiness when our relationship with the world is a controlling one, therefore.

 

Peace of mind is alien to the conditioned mentality; it doesn’t belong there – any sense of peace or well-being that might seem to be there can be taken away in an instant and ‘peace that can be taken away in an instant’ isn’t peace! We can fool ourselves that it is, we can tell ourselves that all is well with the world and that the basis of our well-being is as solid as a rock but this just isn’t true. The basis for our sense of well-being is ‘us being successful in our controlling’ and there’s nothing rock solid about this. Our well-being is dependent upon external factors, upon ‘things going a certain way’, and a less reliable basis than this is impossible to imagine. When our sense of well-being is dependent upon successful controlling then, pretty obviously, peace of mind is not going to be the result! This is actually the recipe for anxiety, not peacefulness…

 

The thing that we generally have difficulty in understanding is this assertion that our relationship with reality (or the world) is almost always one of controlling – we don’t see things this way. Obviously we can see that sometimes we are controlling, or trying to control, but we certainly have the perception that this is always the case. This is because we don’t understand that thinking is in its essence all about controlling. Thinking is controlling because it always interprets reality on its own terms. Of course thinking always interprets reality on its own terms – that’s what thinking is. Thinking is the process whereby we subject the world to our rules, to our criteria, in order to it to compel it ‘make sense’. It is so normal for us to do this that we don’t really focus on what we’re doing, but what we’re doing is pulling everything into a framework of reference that we ourselves have decided upon. We’re making sense of things in a way that suits us.

 

If we didn’t think about the world all the time then it wouldn’t look the same at all. Our thoughts don’t exist ‘out there’ in the world, our concepts and ideas and beliefs don’t have an existence of their own – it’s us that make them, it’s us that have put them there. If we didn’t engage in all this mental activity then the picture of reality that we take for granted would wink out of existence immediately, as if it had never existed. This picture of reality – no matter how familiar it might be to us – is a conditioned one. It is conditional upon us making it be there, it is conditional upon the way that we choose to look out at the world.

 

To put this in really simple terms – the simplest possible terms – what we’re trying to do is make something be what it isn’t. This is the big endeavour that we are all engaged upon. Is it any wonder that we are kept so busy at? The bottom line here of course is that we just can’t make something be what it isn’t. That’s just not going to happen, plainly. But what we can do – for a while at least – is make it seem as if we’re getting somewhere, and this illusion will allow us to feel motivated and positive. What we’re actually doing however is that we’re rolling a boulder up a hill – by putting a lot of effort into it we can apparently get somewhere, but the moment we start to slacken it’s all going to go into reverse again. Things are going to start slipping…

 

So straightaway we have two types of activity that are possible, two types of activity that can arise. The first type of activity we can call ‘optimistic’ or ‘hopeful’ activity, the second ‘pessimistic’ or ‘anxious’ activity. ‘Hopeful’ activity is activity is activity that is motivated by the belief that we can roll the boulder up the hill until we reach a point at which it won’t come rolling all the way back down again. This is the outcome that we are working towards, this is the outcome called ‘success’. Anxious activity – needless to say – is still activity where we’re struggling to get that boulder up the hill but we no longer believe that we’re going to be successful at it. This doesn’t mean that we stop trying, it just means that we are now trying on two levels not just the one. We’re fighting to roll the boulder up the hill and we’re also fighting not to see that this can endeavour is never going to work.

 

Both of these are equally strong motivations – when we have our eye on the prize and we’re pressing home for the final advantage this is a strong motivation, and when we’re struggling to avoid missing out on the prize this too is a powerful motivational incentive! But it can be seen all the same that both motivations are also equally illusory – the ‘prize’ that I’m striving for doesn’t exist and because it doesn’t exist neither does the possibility of avoiding the threat of missing out on it. I can’t avoid not attaining the prize because attaining it was never a real possibility in the first place. The prize we’ve got our eyes on is – as we have said – the prize of not having to be working away forever at rolling the boulder up the hill. The prize is when we finally ‘get there’ but this just isn’t going to happen; we’re never going to reach the summit of the mountain in the way that we hope to and the reason we’re never going to be able to do this is self-explanatory – no matter how long and how hard we work away at maintaining a mental construct that construct is never going to grow legs and stand up all by itself!

 

This then explains why there is always so much thinking, so much mental activity going on – it’s because we’re engaged in a job that has no end to it, it’s because we’re engaged in a non-terminating task. We can look at this in two ways – either we can say that we’re struggling to fit everything into our narrow little framework of reference and that this is a NTT, or we can say that we’re struggling to maintain the artificial construct of who we think we are but aren’t, and this is a NTT as well. It all comes down to the same thing in the end because it’s only by looking at the world via our narrow frame of reference (as if it were the only way to look at things) that we can carry on believing in the reality of the self-construct. The bottom line is that mental activity – both conscious and unconscious – is needed on a constant basis. The best we can hope for is that the unconscious mental activity will carry on without us having to be made aware of it and that the conscious mental activity (the day-to-day thinking) will continue to appear entirely volitional and unconnected with the secret task of maintaining the self-construct. This is ‘unconscious living with no visible snags’, so to speak.

 

The worst that can happen, on the other hand, is where we do begin to become aware of what is going on and have to painfully escalate the thinking activity in order to try to cover up the true nature of what is going on, even though this escalation actually draws attention to what is going on all the more. This situation is called ‘neurotic mental illness’ – this is when our comfort zones start to fail us and we begin the slow and painful movement back to reality – however reluctantly. The irony underlying all this of course is that the thing we’re protecting isn’t really worth it. It isn’t really worth it because it isn’t real – what we’re struggling to protect is a knot of tension and struggling and stress which exists purely in order to maintain the fiction of who the thinking mind says we are, and yet who we really are – behind all this struggling and stress – is something far, far greater than we could ever even begin to imagine! We’re protecting the shoddy copy at the expense of the priceless original! This is the true nature of the ‘ironic struggle’ upon which we are perpetually engaged…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Is No Such Thing As Useful Thinking

There’s no such thing as ‘helpful thinking’ as far as working with neurosis is concerned. There is absolutely no such thing as ‘a way of thinking that can help untangle us from neurotic patterns of thinking and behaving’. This is like saying that there’s ‘no such thing as useful thinking’ when it comes to telling the truth – if we have to think about it then we’re avoiding the truth, not telling it! Neurosis may be defined as the avoidance or attempted avoidance of pain that is legitimately ours (which is to say, pain that actually belongs to us). ‘Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering’, says Jung – it’s what we do instead of suffering. The reason neurosis is recognized as a problem is of course because as time goes on it has a way of becoming more and more painful itself, until it actually reaches the point where it is more painful than the suffering we were originally avoiding! This brings us to the nub of our argument – there is no such thing as useful or helpful thinking when it comes to neurotic patterns of pain avoidance (we may say) because thought itself is a form of pain-avoidance. Thought is therefore not the least bit of good when it comes to not avoiding our legitimate pain!

 

It sounds wrong to say that thought is itself a form of pain-avoidance – can’t thinking be used to solve our problems after all, and isn’t solving problems a way of meeting them head-on instead of running away from them? Isn’t solving problems ‘doing something about it’? Isn’t that a good thing? This is always a good source of confusion – we naturally feel that being proactive and tackling our problems before they can get the better of us is the healthy thing to do, the optimal thing to do, but this is simply not the case when it comes to legitimate pain. If legitimate pain is pain that actually belongs to us then solving this pain – so that it is no longer painful – is simply another form of avoidance. It might be ‘pro-active avoidance’, but its avoidance all the same.  Suppose I feel ashamed because I have done wrong to someone – is this pain that I should try to avoid? Or suppose I am grief-stricken because someone dear to me has died – is there a ‘right way’ to think about my loss to make the suffering I am going through more manageable? Is it by any stretch of the imagination ‘mentally healthy’ if I do find a way to rationalize either my behaviour in the first example or my loss in the second? Very clearly it is not in the least bit ‘healthy’, although we are course unlikely to see this so clearly at the time…

 

It sounds wrong to say that there is no such thing as helpful thinking when it comes to working with mental or emotional pain. Our whole emphasis – as a culture – is on trying to find the right way to think. Our whole emphasis is on managing emotions, managing stress, managing anxiety, and ‘managing’ means thinking about it. ‘Managing’ is all about skills and methods and tools and strategies and so on and all of this is thought. It’s nothing else but thinking. How can there be no such thing as helpful thinking? This amounts to heresy in this control-based culture of ours. But suppose that our problem is that the mind won’t stop thinking? Suppose that the thinking mind is on over-drive, that it is thinking about things too much? Are we to believe that there is some special kind of thinking that we can engage in that will calm the mind and bring a halt to the over-thinking? Are we to believe that by thinking even more than we already are doing we can bring order to this frantic mind of ours? Are we really to believe that thinking can in some mysterious way cure itself?

 

It doesn’t too much reflection on the matter for us to realize that there is something suspect about this assumption, something not-quite-right about this belief. Whatever thoughts we have when we are in an agitated frame of mind are themselves going to be of an ‘agitated nature’. Is it possible for an agitated mind to think a non-agitated thought? Is it possible for a fearful mind to produce a thought that is not fearful, or for an angry mind to engage in thinking that is not angry? Our thoughts are always going to be expressions of the state of mind (or state of consciousness) from which they arose; they certainly can’t be used to somehow ‘reach back’ and change the disturbed state of mind that gave rise to them. That is looking at things backwards. That would be a clear case of the tail wagging the dog!

 

What is needed – if there is to be any clarity – is for there to be actual awareness of the situation. Awareness is the helpful thing, not some specially indicated type of thinking. For me to start thinking about what the right type of thinking would be for the situation I find myself in would simply be compounding my confusion – this is just stirring things up even more. It is as if there is a corrupt police department and I am handing over the process of sorting out the problem to this very same department! Thought cannot cure thought – as professor of theoretical physics David Bohm says, the error in thought is a systematic one, which means that when we try to analyze the problem and then fix it, this very same error gets perpetuated and magnified. Our ‘blind spot’ – which is the blind spot (or entropy) inherent in all thinking – can only ever get bigger and darker than ever when we try to use thought to correct itself.

 

The confusion is only going to start settling when we can very clearly see that there is ‘no such thing as helpful thinking’ when it comes to freeing ourselves from the mess that was caused by our own thinking. Just as soon as we can see that there is no way for us to correct or fix the painful state of mind that we are in as a result of thinking about it then everything will slowly but surely start to settle down. And contrary-wise – if we don’t have this very clear understanding then nothing we do is going to help us. If we can’t see that there is no such thing as helpful thinking then it is guaranteed that everything we do is only ever going to compound our suffering. It is as clear-cut as this.

 

We can’t exit a mental state on purpose – we might very badly want to, but there is simply no way that we can do so. This is a very straightforward point to understand – there’s nothing fancy or intellectual about it at all – and yet in another way it is not so straightforward at all because we are so immensely unwilling to see it. There is no inherent ‘technical difficulty’ in grasping the point – a child could do so – but where there is a difficulty is in our willingness to entertain this possibility, our willingness to look at it. We could see it in a flash if we weren’t so resolutely opposed to seeing it but the whole point is that we are ‘resolutely opposed’ to seeing any such thing. We’d rather tie ourselves up in knots than see it – we do tie ourselves up in knots in preference to seeing this beautifully simple principle. We do this the whole the time, in fact – we do it on a regular basis. Tying ourselves up in knots in order to avoid mental or emotional pain (i.e. neurosis) is a characteristic human behaviour!

 

This immensely stubborn refusal to see that it is perfectly and sublimely impossible for us to change our mental state on purpose, either by our modern rational cleverness or by good old-fashioned forcing, is (of course) an attempt to help ourselves. By refusing to see that we can’t exit a painful mental state on purpose are essentially trying to help ourselves but the irony is that this infinitely obstinate refusal of ours to see something very simple is the cause of very great suffering – our attempt to help ourselves actually back-fires and brings huge suffering and misery down on us, and the more suffering and misery we’re in the more stubborn we get with regard to seeing that we can’t actually escape it. The whole thing is a trap, in other words. It’s an irreversible process – it just keeps on getting worse. We have started off going down this road that promises relief but actually delivers misery, and once we have committed ourselves to going in this direction it become progressively harder to question our original ‘choice’ (not that it was ever what we might call an actual conscious ‘choice’, of course, since the moment in question in all probability came and went far too fast for us to actually be aware of it).

 

Actually, it is the automatic, purely-mechanical attempt to ‘help ourselves’ that keeps us in the painful mental state that we wish to escape from. ‘What we resist, persists’, as Jung says. All of this – of course – makes a lot of sense. How can the automatic fear-driven reflex of wanting to fight against the pain, of trying to push it away or run away from it be expected to genuinely help us? This isn’t really a controversial point. We all know that the reflex attempt to fight or escape can’t help us really – the only reason we buy into it so very quickly is because we are afraid. Going with our innate wisdom exposes us to this fear, whereas ‘automatically going along with the comforting lie’ saves us from it – temporarily, at least! But even though buying into the reflex (and the comforting lie that goes with it) saves us (temporarily) from seeing that ‘we can’t escape from where we actually are’ it doesn’t save us from the pain of the neurotic torment that we are plunged into as a result of our automatic resistance to ‘what is’. Going along with the pain-avoidance reflex doesn’t save us from neurotic pain, it creates it.

 

‘Neurotic torment’ doesn’t necessarily have to seem like torment, not at first, anyway. It may seem just like normal, everyday life. Normal everyday life is a form of reality avoidance, after all – it’s a comfort-zone’. The comfort-zone of normal everyday has two components to it, we might say – one is the ‘comfort’ component (which we like, obviously) and the other is ‘boredom / frustration / despair’. All neurotic escapes start out with comfort, obviously – escaping from what we fear is by definition comfort and so when we automatically resist the reality that we don’t like, that we are afraid of, the first thing we feel is comfort. This ‘comfort’ is comfort because it is exactly what we wanted – it is like sweet honey to us and this honey is the lure that the neurotic trap is baited with. The sweetness of the relief from pain or fear is the ‘reinforcing mechanism’ for the behaviour; or as we could also say, it is the element in the mix that causes us to become addicted to the pain-avoidance routine.

 

The snag is that the place we’ve escaped to isn’t as great as it initially looks –  it isn’t actually great at all. It looked very good to us in the first instance because it represented ‘escape’ but if we had looked into the matter any deeper (which we didn’t, and don’t) then we’d see that we have been sold a dud. It is a ‘dud reality’ because it is completely sterile, completely lacking in any creative possibilities. Saying that the place which we have rashly escaped to is ‘completely lacking in any creative possibilities’ is just another way of saying that we can’t actually live there; there’s nothing there for us in the comfort zone – it’s like a bare prison cell. We can ‘hide out’ there, we can ‘pass the time’ there, but we can’t do any actual living there and that is why we have said that the other side of ‘comfort’ is ‘boredom / frustration / despair’.

 

Every time we automatically escape from a reality that we don’t want to be in we enter this cycle of ‘relief followed by boredom and despair’ and this unvarying cycle is what we have been referring to as ‘neurotic torment’. It is tormenting to be going around and around in circles, without ever getting anywhere new. There is never anything else other than this same cycle over and over again and nothing is ever going to change. And what’s more, just as long as we’re in ‘escape mode’ it is only ever going to get worse because (as we have already pointed out) the more ‘rebound pain’ we incur as a result of our automatic avoidance the more strongly the ‘reflex to escape’ kicks in. We try harder and harder to escape and the resultant ‘rebound pain’ increases proportionately…

 

If on the other hand we were to go with our ‘innate wisdom’ rather than ‘the automatic reflex to escape’ then we wouldn’t be drawing the endless horrors of neurotic torment upon ourselves. Innate wisdom doesn’t do this kind of thing – only unconsciousness does! If we were to be aware of what we are doing when we try to exit a painful mental state then we wouldn’t invest in the project so much, we wouldn’t place so much hope in it. We’d still be caught up in the reflex (because that’s the nature of reflexes) but the difference would be that we wouldn’t be ‘buying into it’ so much. What helps us, therefore (really helps us that is, rather than just ‘pretending to help us’) is to stay conscious of what’s going on – staying conscious of what’s going on simply means is that we don’t ‘hand over’ our awareness to the mechanical reflex. We don’t give away our responsibility to ‘the machine of avoidance’ which is our fear-driven thinking.

 

As we have said, it is fear that causes us to buy into the comforting lie that ‘the automatic escape reflex will help us’ – we’re actually believing something that is clearly dumb, clearly nonsensical but our fear pushes us into believing it because there is comfort there. Believing the comforting lie is the ‘easy option’. What helps therefore is to notice ourselves doing this – we pay gentle non-judgemental attention to ourselves ‘buying into the lie’ and as a result of this gentle non-judgemental awareness we see that the lie is a lie. And once we see that the lie is a lie then we can’t buy into it any more – not to the extent that we once did anyway. We will continue to have the tendency to go with the reflex, and ‘hope that it will save us’, but alongside this habitual / mechanical side of our nature there will be something else, something new in the mix – there will be the ally of our own ‘innate wisdom’, which fear was previously causing us to ignore…

 

 

 

 

Thought Is A Salesman

Thought is a salesman wearing a flash shirt and a cheesy smile. Thought is a salesman and what he is trying to sell us is security.

 

Thought always tries to sell us security – that’s all it ever does, over and over again. Thought keeps on selling and we keep on buying!

 

There is a problem with this, though. There is when it comes down to it a very big problem with this arrangement and that is that security (which is the product that is being sold) doesn’t exist.  We could say therefore that thought isn’t so much ‘a salesman’ as it is a conman.

 

What thought is busy selling us the whole time simply doesn’t exist. ‘Security’ – in the psychological sense of the word – doesn’t exist. When we say ‘security’ what we mean is ‘absolute validation for the arbitrary position we have taken in life’. As soon as we express it like this we can see where the problem comes from – what we’re (implicitly) asking for is a contradiction in terms.

 

We don’t of course express what it is we want as clearly as this and so the stark contradiction is never visible to us. The self-contradictory nature of what we are asking for isn’t visible to us and so we keep on asking for it – we keep on asking for it, yearning for it, and yet at the same time we can never have it.

 

We don’t know that what we are asking for is for our arbitrary position (or standpoint) to be absolutely and unreservedly validated for us by the universe. We don’t – in all honesty – see that this is what we are asking for. We have no understanding at all of what it is we are actually requiring in our automatic desire for ontological security. All we know (and this somewhat dimly) is that we are feeling painfully insecure and we want this painful feeling to go away and leave us in peace.

 

This requirement of ours for ontological security isn’t something that we have carefully thought out (or even thought out at all) – it’s simply an automatic response to the unsettling feeling that we are dimly or not-so-dimly aware deep down in the core of our being. This uncomfortable or unsettling feeling is niggling away at us, it is gnawing away viciously at our vitals (so to speak) and our way of running away from it is by looking for external validation.

 

This is of course where thought comes in. thought comes in – as we have said – by offering us this external validation. It offers us ways of getting what we so badly want. This is not to say that thought (or the thinking process) is bad or wrong n any way, simply that it causes no end of suffering and confusion for us when we use it in a way that it was never really ‘supposed’ to be used (so to speak). When we let thought perform a function that it is not legitimately able to perform, then this is when all our troubles begin…

 

The ‘correct’ usage of thought – so to speak – is when we use it to fix legitimate problems in the external world, the physical world around us. There are of course many times in the day when such ‘legitimate’ problems may arise. What to cook for dinner might be one example; how to find the quickest route from A to B in a city with which we are unfamiliar might be another. Locating my mislaid mobile phone or set of keys is another. All such ‘technical’ matters are legitimate problems for the thinking mind to be solving.

 

Alongside all these legitimate problems there is however one huge illegitimate problem and this is where all the trouble comes from. The ‘illegitimate problem’ is that we want to fix the world so that it can provide us with the sense of security about things that we so badly want (even if we aren’t necessarily acknowledging that this is the case). The illegitimate problem is the existential pain that we’re in, in other words. We want to find the remedy for the ontological insecurity that we’re experiencing but not admitting to experiencing and this is the illegitimate problem, the problem that isn’t really a ‘problem’ because it can’t ever be fixed. It isn’t a problem at all – it’s simply reality!

 

Very often when we think we’re trying to fix purely technical issues what we’re unconsciously trying to fix is this underlying ontological insecurity. We may think that the reason we’re trying to attain X, Y or Z is what we say it is, but this is really just a smokescreen. We’re wanting something else really – something that we can’t ever have! When we are trying to solve insoluble problems (that aren’t really problems at all therefore) under the guise of solving regular or legitimate issues then this brings huge stress and anxiety down on our heads and we don’t know why. This is of course what we refer to as ‘neurosis’ or ‘neurotic fixing’.

 

Our trouble – as we have already suggested – is that we seem to be functionally incapable of seeing the root cause of all of this neurotic suffering. It’s not just that we seem to be functionally incapable in this regard, we actually are incapable. We’re incapable of seeing what the root cause of our insecurity is just as long as we’re operating on the basis of the rational mind. The reason for this is that it is the rational mind (and the fact that we are identified so solidly with its constructs) which is responsible for the insecurity we’re suffering from. The thinking mind is the cause of all the trouble, not the solution!

 

Why – we might ask – is the thinking mind the cause of our ‘unfixable insecurity’? The very simple answer to this question is that the thinking mind is always ‘insecure’ in itself because it presents a view of the world to us which is very far from being the whole picture whilst at the same time implicitly making the claim that this is view is exclusively (or ‘exhaustively’) true. A false claim is being made therefore and it is naturally quite impossible to make a false claim without on some level being fundamentally insecure about what is being claimed! We may compensate for our insecurity by being aggressively assertive and overtly sure of ourselves but this aggression does not make our insecurity any less!

 

A classic example of this sort of thing is dogmatism – when I am being dogmatic I am not any the less insecure for being so overtly confident in my assertions. On the contrary, my insecurity is visibly manifesting itself in the form of my aggression, inflexibility and obstinacy, all the characteristics we associate with dogmatism. We could say that our aggression and inflexibility is our way of compensating for our insecurity (and this is of course perfectly true) but it is also true that our aggression, our forcefulness, our rigidity is our insecurity, made plain for everyone to see. To be certain of something is to be insecure!

 

The self partakes fully in thought’s fundamental insecurity. How can it not when it is a construct of thought? What makes the self the self is the certainty it embodies – the self is ‘this but not that’. ‘This-but-not-that’ is the very essence of what it means to be the self. But if the self is this unyielding dogmatic assertion that I am ‘this but not that’ (as it is) then this straightway makes it heir to a fundamental, irreducible, irresolvable anxiety. The self equals ‘identification with a boundary that doesn’t exist’ (except according to itself) and this means that it is always going to be afflicted with the demon of insecurity, the demon of ‘secretly (or not so secretly) doubting what it itself proclaims so loudly’…

 

Saying that thought is a salesman is not quite the full story, therefore. Thought is a salesman and it is always trying to sell us little ‘sound-bytes of security’ in this quintessentially uncertain world but it is also the author of this insecurity at the same time. In this, thought is just like Duff Beer in The Simpsons, which is the cure and the cause of our woes at one and the same time. Thought (or rather ‘the unwise use of thought’) creates the problem at the same time as promising to fix it so that the more we depend on thought to shore us up and make us feel (however temporarily) OK, the more prone to anxiety and insecurity we become…

 

We’re really just going around in circles because if thought (which is fundamentally insecure in itself, as we have argued) is responsible for creating our idea of ourselves, our understanding or ourselves, our reassuringly concrete sense of ourselves, then how can we use thought in order to remedy the insecurity that thought is itself the cause of? We’re using thought to correct the problems that arise from (unwisely) using thought and this is causing us to spin. This spinning is being created by thought, is being aggravated by thought, is being perpetuated by thought, so when the next thought comes along fresh off the assembly line and offers us some kind of plausible ‘quick-fix’, some kind of ‘failsafe remedy’, are we going to believe it?

 

 

 

 

Doing and Being

We live in a world in which being has been replaced by doing. Isn’t doing great, we are constantly saying to ourselves, isn’t all this doing quite marvellous? How splendidly inspiring it is – we must do more of it. We must work harder at it; we must get better and better at it. We must do more doing…

 

We have become so busy with our constant doing that we can’t see that it is not great at all really. We are so intoxicated with doing that we can’t see that it’s not really worth anything, just as money or status in society isn’t really worth anything. It’s hollow, devoid of substance, devoid of value and integrity. Its a sham. We’re so busy with our doing that we can no longer remember how good being was. We’ve been cheated by our own greed.

 

Doing is a strange sickness, a sickness that makes us hungry and hollow; it makes us hungry and hollow at the same time as tantalizing us and titillating us with promises of what we are to receive as a result of it. These crazy-making promises are what drive us to keep on trying to improve our doing, make it more effective, make it more efficient. The tantalizing images are what drive us to be forever investing more and more of ourselves in the never-ending doing…

 

And yet the more invested in doing we become the more inwardly impoverished we get as a result. Doing doesn’t take us towards being; it takes us further and further away from it! Doing always takes us away from being; doing always impoverishes us. Doing equals ‘straining after phantoms’ or ‘chasing after mirages’, so how can it not impoverish us? The more fixated on hollow images we are the more we turn our backs on being, and yet being is all there is.

 

Being is all there is, but we are constantly straining and striving in the opposite direction! And yet there isn’t an ‘opposite direction’ – how could there be an ‘opposite direction’ to being? How could there be anything other than the True, or the Real? And yet somehow we want something else, something better. We want improvement. We are constantly looking for something that doesn’t exist and the more we invest in looking for it the hungrier we are getting. Our appetite can’t be satisfied by being anymore; being is no good to us anymore because we have turned away from it. Being can’t nourish our souls anymore because we don’t believe in souls; we don’t believe in souls any more than we believe in being.

 

So what we’re hungry for when we’re caught up in doing is something that doesn’t exist in the real world. We don’t actually know what it is, if we were to be honest about it. We lazily imagine that we do know; we very flippantly assume that we know but if we were to carefully examine what it is that we are yearning for, what we think it would be if we got it, then we would discover that we are not actually able to say. It’s as if we are getting excited about some half-baked idea, some sort of a notion that wouldn’t make sense in the light of day. We’re consumed with an insatiable hunger for some kind of hollow fantasy.

 

The fantasy is given life by our unacknowledged inner impoverishment. Strangely, therefore, the illusions we are getting so excited about when we are caught up in our feverish doing are ‘fuelled’ by our lack of being. Lack of being fuels doing and doing causes us to lose being, and this is the vicious circle we are caught up in. The hungrier we are the more we impoverish ourselves by investing ourselves in doing; the more impoverished we become the hungrier we are and the hungrier we are the more we are driven to invest ourselves further in yet more doing…

 

All the talk is of plans and procedures, strategies and skills, tools and methods, as if by the pure stubborn weight of our ‘will to control’ we can tear down being from the heavens and compel it to be at our disposal. We imagine that we can browbeat life into ‘coming up with the goods’ with our plans and procedure, our pestilential bureacracies. It is as if we simply cannot conceive – cannot allow ourselves to conceive – that it’s just not possible for us to get our own way. We are flatly convinced that it is right and proper and perfectly in line with the principles of the universe that we should be able to get what we want out of life. Our commitment to self-deception is immense in this regard, but that doesn’t make our chances of getting what we want any the greater. Being doesn’t come out of doing, no matter how hard we push it! Being can’t be squeezed out of doing, no matter what fancy talk or fancy theories we come out with. No theory – no matter how fancy it is, no matter how impressive it sounds – can EVER convert doing into being!

 

As is very clear indeed to anyone who cares to take a look around them, we live in a world in which doing has replaced being. We live in a world that is fueled by fantasy.There’s no being anywhere – there’s only talk of how great everything is going to be when we have completed all our plans, when we have successfully carried out all our strategies. We’re busy chasing that preposterous hallucination called ‘winning’ or ‘success’ – ‘winning’ is the hallucinatory analogue of being that we believe in when we live in a world that is ruled by doing and thinking (which is a form of doing). It’s a meaningless half-baked notion that we take very seriously indeed. Its our god.

 

The hunger to win (or succeed) is the sickness that we are all afflicted with. It is a sickness because it can never be satisfied; it is a sickness because it only ever leads to pain, pain, and more pain. It is a sickness because it makes us turn our backs on the only thing that can ever bring us true peace and happiness, which is actual being…

 

 

Art: Igor Morsky

 

 

 

 

The Game Creator

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are ‘Relief-Seeking Mechanisms’

cyborg1

The best way to get a handle on the idea of ‘psychological work’ is to understand what it is not, and what it is not is our normal everyday mode of mental functioning! This ‘everyday mental modality’ – which is generally the only mode we have – can be neatly explained by saying that it is all about obtaining relief. This is not a particularly flattering way to understand ourselves but it is nevertheless a very accurate one. Despite any illusions we might have to the contrary, it doesn’t take very much at all to understand ‘what makes us tick’. Basically, the fundamental underlying motivation for our purposeful (as opposed to spontaneous) behaviour is the non-negotiable need to find relief from difficulty or discomfort.

 

It is this very simple motive that lies behind all of our purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour, and behind all our rational thinking. If I am busy performing actions, then what lies behind my busy-ness is the need to find relief and if I am busy thinking then what lies this busy-ness is also the need to find relief (in the case of thinking I am trying to find relief by analysing or problem-solving).

 

We don’t like to know this about ourselves and it is this resistance to seeing the less-than-glamorous truth that is the first obstacle to genuine self-understanding. We like to think that we are more complex, more diverse than simple pain-avoidance machines, mechanisms which are driven by nothing more interesting or heroic or inspirational than the need ‘not to challenge ourselves anymore than we can possibly avoid’.

 

This motivation is sometimes called the motivation of attachment and attachment covers both attraction (positive desire) and aversion (negative desire). In essence both attraction and aversion come down to ‘the need to seek relief from discomfort’ – when I am experiencing attraction it is difficult to be in the place where I haven’t yet obtained what I want to obtain and therefore the way that I look for relief from this demand is to try as hard as I can to succeed at obtaining whatever it is that I am experiencing attraction towards. I am automatically running away from the challenge of ‘doing the hard thing’ which is ‘not achieving the desired outcome’. When I experience aversion the same thing is true – some difficulty or discomfort is impinging upon me and the only way I can find relief is to somehow escape that difficulty. The hard thing in attraction is ‘not chasing’  or ‘not grasping’ and the hard thing in aversion is ‘not running away’, ‘not avoiding’.

 

Not to put too fine a point on it, what this means is that we are – for 99% of the time – no more than mere ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’. We don’t do anything for any higher purpose than self-interest although in order to protect our image of ourselves we dignify this self-serving activity by coming up with all sorts of validations for what we’re doing. We find some sort of reason for doing it, for going along with it. We say that we want to be doing whatever it is that we’re doing. We say that what we’re doing is ‘the right thing’, or ‘the good thing’.

 

As ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’ free will is a complete and utter illusion – our only freedom is the freedom to find the relief that we are so humourlessly seeking! When we express things like this it does not sound like a particularly convincing (or very enjoyable) form of freedom but when we’re actually stuck in the position of needing the relief (or rather feeling that we need the freedom) the freedom to obtain relief (whether it genuinely is freedom or not, or genuinely is enjoyable or not) is the only thing we’re actually interested in. As a ‘relief-seeking mechanism’, I really am not interested in anything else. Not only am I not interested in anything else, I’m not actually capable of understanding anything else. Can a machine be expected to understand anything or have appreciation of anything that in no way relates to its functional repertory?

 

This of course is fine and we can all grasp the above point perfectly well – the thing we can’t grasp however is why it should be the case that our psychology(when seen stripped of all the superfluous notions with which we like to cloak ourselves) should be that of a mere ‘relief-seeking mechanism. This, we can’t grasp at all! We don’t actually want to grasp it, in fact it could be said that our whole way of seeing things is orientated in such a way that we never do run the risk of seeing anything of the sort. We see things backwards – we see our constant looking for relief as something positive, we see it as the most wonderful expression of our own true volition, when the less-than-wonderful truth of the matter is that we’re simply looking for relief, in whatever way we can…

 

This of course sounds too ridiculous to us to even consider (we won’t consider it) and yet at the same time once we ‘get it’ it all becomes laughably obvious. We would wonder how on earth we didn’t see it before. We would wonder how we could have missed it, how we could have been so blind. The ‘trick’ is that everything has been turned upside down – everything we want to achieve we really only want to achieve as a release, and yet we see it as our own free will. We see the ‘achievement’ as an actual positive value in itself and this ‘reversed perception’ is what conditioned existence is all about – we fondly imagine that we are doing this, that or the other because we want to whereas the truth of the matter is that we have been conditioned to want to and this isn’t the same thing at all. Wanting something because you have been conditioned to want it is not just ‘not the same thing’ as genuine volition – it’s the complete antithesis of it.

 

All of the things we want, all of our ‘goals’ are simply ‘whatever we need to do in order to find (temporary) release from whatever pressure is acting upon us. We want the release from pressure that achieving the designated goal will bring rather than wanting the goal itself, but rather than seeing this we see it the other way around. We’re chasing ‘escapes from the pain we’re in’ not the things themselves; we’re pursuing ‘what the goal represents to us’ rather than the goals themselves. When we ‘do the thing’ (or ‘achieve the goal’) we feel good and so if we take a superficial view of this (as we do) it can very easily seem to us that it’s the fulfilment of our purpose that we want when actually it’s the good feeling that we get as a result of fulfilling it that we’re after. And of course it’s not just that ‘it could very easily seem’ that it’s the fulfilment of our goal/purpose that all the excitement’s about, it does seem that way to us. Our psychological makeup is such that that all our attention is directed onto what is going on ‘on the outside’ so that we don’t notice the mechanical processes that are going ‘in the background’. We don’t notice the pressure that’s acting on us, we just notice the relief that comes when there is a (temporary) cessation of this pressure and this manifests as ‘satisfaction’ or ‘pleasure’. Genuine volition is never to seek pleasure or satisfaction! How could it be? This ought to be obvious to us (how could it not be?) and yet it isn’t at all obvious. We know it isn’t obvious by virtue of the fact that no one ever sees it!

 

We don’t see that moving towards pleasure or satisfaction is a ‘down-hill’ (or ‘equilibrium-seeking’) movement – it is a purely mechanical process just like a tightly-wound steel spring unwinding and driving a system of cogs and wheels, just like a marble running down a wooden chute. This ‘purely mechanical process’ is not volition! Volition isn’t when we go along with the mechanical process; it isn’t when we work towards obtaining relief / pleasure / satisfaction. True volition is on the contrary when we don’t do this! Genuine volition is not (and never could be) about achieving goals. That’s just going along with the system of thought’ and the system of thought is mechanical through and through – there’s nothing ‘non-mechanical’ about it at all. What’s not mechanical about logic, after all? Yet to say that ‘true volition is not about achieving (or trying to achieve) goals is profoundly baffling to us. To say that this statement ‘goes against the grain of our everyday understanding’ is an understatement of epic proportions. We can’t figure this out at all. We might try to figure it out – if pressed – but we will still end up getting it wrong. If we say that trying to obtain pleasure or satisfaction is not genuine volition and that finding our genuine volition is the only thing that will free us from our wretched mechanical predicament then we will of course try to go against our mechanical impulses. We will try to oppose them but then this too is ‘mechanical’. Going against the mechanical impulses is still mechanical because all we have done is to swap one goal for another; we’ve switched goals but we’re still ‘looking for relief’ no matter what our goal might be. After all, all goals are ‘looking for relief’! We’re trying to get the system of thought to validate us, to validate what we’re doing. We’re trying to accord with some sort of logic. All we’ve really done is to switch a minus for a plus but NO equals the system of thought just as much as YES does!

 

So when we fight against mechanical impulses all we’re really doing is reversing the goal from a positive to a negative. Whatever the rational-logical mind presents us with as ‘a good idea’ is (of course) only ever going to be ‘just another goal’. Anything thought presents us with is a goal (or an anti-goal, which is the same thing. anything thought presents us with is always going to ‘definite’ and ‘definite’ – of any type or description whatsoever – always equals the system of thought. So what we’re essentially saying here is that the thinking mind can only ever provide us with ‘escapes’ from some kind of difficulty or challenge, and yet these escapes’ aren’t real. They aren’t real because thought itself isn’t real – thought is a system of abstractions. Thought presents us with escapes from discomfort / pain / fear, all of which have to do with our relationship (or rather lack of relationship!) with radical uncertainty, which is the unconditioned or uncreated reality; it presents us with ‘opt outs’ from reality which it calls ‘solutions’ or ‘answers’ or ‘goals’ – words which sound inspiringly positive to us! But no matter how positively we view these words, they are only ever ways of talking about ‘obeying the compulsion to escape’. It’s only fear-driven ‘relief-seeking’ we’re on about and there’s nothing particularly inspirational about this – we’re not heroes, no matter what we’d like to think! All we’re doing is ‘glorifying our running away’; all we’re doing is seeing ‘obeying compulsions’ as freely doing what we really and truly want to do.

 

So what we’re essentially saying here is that the thinking mind is no help to us at all with regard to psychological work. It always points us in the wrong direction. The rational mind is as we have said essentially a ‘relief-seeking mechanism’ and to the extent that we are identified with the rational mind so are we. This is why we are ‘relief-seeking mechanisms’ – because we’re identified with the everyday thinking mind. As soon as we have this insight everything that we have so far been talking about immediately becomes clear. Everything can then be seen in the most beautifully simple and straightforward way – we can see that psychological work is when we are NOT acting on the basis of thought!

 

This proposition is at the same time both wonderfully simple and formidably challenging – all we have to ‘do’ in order not to be evading reality (even though it is of course not a ‘doing’) is to be in the world independently, standing on our own two feet (as it were), as we actually are in ourselves, without any artifice, without any cunning. What could be simpler than this? Any child could do this! And yet this proves to be the hardest thing of all; as simple as it is, to just be ourselves without any artifice turns out to the greatest challenge we will ever meet in our lives. We don’t know how to come out of the constricting shell of the thinking mind even if we wanted to do so, even if we realized that we were trapped in this ‘shell’ (which we don’t). We do everything on the basis of thought, oPyschn the basis of the thinking mind. We live our lives pretty much entirely on this basis and because we do live our lives this way – minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, year after year – we don’t even know that there is ‘a basis’. We couldn’t be further from knowing that there is a mechanical basis to our living, to our being in the world. We don’t think we’re playing any sort of a game, we think that we’re ‘doing it straight’! We think that there’s no trickery going on, that there’s no manipulation – that this is just ‘the way things are’.

 

We’re tricky creatures. We’re ‘trick-loving creatures’ and thought is our trick! We have become inseparable from our trick – we are playing it all the time without knowing that we are playing it. To be separated from the trick that we are playing (without knowing we are playing it) would be the ultimately terrifying scenario for us. All of our fear and terrors come down to ontological terror in the end – lack of ontological security is the one thing that we never want to face. Anything rather than that! When our own trickiness catches up with us – as it always does – and constricts the very life out of us, we do our level best to come up with new, improved forms of trickery and we call this ‘therapy’!  We do our level best to come up with new, super-sophisticated tricks to solve the problems that our original reliance on trickery has caused. It’s trickery on top of trickery, trickery trying to solve trickery. We think that cleverness is the answer. The one thing that we just can’t seem to see – to paraphrase Rumi is that when we give up tricks and cleverness, then that will be our cleverest trick!

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Mind

boddhisattva-of-compassion

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 (the point that we can so very 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 benefiting 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, the calculating or measuring mind, the controlling mind, the goal-oriented 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?

 

 

 

 

Separating Ourselves From Our Thoughts

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When we meditate one of the things we come to see is that we are not our thinking mind. We come to see that this mind is just a tool or instrument that we can utilize if we want to, but that we aren’t obliged to. This is an easy thing to say but it represents a one hundred and eighty degree turnaround from how we usually see things – usually the thinking mind is all we know (whether we realize this or not) and so it is pragmatically impossible for us to distinguish ourselves from our thinking, from our thoughts. If all we know is the thinking mind then of course we can’t distinguish ourselves or separate ourselves from it! On the contrary, we identify ourselves with it. We know ourselves through our thoughts, via the medium of our thoughts, and so what this means is that in our normal everyday state of being we are our thoughts. If all I know about myself I what I think about myself then this is just another way of saying that I am one of my own thoughts. If all I know is my conceptualization of the world, then this is as good as saying that that I am one of my own concepts! But in becoming a concept who I really am is lost.

 

The everyday thinking mind swallows everything up – it is like a giant invisible amoeba that absorbs everything it comes across and then replaces the originals with its own ideas or concepts of what they are. It duplicates (or ‘reproduces’) reality, in other words. This is a process that we never see happening because if we’re convinced that our idea about something is the same thing as the thing itself then how are we ever going to notice a transition? The principle here is that thinking about things is easy – it happens totally automatically, without us seeing it happening – but not thinking about things (i.e. not judging or evaluating the world) is hard because that doesn’t just ‘happen automatically’. Not evaluating or judging is the same thing as being conscious and consciousness is not a mechanical process. As long as we are going along with the thinking mind’s story (which as we have said proceeds quite automatically, quite without any volition on our part) then we will never know that it has ‘swallowed everything up’ and that we are as a consequence living in a world that is made up entirely from our ideas, our concepts, our judgements or evaluations.

 

When we live in a world that is made up entirely of our own thoughts then this of course means that we are at the mercy of our thoughts – if an agreeable thought comes along then we automatically feel good and if a disagreeable thought comes along then we equally automatically feel bad. Life therefore becomes a constant round of ‘up and down’ and all we can do is hope for more agreeable thoughts than disagreeable ones to come along. We can also of course attempt to steer things in this way by ‘trying to be positive’ but as experience shows this can only work for a short while (and if something only works for a short while this actually means that it isn’t working at all). And even the so-called ‘positive thoughts’ aren’t all that they are cracked up to be! They are brittle at best. The rewarding feeling that we get as a result of buying into them is very transient and very precarious – it can be gone in a flash if circumstances change or if another more powerful thought comes along. They can turn around on us in a moment – the comfort thought gives us is fickle to say the least and it all too easily switches around and becomes discomfort

 

The ‘good feeling’ that comes with positive thinking isn’t realistic in other words – it depends upon a particular slanted way of looking at the world seeming right to us, seeming correct to us, but who is to say that the corresponding negative way of looking at things may not also seem right to us a bit later on? So-called ‘positive and negative thoughts’ function exactly like flattery and insults – if we’re susceptible to being made to feel good by flattery then by the same token we’re going to be equally susceptible to being made to feel bad by any insult that comes our way. We get the soft end of the stick to be sure but we’re also going to get the rough end too in equal measure and the pleasure we get from the former is always going to be balanced out by the pain caused by the latter. How after all can we control the world to make sure that we only ever come across flattery? Even if we can control what people say to us (even if we can manage our environment so that it is always convivial to us) all this means is that we are setting ourselves up for a fall since life itself will level a few good insults at us sooner or later and no amount of money or charm or power or technology can protect us from that!

 

Another way of looking at why the so-called ‘positive states of mind’ that come about as a result of the thinking process working the way we want it to aren’t reliable is to see them as essentially being ‘agitations of an underlying medium’. All mental states that are linked to thought are ‘agitated states of mind’. There are two forms of agitation possible – one is an agitation that makes us excited in what we would call a ‘positive’ or ‘euphoric’ way, the other is an agitation that causes us to be excited in a ‘negative’ or ‘dysphoric’ way. Either it’s one form of excitement or it’s the other; there is no excitement that isn’t either positive or negative. Agitation of any sort is inherently unreliable however – agitated states of mind are unreliable because they it can (and will) give way to their opposite at the drop of a hat. To be up one minute is to be down the next. The one thing that can never happen as a result of the thinking process, as a result of our thoughts, is that we will find a balance in ourselves, a place where we are not at the mercy of every arbitrary thought that comes along. Or as we could also say, the one thing that we can never obtain for ourselves as a result of our thinking is stillness.

 

The reason we can’t find stillness within ourselves as a result of thinking is because stillness (or ‘peace of mind’) can never be created (or acquired) by thought. All thought can ever do is come up with positive or negative statements, positive and negative certainties. Thought can either say “It is!” or “It isn’t!” and neither of these is stillness because stillness isn’t a tug of war between two opposites – it isn’t ‘one opposite trying to win out over the other, complementary opposite’. That isn’t stillness, that is conflict, that is war! The activity of the thinking mind results in tension between the two poles which it itself takes for granted (which it has to take for granted in order to function at all) and this tension results in a never-ending agitation or disturbance. The struggle or conflict between one opposite and the other isn’t meaningful – it is a quintessentially meaningless type of conflict! The reason we can say that it is ‘quintessentially meaningless’ is because the opposites (any opposites) don’t have any independent existence outside of each other. The one opposite is only meaningful in relation to the other, and vice versa. The one opposite only makes sense in terms of the other. What does ‘up’ mean without a ‘down’, after all? Or ‘win’ without a ‘lose’, or a ‘YES’ without a ‘NO’?

 

When we struggle to affirm one opposite at the expense of another therefore (as we are so very prone to doing) we are not just affirming the one we want to affirm (i.e. the ‘positive’ one), we are affirming the whole set-up, we are ‘reinforcing both opposites equally’. We’re putting energy into the opposite we like, the opposite we’re in favour of, and at the same time we’re putting energy into the one we don’t like, the one we aren’t in favour of. We’re adding more and more momentum to the spinning wheel of YES-NO-YES-NO-YES-NO, the spinning wheel of UP followed by DOWN followed by UP… We’re giving more and more energy to the spinning wheel of the thinking mind. The more we try to control the situation (i.e. the more mental activity we engage in) the faster the wheel is going to spin, until the spinning itself becomes revealed as pain, or suffering. And when we get to thinking about this, and thinking about how we can stop the crazy spinning, all we are doing is making it spin faster! We can spin our way into stress and conflict and suffering without any problem at all but the one thing we can’t do is spin our way into happiness, spin our way into stillness…

 

As we have been saying, the thinking mind very quickly gets the better of us, gains the upper hand, and causes us to perceive the reality that it creates with its non-stop activity as being ‘the only reality’. It subsumes everything within it in other words, and as a result everything we do only serves to make the situation worse. Everything we do and think simply tangles us up more with the thinking mind, and makes that mind more powerful. But the spinning wheel that is the thinking mind isn’t the only reality. It isn’t ‘all that there is’. The spinning wheel is spinning in space and that space is not something that was created by our thoughts. Space is not a construct of thought. ‘Space’ is actually another way of talking about stillness and – as we keep saying – thoughts can never give rise to stillness. To see that we are not the thinking mind represents the introduction of a most extraordinary new element in the mix, therefore. It represents the element of freedom!

 

If we are not the thinking mind (and if the reality that is created by this mind is not the only reality) then this means we have more than just the two possibilities of saying YES or saying NO open to us. It is no longer just a question of affirming the situation or denying it – we are no longer restricted to the possibility of ‘straining to obtain the positive’ or ‘struggling to avoid the negative’, both of which – as we have said – only serve to fuel the momentum of the spinning wheel. The other possibility is for us to see that we are not our thoughts and that the world which is created by our thinking isn’t the only world. We can start to see that we are not this mind-created self which is always striving to obtain the positive outcome and push away the negative. Both the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ outcome equal this mind-created self – it is only the mind of attachment that sees everything in terms of ‘what I want’ and ‘what I don’t want’, after all. What the thinking mind says are the only two possibilities that are open to us (i.e. affirm or deny, say YES or say NO, ‘like’ or ‘dislike’) are therefore revealed to be ‘only what the thinking mind says is possible’, and the thinking mind is revealed as not being the whole story!

 

To put all this in just a few words, when we see that we aren’t the thinking mind we are free from that mind, free from that limited set of possibilities that just goes around and around. We’re free to step out of the cage of our concepts, the cage of our ideas. When we see that we aren’t the thinking mind – and that we don’t have to be thinking non-stop the whole time – this means that we are now aware of a much bigger world than the world which thought had shown us. We are aware of an incomparably vaster world. This ‘incomparable vaster world’ isn’t all about right and wrong, like and dislike, YES and NO. It isn’t all about the mind-created self, the ‘narrow-minded controller’. Seeing that we aren’t the thinking mind (and that the world which this mind creates isn’t the only world) is the same thing as seeing that who we are really is the stillness within which the wheel of thought is spinning. So no matter what is happening, no matter what triggers might be there, we don’t have to ‘DO’ anything! We don’t have to keep on going around and around on the spinning wheel. We are free just to ‘be’