The Spiritual Trap

The so-called ‘spiritual path’ that we hear so much about is a deeply confusing thing; it’s a deeply confusing thing from the point of view the conditioned self, at any rate! When we think of spirituality and the spiritual realm we think of light and love and creativity and the outpouring of blessings and abundance but all of this is necessarily seen from the perspective of the conditioned self. What other perspective would we see it from, anyway? We have no other available perspective to us – if we did then we wouldn’t need to be thinking or talking about ‘the spiritual path’ in the first place because we would already be there.  That’s where we want to be, not where we already are. It’s our ‘fantasy’, so to speak…

 

But why, we might want to ask, is it such a great problem to relate to the spiritual path from the POV of the conditioned self or ego? Surely we have to start off somewhere? The conditional self must after all be entitled to its own (however narrow) way of imagining what the spiritual life would look like.  This however is precisely the problem because the condition self sees everything in an inverted way – it can’t see things straight no matter what it does! That is beyond it. The self cannot help but see everything in terms of limitation and the projections that arise out of this unacknowledged limitation; it can’t help seeing things in terms of its own unacknowledged limitations because that is its nature, but how can freedom ever be represented in time terms of a limitation (or rather an ‘inversion’) that has not been acknowledged?

 

The self can’t understand anything except ‘through its own viewpoint’ and so when it thinks about freedom it naturally thinks about freedom for itself. It imagines that it’s going to obtain this great blessing called freedom (or peace or joy or whatever). But how can an imaginary entity that is constructed on the basis of ‘the absence of freedom’ actually obtain freedom for itself – this is a contradiction in terms. The nub of the contradiction is this: we know that freedom is wonderful but the thing is that we want to experience it at the same time as hanging on tightly (as tightly as ever we can) to our lack of freedom, which is where we get our sense of security from. We want two mutually exclusive things at the same time therefore, and we can’t for the life of this see any problem with this. Our fundamental allegiance is to our sense of ontological security, and yet somehow we imagine that freedom is something we want, even though freedom means ‘freedom from this restrictive (and entirely illusory) sense of ontological security’.

 

The only reason we are interested (the only reason the condition self is interested) in the so-called ‘spiritual path’ is because – on some level – it is convinced that there is going to be profit to be had in travelling down it. There is something highly attractive there that the conditioned self is reaching out for, in other words. The actual irreducible mechanics of the situation means that conditioned self can only be interested in something if it thinks that it can exploit that situation and the very nature of ‘the spiritual realm’ is that it is the one thing that can never be exploited by the self, or indeed be ‘related to’ (in any way) by the conditioned sense of identity. The spiritual life is what happens in the absence of this grasping, controlling, manipulating, perennially greedy and insecure self.

 

 

What we call ‘the spiritual realm’ is after all precisely that realm of being that is not a projection of the self; it is that realm of being that does not serve as a backdrop to the self, as a context for its activities. How can the self exploit its own absence, therefore? How can the self exploit reality, when reality is reality precisely because it is not being seen or constructed via an act of reference to that ‘unreal centre’ which we call the self’? And yet – despite this profound anomaly –the conditioned identity’s most sophisticated strategy for validating itself is to take up an interest in spiritual matters, ‘consciousness expansion’ and so-called ‘self-development’ in general. This is the point Chogyam Trungpa makes here in ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’

No matter what the practice or teaching, ego loves to wait in ambush to appropriate spirituality for its own survival and gain.

‘Appropriating spirituality’ is however only one example of what the conditioned identity is always doing in order to validate itself – the everyday self is forever hitching its cart to one sort of ‘good cause’ or another, and as far as ‘good causes’ go anything religious or spiritual is pure gold dust! There will never be any better validation and this. The conditioned identity or self-concept is by its nature always insincere therefore. It always has a hidden agenda and that hidden agenda is simply itself. This however is – generally speaking – a rather unacceptable agenda, a rather unattractive agenda, and so the self-concept comes up with something else instead, something more palatable and wholesome sounding, which it manages – very easily – to wholeheartedly believe in. Spirituality is no exception to this and this is why the world of ‘spiritual teachers’ and ‘spiritual seekers’ so often has bad smell to it, a bad smell which we might not notice straightway because of the glossy packaging it comes with. Generally speaking, we can say that ‘the glossier the package, the worse the smell will be’.

 

The essential contradiction is therefore, that the ‘attractiveness’ of the package is an appeal to specifically to the conditioned identity, and this is starting everything off on the wrong foot right from the word ‘go’. To revisit the example we gave earlier – we hear all this talk of abundance and manifestation and being empowered or supported by the universe (and so on) but this is all pure illusion, pure fantasy. It’s a projection of the conditioned identity – a projection which is so attractive precisely because of where it is coming from, which is ‘a place of chronic impoverishment’. Abundance is no good to the conditioned identity – the greater the abundance the greater the desire and the greater the desire the more misery we are going to be in. The conditioned identity will swallow all those riches down in a flash and become bigger and greedier and more miserable than ever. This is simply what we always do – we are always chasing the good stuff, no matter how we might happen to see it. In reality, nothing exists for the conditioned identity except for a very long, rocky road leading to its eventual extinction, and there’s not a lot of appeal in that! ‘Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment,’ says Chogyam Trungpa; there is no ‘good stuff’ out there that the self can win by playing the game of spirituality well enough, by meditating assiduously enough. There’s nothing for it take home and bank.

 

This is a there is of course another side to spiritual endeavour and that is the path of self-denial, self restriction, self mortification and we are of course very familiar with this from the example of the more ‘joyless’ forms of Christianity.. The puritans banned theatre and dancing (and merrymaking in general) in 16th century England, just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan when they were in power. Smiling and laughing were not seen as a good thing! The ‘ultra-serious’ forms of religion always ban everything that has no bearing on the all-important task of fighting sin and purifying the soul. This is just another sham however – it’s just another strategy of the conditioned identity in its attempt to get what it wants. The more I reject and deny myself the more this shows my craven desperation to ‘obtain the prize’!

 

There is no ‘prize’ however – that’s just the crazed fantasy of the conditioned identity, as we have said. The prize I can’t wait to get my hands on is the prize of my ultimate unquestionable self validation, the prize of knowing that I’m definitely ‘doing the right thing’. This is absurd however – the conditioned identity can never do the right thing. Nothing it does can ever be ‘right’ (in the sense of being free from the taint of self-interest); the conditioned identity can never be validated the way that it wants to be because its motivations are never going to be honest and straightforward. The self’s motivations are never going to be honest because honesty would mean acknowledging its own inherent emptiness. The truth is the one thing that is never welcome at the door of the conditioned identity; its fundamental orientation – necessarily – is always towards fantasy.

 

This raises the question as to what ‘genuine spiritual endeavour’ might consist of – the type of spirituality that is not about chasing rainbows and unicorns on the one hand, or the humourless malignant denial of joy on the other. What is left after we take these two extremes away? The one thing we can say is that it is not helpful to try to step into the shoes of ‘an alternative version of ourselves’ who just happens to be more spiritually advanced (whatever that means!) and less screwed up than we are. ‘Spiritual bypassing’ is not the answer! Not only is this quite pointless (in the sense that it’s never going to get us anywhere), it is also actually going to work against us because we will be prone (in fact more than just ‘prone’) to believing that we have achieved some of virtue when we haven’t! Our illusory sense of ourselves is going to thrive, and we’re going to be happy about this wonderful ‘sense of spiritual identity’ and encourage its growth as much as we can. We’re going to water and feed it ever day…

 

Believing that we have achieved some sort of virtue when we haven’t (or believing that we are ‘more spiritual’ than we really are) is a recipe for an especially virulent type of shadow, and spiritual groups or communities have more than their fair share of ‘unacknowledged negativity’. There is all sorts of unacknowledged nastiness that goes on here. The same is true of course in mainstream religious circles – some the most vicious and inhumane acts in history were carried out in the name of God, or in the name of religion. On a less conspicuous level, it is always the case that when we imagine ourselves to be living life ‘more righteously’ than our fellow men (or fellow women) then this is going to give rise to a very unpleasant form of judgementalism on our part and this toxic judgemental attitude (the toxic judgemental attitude of the righteous man or woman) is how the ‘shadow of religion’ shows itself. The judgement of the righteous followers of the way upon their less worthy fellows is always a manifestation of the shadow. Very peculiarly, we tend to imagine that God Himself is judgemental and intolerant in this same way, and so – it could be said – we only taking our cue from Him! It’s as if we assume the Deity to be suffering from the same malaise that we are – the malaise of thinking that we are ‘more spiritual than we really are’, the malaise of having false ideas about ourselves. This – after all – is the only place intolerance and negativity comes from.

 

The cure for such hubris is simply for us to live life as we actually are, to walk in our own shoes, rather than in the shoes of some more spiritually-advanced ‘version of ourselves’. What could be a better way of being ‘cut down to size’ than this? Our idea of ourselves (the self-concept or conditioned-identity) operates by always promoting itself above its actual station. That’s what it does, that is ‘natural activity’. The self-concept makes itself into ‘the centre of things’; who after all doesn’t feel themselves to be ‘the centre of things’? We can feel that we are the centre of things in either a pleasant or an unpleasant way, as ‘the hero’ or as ‘the villain’, but it’s a false perception either way. Whether I feel like the best in the world or the worst in the world, it is still an inflation of my actual situation. Any thought of myself at all as an inflation of ‘the actual situation’ and the self-concept is never any more than just a thought’! The self-concept is only ever just a thought and all thoughts are inflationary (i.e. they make something special when it just plain isn’t) and so to live life as we actually are (rather than as we would like to be) is the infallible cure for spiritual hubris.

 

If we were to ask what the ‘true’ spiritual path might look like one good answer would therefore be to say very simply that it is to live our own life as we actually are rather than striving for some attractive ideal. ‘Striving’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, in other words! ‘Spiritual striving’ is not all it’s cracked up to be because on the one hand it blinds us to the way we actually are, and on the other it causes us to fall headfirst into the delusion of thinking that we are other than we actually are. This doesn’t mean that we stop striving however, because striving to be better is how we actually are. It’s not as if we should now turn things around and ‘strive to be non-strivers’! The unpalatable thing is always to be the person we actually are, and realize that in doing this we are being as honest as we ever possibly can be, and that this ‘honesty’ is the most that we can ever do. That’s the one thing we can do – be honest, and if we’re not honest (as we of course aren’t) then that’s fine too because all we need to do is pay attention to that.

 

It’s the truth that sets us free, as Jesus says in John 8:32, not any spiritual fantasy that we might be indulging in. We don’t need to try not to fantasize (if we do that then all that’s going to happen is that we’re going to run a fantasy in which we aren’t fantasizing) we just observe the fantasy we are running about ourselves whenever we it comes to us to actually remember to observe – how often – if at all – we do remember to notice the fantasy that we are currently running is another matter entirely, of course! A reorientation is involved here therefore – a reorientation from fantasy towards the unvarnished truth of what’s actually going on for us, however unglamorous or unpalatable that might be. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche puts it, ‘we stop looking for our dreams to come true’:

As long as you regard yourself or any part of your experience as the “dream come true,” then you are involved in self-deception. Self-deception seems always to depend upon the dream world, because you would like to see what you have not yet seen, rather that what you are now seeing. You will not accept that whatever is here now is what is, nor are you willing to go on with the situation as it is. Thus, self-deception always manifests itself in terms of trying to create or recreate a dream world, the nostalgia of the dream experience. And the opposite of self-deception is just working with the facts of life.

 

 

 

Art: Lora Zombie Reykjavik

 

 

 

 

 

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Living Life Aggressively

There are two ways to live life – one is where we are constantly imposing our own expectations and goals (or other people’s expectations and goals) on the world and the other is where we are sensitive to what is ‘unfolding all by itself’, and are interested in seeing what happens when it does unfold, ‘all by itself’.

 

When we are in the mode of ‘imposing our expectations or goals on the world’ then we are absolutely not interested in seeing what unfolds all by itself, obviously! We are only interested in seeing our goals being realised; anything else – by definition – is a disappointment to us. The concept of being ‘interested in what unfolds’ is profoundly meaningless to us – we see that as merely ‘giving in to external circumstances’. Nothing is going to happen that is to benefit us that way, we say. No ‘advantage’ is ever going to come our way unless we fight for it to.

 

In one, very limited way, this is true. If we live in a world that believes that the only way ‘good things’ are going to happen is if we fight for them to happen, then because everyone’s interpretation of ‘a good thing’ is narrowly interpreted as ‘the gratification of our goals’, which all have to do with personal advantage’ (which is of course the way we operate in our society) then it is of course very much the case that if we don’t fight tooth and nail for our advantage then it’s going to be someone else’s advantage that is going to be realised instead, and so there is no way out of the struggle. There’s nothing for it but ‘struggle followed by more struggle’, even though it’s a guaranteed fact right from the beginning that none of this struggling is ever going to get us anywhere. The myth behind aggression (needless to say) is that all the struggling and striving will pay off; the truth behind the persistent myth is however that it won’t.

 

Living aggressively by always striving to impose our own ideas, our own expectations and goals on the world, does not come with a good prognosis. The prognosis for this type of approach is always bad, no matter what our goal-orientated society might tell us! As a modality of being in the world it seems to make sense, it seems very much to be sensible and to ‘hold water’ as the way of going about things. Actually, of course (as we have just said) when we caught up in it then we can’t see any other approach to take; we can’t see any other approach that doesn’t straightaway spell ‘defeat’ in terms of the game that we are playing. For this reason, therefore, it’s hardly surprising that we’re putting all our money on this approach – what else are we supposed to do?

 

Living life in the aggressive mode is actually addictive, when it comes down to it – it’s addictive because we can’t see any way possibility other than to keep on doing it until it finally pays off (if it’s ever going to, that is). Our only way to feel good is to put ourselves in the situation of being ‘one up’ in whatever struggle is going on; this feels good because it feels as if we’re getting somewhere. This addictive feeling of ‘getting somewhere’ is false however because – as we have said – ultimately we are not getting anywhere. No one ever gets anywhere on the basis of aggression – it’s an out-and-out lie that we will do! It’s a lie that everyone believes in, to be sure, but that doesn’t make matters any better; the consequences of folly aren’t made any less disastrous when the folly in question is conducted en masse. All that it means is that we have company in our mistake, and means of course that we are much less likely that we will see it as a mistake.

 

It doesn’t take too much effort to discredit what we have called ‘the aggressive mode of living life’. Being ‘aggressive’, just to recap, is where we proceed by imposing our own expectations and goals on the world so that everything (or as much of everything as possible) happens along the lines we want it to. There are all sorts of assumptions implicit in this way of life – assumptions that we never bother to look into. One is that ‘we already know everything that is important for us to know’ (except for a few details here and there that can be filled in later) and so it makes sense for us to make plans with regard to what we want to see happening in life. If we didn’t make this assumption then we could hardly put as much emphasis on ‘control’ and ‘making plans’ as we do! The other, related assumption is that nothing good or worthwhile will happen unless it is made to happen, forced to happen, and this assumption is what locks us into the aggressive mode of being in the world, as we pointed out earlier.

 

As we have said, we don’t generally see ourselves as having made these assumptions – we usually imagine that there is a lot more freedom in our lives than there is. The problem with the ‘positivist paradigm’ (which is another way of talking about psychological aggression) is that it comes with no freedom. They can’t be any freedom when we have already filled it up all the available space in ourselves with ‘what we think we know’! ‘Freedom’ and ‘the radical unknown’ are the same thing – there’s absolutely no way that there can be any freedom in the known, even though this – from the philosophically positive point of view – is something that we simply cannot see. From the ‘positive’ perspective the only type of freedom is the freedom to do whatever we wish to do within the realm of the known; there can’t be any freedom in ‘the radically unknown’ for the simple reason that we don’t admit that there is such a thing! The only reason we are able to proceed in the positive/aggressive way that we do this because we don’t acknowledge there being any possibility of ‘the radically unknown’. If we had acknowledged the possibility of radical uncertainty then we would never have been able to start off in the positive mode in the first place. We would have been too unsure of our ground to start building on it. We have to assume that we know something for sure or otherwise we have no basis for anything and if we have no basis for anything then there can be no such thing as ‘the positive assertion of goals and expectations’.

 

The positivist position is based on hope therefore – when it comes down to it, we’re hoping that our basis is correct, we were hoping that there are some things that we really and truly do know for sure!’ We have to hope this because otherwise nothing we believe in makes any sense! What we have essentially done when we jumped into the ‘positive mode of being in the world’ is that we made a ‘guess’; it is of course perfectly legitimate to make guesses, but the thing about the positive/aggressive approach is that we gloss over the fact that there has been any guesswork involved – we don’t acknowledge this in the least. Straightaway, we start acting as if the guess we have just made is known to be unquestionably untrue, and so absolutely no ‘window of uncertainty’ is left open at all. This ‘closing of the window’ facilitates a positive/aggressive approach in life, but at the same time it precludes any chance of actual freedom.

 

This always comes down to the same thing – if our guess happened to be ‘right’ (rather than being completely ‘wide of the mark’) then there would be no such thing as ‘radical uncertainty’; there would be no such thing as radical uncertainty because everything would have to seamlessly ‘dovetail’ with the positive knowledge that we already have (i.e. our core assumptions), and so there couldn’t be too big of a surprise floating around anywhere. There might be small surprises of course, but nothing radical, nothing that would well-and-truly upset the boat (and therefore prove our guess about the nature of reality wrong). In this case – as we have already pointed out – a type of freedom would be the type that is to be found within the Realm of the Known (i.e. the only type of freedom possible will be ‘the freedom of swapping one known outcome for another’). Radical freedom will be something that doesn’t exist at all.

 

This is all very well, but it all hinges on this one, very precarious thing, and that thing is that our original guess (which we are not admitting to be a guess) was right. But the point here is that even if our guess did happen to be wrong, completely unfounded, completely wide-of-the-mark, etc, we never have any way of knowing this. We would have no way of knowing this because the ‘Realm of the Known’ which we have now created for ourselves contains, as we have said, no ‘windows’, no means of asking any radical questions. The ‘positive reality’ doesn’t contain the possibility of ‘questioning itself’, in other words. If it did then it would no longer be a positive reality; it would be a ‘relativistic reality’, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. When it comes down to it, there is no way we can ever prove that there isn’t such a thing as the radically unknown, the radically surprising, the radically uncertain, out there somewhere waiting to pounce on us. Our positive logic will always tell us that there isn’t, but then it is in the nature of logic to say this. The nature of logic is such that it can’t question the assumptions that it has made in order that it should be there in the first place, as we keep reiterating.

 

Thinking about it, we’d have to ask ourselves why we would ever put ourselves in such a highly dubious position. What possible motivation could we have doing something like this? We base everything on a guess that we don’t admit to be a guess and then we charge ahead incautiously down a road that only goes one way, a road that takes us to a Realm of Positive Knowledge that can’t (by its very nature) ever be falsified from the inside, and which we can’t ever get out of! The only possible consolation we could ever have in this position (if we were looking for some, that is) is that we might possibly have been right in our original supposition even though – having entered into the lobster pot of Positive Reality – we now have absolutely no way of checking up to find out whether we were ‘right’ or not. All we can do is keep on telling ourselves that we were right to go down this road, that we are right to continue down it, even though whatever assertions or self-affirmations we do come out with invariably carry no weight at all. They carry no weight at all since they are presupposed by the assumptions that we have to buy into without knowing that we were buying into anything.

 

When we live our lives in the concrete, aggressive way that we almost always do live it, then with every purposeful action that we take, with every logical thought that we come out with, we are covering up the truth, covering up our own true nature. Everything we do on the basis of the concrete, ‘rule-based mind’ comes down to ‘the denial of radical uncertainty’; the world that has been created by concrete, rule-based mind constitutes a formidably thorough-going ‘system of denial’. The world that we have created for ourselves – most peculiarly – is the systematic denial of the possibility that we might have been wrong in our original unacknowledged ‘hypothesis’. If it happens to be the case (speaking purely hypothetically here) that we were correct in our original assumption, then this would make our purposeful actions, rational thoughts and pontifications on the matter completely righteous in the manner of a fundamentalist preacher who is speaking words of literal truth.

 

But if this were the case, could we not afford to be a little more generous, a little more gentle and kind-hearted in our attitude? Would we have to be so harshly judgemental, so very cruel and unforgiving? This is a telling argument because fundamentalists (of whatever type) are always harsh, always judgemental, always unforgiving. That comes with the territory. That is their nature, as we all know! The fundamentalist, the ‘concrete or literal believer’ is always right and if they are right then that means someone else has to be wrong! Right always means wrong – we can’t have one without the other. By the same token, when we cling less stubbornly to our rigid opinions, dogmatic points of view and beliefs, experience invariably shows that this makes it more tolerant of other people, not less. Not having some sort of fixed position or attitude in life allows us to be more generous of spirit, more humorous and fixed gentle in ourselves, which shows that – as the Buddhists say – there is strength in vulnerability that does not exist in the fixed position, and the clenched fist.

 

The secret to life itself – we could say – is this difference between aggression and non-aggression, and what a big difference this is! One way is ‘all about us’, whilst the other way is about ‘what it is that is revealed when we stop being so obsessed about ourselves’. One way is ‘all about us’, only it isn’t really all about us! It’s all about ‘who we pretend to be because we are afraid of finding out who we really are’. This is what living aggressively comes down to – it’s our attempt at pretending, as systematically as we possibly can and in collusion with others, to ‘be what we are not’, and that’s why it is always so dreadfully uninteresting, so dreadfully sterile…

 

 

 

 

 

 

False Health

It is remarkable how much we talk about mental health when we, as a culture, have so little understanding of what this actually means. Just by taking a moment to look around us we can tell that – culturally speaking – we know (and care) nothing at all about mental health. All politicians and business leaders ever talk about is the economy and the importance of having growth in the economy, as if this were somehow going to solve all our problems. But what is ‘the economy’ other than the lynchpin of runaway consumerism, and what is consumerism other than the voracious pursuit of distractions? It is abundantly obvious that most of the goods and services that we are provided with are not being sold to us for the sake of improving the quality of our lives, but in order to make money for those selling them on the one hand, and – more importantly – for the sake of perpetuating the whole set up! This is what John Berger says in Ways of Seeing – we might think that an advert is seeking to promote the particular product being showcased but the more important function of the advert (or as Berger says, of ‘publicity’) is to sell our whole way of life. When we talk about the need to perpetuate the system then – needless to say – what we talking about here are ‘mechanical forces’, and if we elect to be ruled over by mechanical forces then the very last thing we can expect to obtain as a result of good mental health!

 

We can’t have it both ways – we can’t have a way of life that devotes itself to distraction and yet at the same time get to talk about mental health as if we actually genuinely care about it! It is very straightforward to tell the difference between the way of life that is orientated towards distraction and a way of life that isn’t. One way to talk about this difference is to say that a life that is orientated around distraction is a life orientated around the false, mind-produced image of the self. If I am operating from the standpoint of the mind-produced image of the self (which is of course never anything more than an idea) then it goes without saying that I’m only going to be interested in distractions! What else could I possibly be interested in? If I were to take an interest in the truth then this would – very painfully – show up the falsity of my basis, and that wouldn’t be very much fun for me; if I went down this road far enough then I would have to give up this illusory self-image of mine and I don’t want to give it up! All of my efforts, all of my striving, all of my activities are for the sake of promoting and affirming this illusory self-image and ‘having a relationship with the truth’ most definitely ISN’T for the sake of the self-image. Nothing could be clearer than this – the self-image (although it won’t ever admit it) doesn’t want to have any truck with the truth…

 

The self-image is interested only in the sort of things that validate its supposing existence and these just happen to be the sort of things that our society specialises in producing. This type of validation is exactly what our way of life provides us with. Could anyone really say that our generic ‘mass culture’ produces or encourages anything that has the function of drawing our attention to the falsity of our assumptions, and thereby helps us to wake up from the stultifying collective dream that we are all stuck in? Of course no one would ever say this – the idea is simply laughable. There is nothing in our designed world that has the function of reminding us who we really are; there is nothing in our environment that is there to help bring consciousness to us. There are no lamps to guide our way, only disinformation, only state-sponsored mirages. Drawing attention to the truth is not what’s going on here at all – all the stuff that is thrown at us by society has the express purpose of steering us in another direction entirely. We are bombarded every day with messages that have the specific function of orientating us towards the mind-produced illusion, towards delusion and not to the truth. As Sogyal Rinpoche says, our society specialises in ‘selling samsara’.

 

‘Samsara’ may simply be taken as meaning ‘the life of the false, mind-produced self’, and when this is the only life we know then – naturally enough – this ‘life’ is going to be all about distraction! As we have already said, what else would it be about? When we talk about ‘mental health’ in connection with this world of distraction, this ‘life of the mind-produced self,’ then we are talking utter nonsense, therefore. There’s no ‘health’ here and there never could be – this is the very antithesis of mental health – this is ‘the forgetting of our true nature’. The ‘forgetting of our true nature’ means that the thing that is most precious to us, most vital to us, has been lost and something else – some ‘false idol’ – erected in its place. The loss of what is most precious to us is nothing other than a wound, therefore – we have sustained a wound and as long as we remain oblivious to this wound then we can hardly claim to be interested in or orientated towards mental health! To claim this is simply farcical.

 

Just because it is straightforward – in principle – talk about what the differences between ‘something that operates as a distraction’ and ‘something that doesn’t’, this doesn’t mean that it’s equally straightforward to know the difference in practice, of course. Knowing the difference between ‘an impulse that is directed towards the truth’ and an impulse that is directed towards ‘perpetuating falsehood’ can be extraordinarily difficult in practice, particularly in a collective milieu where values have been inverted and self-distraction is celebrated as a way of life. Obtaining food, shelter and companionship (for example) is not a distraction or a validation for the false self, but all three of these things can become distractions, can become validations, as basic and as essential as they are. We could be dining in a fine restaurant for example, which is something that the self-image likes very much and derives a whole heap of self validation from! Having a fine big house to live in is another wonderful validatory asset for the poor insecure self-image, and so – as everyone knows – is the practice of ‘hanging around with the right sort of people’. We take care to associate ourselves with winners at the social game rather than losers and this (we hope) will reflect well on us…

 

These are of course rather crude illustrations of how basic needs can become contaminated with the pernicious illusions of the mind-created self-image, but they make the point perfectly well. If we wanted to have a slightly subtler example, we could think of the whole field of social interaction. On the one hand the arena of social interaction is a great opportunity for honesty and self-discovery and the development of empathy / compassion, but on the other hand it is – in practice – a veritable morass of subterfuge, lies and compulsive game-playing. In a culture that placed more emphasis on personal integrity, candidness and self-exploration, and less emphasis on self-image and role then social interaction would present a huge possibility for growth, but this isn’t how things work. Almost invariably we interact on the basis of our ‘masks’, on the basis of our ‘roles’, on the basis of our ‘personas’, and we don’t have a clue that this is what we are doing. Out of this ‘unconscious dishonesty’, therefore, no good can come to anyone. No one benefits in this game, in other words.

 

John Berger is also referring to what we have called ‘the contamination of needs with the pernicious illusions of the mind-created self’ when he says that publicity ‘feeds upon the real’. Our needs are real, Berger says, but the web of illusions that capitalist society spins around it is not:

Publicity is effective precisely because it feeds upon the real. Clothes, food, cars, cosmetics, baths, sunshine are real things to be enjoyed in themselves. Publicity begins by working on a natural appetite for pleasure. But it cannot offer the real object of pleasure and there is no convincing substitute for a pleasure in that pleasure’s own terms. The more convincingly publicity conveys the pleasure of bathing in a warm, distant sea, the more the spectator-buyer will become aware that he is hundreds of miles away from that sea and the more remote the chance of bathing in it will seem to him. This is why publicity can never really afford to be about the product or opportunity it is proposing to the buyer who is not yet enjoying it. Publicity is never a celebration of a pleasure-in-itself. Publicity is always about the future buyer. It offers him an image of himself made glamorous by the product or opportunity it is trying to sell. The image then makes him envious of himself as he might be. Yet what makes this self-which-he-might-be enviable? The envy of others. Publicity is about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by others.

Another possible way of looking at the basic problem here is to say that it has to do with our confusing of ‘quality-of-life’ with ‘standard of living’. This thing called ‘standard of living’ is essentially a societal construct in that what constitutes ‘a basic standard of living’ has to do with our particular conditioned way of living life, rather than anything else.  It basically defined in economic terms, in terms of ‘buying power’, and this definition links very closely (of course) with the measure of the economic health of the nation, which is to say the Gross National Product. SOL is a measure of our ability to take proper advantage of the goods and services being produced by our society and although this includes essentials such as food and clothing, it is to a large extent a measure of ‘social adaptation’, i.e. it is a measure of how well we are able to function in the socially-prescribed way.

 

Quality of life however is not this, although there is a lot of confusion on the subject. For example, according to the Wikipedia entry QOL is linked to SOL and it is defined in terms of how well one’s own life ‘coincides with’ the expected standard. This type of ‘equilibrium-based’ definition is very deceptive, however; something very important is missing and we can’t see what it is. If QOL were all about matching either our or society’s expectations for life then this would be distinctly dire situation. In order for life to be life – and not some routine or habit that we are automatically repeating – it has to contain elements that are completely irrelevant to our expectations. It has to contain ‘randomness’, so to speak. Another way of putting this would be to say that in order for life to be life it has to ‘go beyond the known’.  Most of us would be rather unlikely to agree with this statement of course – our idea of life ‘as it should be’ is life that fits in with our expectations, rather than a type of life that is irrelevant to them or doesn’t correspond to them at all! This is because we are – generally speaking – pretty much stuck in the Goal-Orientated mode. Life, for us, is a matter of asserting our unconscious assumptions, whilst validating this activity as ‘achieving our goals’.

 

This is fine in one way (because it’s what we want and what are comfortable with) but it’s not so fine in another way – it’s not so fine because a life that does not go beyond our expectations for it is not life at all, as we have just said. It’s a ‘shadow-version’ of life. Life that does not disagree with (or deviate from) our ideas of it is ‘the Rational Simulation of Life’ and if we were to put forward a handy, all-purpose definition of what ‘mental health’ is, we could say that – essentially – it is where these two things – ‘life’ and ‘the rational simulation of life’ are not taken to be one of the same thing. That’s all we have to say! If they are taken to be ‘one and the same thing’, then we have a situation where ‘life itself is not allowed to happen’, a situation where life is actually repressed or denied, and this – when it comes down to it – is a state of pure suffering. This suffering itself is not ‘mental ill-health’ – mental ill-health (so to speak) is ‘where we are suffering but do not know it’, or ‘where we are imprisoned but make a virtue of our imprisonment’; mental ill-health is where we are in denial of our suffering and go from day to day firmly believing that everything is okay, that everything is ‘as it should be’. In the Rational Simulation of Life everything is always as it should be’ and this is precisely the problem; there is something very seriously wrong when ‘everything is as it should be’! When our suffering finally manifests itself (because the mechanism of ‘pain suppression’ (or ‘illusion-validation’) is not working as effectively as it used to) then we are very much inclined to call this state of affairs ‘mental ill-health’. It is this ‘manifest suffering’, that occurs when the when our mechanisms for illusion-validation are no longer working, that we are fond of seeing as ‘neurotic mental illness’. We are seeing neurosis ‘back to front’ therefore – we are seeing unconscious adaptation to a mind-produced illusion (or ‘the Rational Simulation’) as being healthy and the perception of the mind-produced illusion as being what it actually is (i.e. entirely sterile, pointless and futile) as ‘the illness’. We are orientated towards ‘a false version of health’, in other words.

 

Living in the Rational Simulation of Life isn’t the sickness; living in the Rational Simulation of Life and not knowing it is the sickness. When we live in the RSOL and we know it then we have ‘a relationship with the truth’ this and this is a sign of health! It might be a sign of health but it’s a painful sign and so we’re not very fond of it, all the same. When we are living in the RSOL and we don’t know it (i.e. when we don’t have a relationship with the truth of our situation) then ‘the truth’, when it appears (as it must do at some point) is going to be two things to us – [1] is that it is going to be very unwelcome to us, and [2] is that it is not (at first, at least) going to be recognisable to us as the truth. For this reason, we going to mobilise all our resources against it; we going to fight against it with absolutely everything we’ve got. We’re struggling to achieve ‘a false version of health’ – we don’t see ourselves as ‘fighting against the truth’ however, on the contrary, we see ourselves as ‘fighting against a very bad outcome’…

 

When we talk about mental health therefore, what we are inevitably going to mean by this – just as long as we are unconsciously socially adapted, that is – is a mode of being that is entirely ‘congruent with our ideas of life’ whilst at the same time not generating the suffering and meaninglessness that necessarily follows on from this. This means that mental health for us is completely unattainable since ‘restriction’ and ‘the pain of restriction’ cannot ever be separated! We can’t have one without the other, we can’t have our cake and eat it… What we have here is an impossible definition of mental health therefore and this means that it is quite, quite unattainable, just as all illusions are unattainable. We would be kept busy forever, trying to attain it, and we are going to be kept busy forever trying to attain it. This sort of exhausting futility (known as the Wheel of Samsara in Buddhism) is what living in the Rational Simulation of Life is all about

 

 

Art: Consumer Culture / Atomic Age Abundance, by Sally Edelstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nondual Psychology

People sometimes say something to the effect that whilst we can’t necessarily control what happens around us, we can control our reactions to what happens and herein lies our freedom. That’s what we have to work on, in other words – our ‘non-reacting’. This is a familiar enough meme to see doing the rounds on social media sites and – supposedly – it represents an empowering message for us, as is generally the way with such memes.

 

The only problem here is that it isn’t true. It isn’t at all true – we don’t have any control over our reactions and if we were to try to (which of course we very often do) then we would simply be ‘reacting to our own reactions’, which is hardly going to help matters! What makes us think that our reactions are any different to all the other events taking place in our life, after all? What makes them special? There is a rather big ‘unwarranted assumption’ going on here…

 

Our freedom doesn’t lie in attempting to control our reactions to events that are outside of our control. That’s just a straitjacket. All controlling of whatever kind takes away our freedom – controlling arises out of the need to control and ‘needs’ equal – obviously enough – the ‘absence of freedom’. The idea that by acting out of the absence of freedom we can somehow give rise to freedom is, needless to say, utterly absurd. Freedom cannot come out of the lack of freedom; unless there is freedom there right at the beginning then all we will ever do is perpetuate our state of inner slavery, whilst hoping all the while that something is somehow going to change for the better as a result of us ‘persisting in our folly’. This – in a nutshell – is the difference between ‘dual’ (i.e. conventional) and ‘nondual’ psychology – conventional psychology says (in a very serious way) that we can control ourselves whilst nondual psychology laughs and says that we can’t

 

Odd though it may sound to say it, our reactions have as little to do with us as all the other events that are happening around us. They are also ‘events’ and they also can’t be controlled. All events are – ultimately – not subject to our controlling, not subject to our ‘say-so’. Sometimes we can of course be apparently effective in our controlling, but what we usually fail to see is that – generally speaking – the only reason we are controlling in the first place is because we are ‘not free not to control’. The only reason we are controlling is because we are being ‘controlled by the need to control’, in other words. So in this case even if we do ‘control successfully’ we are still only ‘being a slave’. Life when we are basing everything on control has only the two basic possibilities in it – [1] is where we are successful within the terms of the narrow game we are playing and get ‘a pat on the back’, and [2] is where we fail at the game we are playing and get punished instead. Needless to say, neither of these two possibilities have anything to do with freedom!

 

So when we think that everything is about controlling, and how effectively we are able to control, we have fallen into a trap. As a result of being in this trap we are going to be constantly upset when things don’t happen the way we want them to (or the way we think they ought to) and when we get upset in this way we sometimes try to placate ourselves by telling ourselves that whilst we can’t always control the things that happen in our life, we can control how we react to them. In this way we fall into ‘the trap of controlling’ (or ‘the trap of thinking we need to control’) all over again. We try to avoid one trap by falling into another one and we imagine that this (i.e. controlling ourselves rather than controlling the world) is somehow a more ‘spiritual’ approach to life.

 

The thing that we find so extraordinarily hard to understand – even though it is at the same time so very simple – is that we are ‘an event’ just as everything else in the world is ‘an event’. The universe itself is ‘an event’, and so is everything in it. We can’t (in any ultimate way) control the events on the outside of us and neither can we exert control over ‘the event that is us’! If we could see this then we might be able to accord ‘ourselves’ the basic respect that we (possibly) give to other events. We might accord ‘ourselves’ the respect we (possibly) accord the universe itself. The point is that we just can’t see this however; we can’t come anywhere close to seeing this – instead of seeing who I am as essentially ‘an event’ I see who I am as ‘myself’, and this is another type of thing entirely! We take a type of proprietorial attitude to ourselves (naturally enough) – we claim ownership of ourselves, in other words, which is rather an odd thing to do, when we reflect on it. There is a type of ‘taking things for granted’ type of attitude here that is very different to the respect we might accord some marvellous event that clearly has nothing to do with us. If we could only have this type of awareness about ‘ourselves’ then how very different things would be! It’s quite unimaginable (from our normal everyday perspective) how very different things would be then…

 

When we say – as we did just now – that events can’t really be controlled in any ultimate sense of the word then this of course isn’t going to make a hell of a lot of sense. What else do we doing life apart from control (or attempt to control) things anyway? We are stuck in ‘control-mode’ pretty much all of the time and that’s why we have this nasty habit, in our Western culture, of seeing people as either being ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’, as being either ‘winners’ or ‘losers’. We absolutely don’t see any problem with the ‘paradigm of control’ at all, and yet there IS a problem. There’s a problem whether we see it or not – there’s a kind of gremlin at work behind the scenes that emerges at key moments. There’s a ‘killer glitch’, just waiting to unfold! The confusion that we suffer from arises because of the way control seems to work so well in such a simple, straightforward cases as ‘steering the car’ or ‘choosing what to wear when we go out for a night on the town’ or ‘deciding what we want to cook for dinner’.

 

In these cases we can control without any problem – if I want to cook curry and rice for my dinner then I can have curry and rice, and if I want to cook roast chicken and mashed potatoes then I can have roast chicken and mashed potatoes and there’s no problem here. I get what I want and that they are no repercussions, no nasty surprises to contend with. It’s when it comes to the bigger picture that control no longer works so straightforwardly however – it does work, after a fashion, but only at a price. I can choose to grow either cabbages or beetroot in my back garden and the choice is entirely mine, but when I try to ‘manage’ the whole ecosystem things quickly start to go very badly out of control! The same is true of the human body – when we try to manage the processes taking place in the body by placing more and more reliance on medication (to give another example) then unwanted side-effects quickly build up, that in turn need to be managed. As Ivan Illich points out in Medical Nemesis, when we try to manage (or ‘medicalize’) the whole of human life so as to achieve a desirable standard of health then what we achieve is not actually ‘health’ at all but its exact opposite.

 

Generally speaking, taking ‘society as a whole’ an example, we can say that when we collectively try to manage life and ‘standardise’ it in some way (which we need to do if we are to manage it) then the result is not life at all but some highly ‘unsatisfactory version or analogue’ of life that we then have to spend a lot of time validating and maintaining for ourselves. We will have to repeatedly reassure ourselves that we are ‘living life as it should be lived’ (or that we are ‘having a good time’) even though the truth is that we aren’t at all. We’re actually living a parody of life. By taking control of everything (or rather by trying to take control of everything) we inevitably spoil it, we inevitably ruin things for ourselves. Life itself, in its very nature, is a ‘letting go’, so how do we imagine that ‘trying to take control of it’ is ever going to work out well for us? Life itself is ‘a risk that we have to take‘ so where exactly do we imagine that we are going with our ‘wall-to-wall risk avoidance’ – the ‘wall-to-wall risk avoidance’ that is modern life?

 

The bottom line is that processes of life or of nature cannot be controlled in any ultimate sense and that they’re not meant to be. Freedom lies not in controlling what’s going on ‘successfully rather than unsuccessfully’ but in realising that – at the end of the day – we can’t control it. This insight is freedom! If something happens that I don’t want to happen (if some outcome that I’m negatively attached to comes to pass) then I am in all probability going to negatively react to this and if I have any degree of self-awareness then my negative reaction to the unwanted event is itself going to constitute ‘an unwanted event’ and this is going to tempt me either to attempt to exert control on them, or blame myself for not being able to control them (which is the flip-side of the coin of control). Both of these responses equal ‘resistance’ (or ‘aggression’) and as such they feed into (or aggravate) the underlying issue rather than curing it. And if I try to either ‘accept’ my involuntary reaction to control the situation (or accept my reaction of blaming myself for not being able to control it) then this too will constitute resistance/aggression and so this too will aggravate the underlying issue. I can’t get out of the mess this easily just by using ‘acceptance’ as a tactic!

 

What does help however is to see that both what happens ‘on the inside’ and ‘what happens on the outside’ are independent events and that ‘thinking that we ought to be able to control independent events’ is a suffering-producing delusion’! Thinking that we ought to be able to control life (or control ourselves) is a suffering-producing delusion and it very much helps to see this. We are looking at things in a completely deluded way when we think this and out of our deludedness no good can come. Out of delusion comes attachment and identification, which means that we are going to be ‘hooked on controlling‘, whilst out of awareness comes ‘freedom from the false need to control’ that comes out of identification. Realising that there never was any question of being able to ‘control our reactions’ (and thus supposedly gaining freedom from all the external factors that are controlling how we feel) doesn’t mean that our reactions are then going to continue unchecked (or that they become more exaggerated or violent in their intensity), which is what we always tend to think. Quite the reverse is true – when we realise that there isn’t some kind of supposed ‘external agent’ outside of the-event-which-is-who-we-are that needs to be controlling the event, then peacefulness comes back into the picture – peacefulness being (of course) the one thing that can never be arrived at by controlling!

 

 

 

 

 

The Negative Side Of Positive Thinking

We are all so hung up on ‘positive this’ and ‘positive that’ and there is actually something rather sinister about this. What does this say about us? Why should we be so hung up on positive ways of looking at the world. Why should we be so fixated upon the so-called need to ‘think positively’? The answer is clearly that we are rather frightened of the alternative, which is where we get caught up in negative ways of looking at the world instead; our ‘attraction to the positive’ is the very same thing as ‘our aversion to the negative’ and what this means is that our so-called ‘positive attitude’ – no matter how inspiring it may on the face of it seem to be – is actually fear in disguise. We’re so afraid that we daren’t admit to ourselves that we are afraid, and so we run around ‘never mentioning the negative possibility’ and we think that this is a great thing to do! Deep down we may not think that this is such a great thing to do but we will certainly say that it is. The whole point of positive thinking is after all that we try to override our semiconscious doubts with loud assertions of what we would like to see as being true.

 

Positive thinking is de rigueur when we are in the grip of fear; it’s the only option open to us – anything else would take courage! On the face of it, denying fear (saying a big hearty “NO” to fear) is the helpful thing to do because it makes us feel better! We seem to be ‘turning the tables’ on fear in this way – we’re getting ‘one up’ on it! We’re showing fear who’s boss; we’re ‘turning the negative into a positive’ and this (in the short term at least) makes us feel good. If we were to look into this a bit more closely however – which we are very much inclined not to do! – then we would see that we have actually put ourselves in a far worse position than we were in before. We have made things worse by trying to make them better.

 

Instead of a genuine, honest-to-goodness sense of well-being, what we have now is a fake sense of well-being, a phoney sense of well-being.  If something is fake or phony then this means that there are some serious drawbacks to it, naturally enough. Drawback Number 1 (we might say) is that the sense of ‘well-being’ which we are enjoying is very superficial, very two-dimensional and Drawback Number 2 is that that this sense of well-being is very brittle, very easily threatened or destabilised. Another way to put this last point is to say that the type of good feeling we have when we slant things positively to ourselves is always dependent upon our own successful controlling, which means of course that we can never really relax. We are always having to manage the situation either in terms of ‘controlling external circumstances’ or in terms of ‘positive self talk’, which is to say, putting a favourable spin on the world.

 

Very clearly, this is NOT a great situation to put ourselves in – the only type of good feeling we are ever going to have is a fake or second-rate one and we’re going to have to do all the work ourselves to maintain the flimsy charade that ‘all is well’. It’s not a very good type of good feeling (i.e. it’s ‘an inferior product’) and we have to work hard for it, which is not the case with the genuine sense of well-being. Furthermore, we are never going to be in a position to be truly honest about anything or truly sincere about anything because if we do start being honest or sincere then we are in danger of bringing the whole house of cards going down around our ears. By the same token, we are always going to have to be superficial in our approach to life because if we aren’t then the chances are that we are going to ‘give the game away’ (which is to say, the chances are that we going to find out that the world isn’t the way we keep saying it is).

 

Without knowing it, we are going to be fighting against truth itself, and because we are ‘fighting against truth itself’ we’re not able to know what that the so-called ‘bad outcome’ which we constantly trying to keep at bay really is. Because we have made truth into ‘the enemy’ we have made ourselves permanently confused: either we will be fighting against the bad outcome unconsciously (and putting all our efforts into ‘positive projects’ of one sort or another) or we will start to have some kind of uncomfortable awareness of an ill-defined ‘ominous possibility’ that is waiting in the wings, a looming spectre which we will feel a tremendous sense of dread about. We won’t be able to know that this ominous outcome (so-called) is actually not ominous at all but something genuinely wholesome and helpful. The truth is of course always wholesome and helpful; whether we realise it or not the truth is always our friend. It doesn’t get us into the terrible mess that lies do! We can’t see that the possibility we are fighting against is actually helpful to us because we are orientated in completely the wrong way; we are ‘orientated in completely the wrong way’ because we have tied our sense of well-being to our ability to spin things in a positive way.

 

All of this stems from this very simple (and apparently quite harmless) trick of taking control of the meaning of things rather than letting that ‘meaning’ emerge all by itself, as it will. Of all the ‘bad habits’ in the world, this habit of slanting the meaning of our situation so that it appears more palatable, more encouraging, less frightening, etc has got to be the worst! As the Pringles ad says “Once you pop you can’t stop’! Once we start this business of ‘positive thinking’ then we can’t stop – it’s a slippery slope just like taking heroin is… We can’t stop with the positive thinking because by thinking positively we have weakened our ability to see the truth for what it is, which makes it all the more likely that we will go down the road of ‘slanting perceptions of reality’ the next time a challenge comes along, which will in turn weaken our ability to bear the truth still further, and so on and so forth. This is a ‘one-way street’, in other words, and it doesn’t go to a good place!

 

It’s not just positive thinking in the classic ‘motivational seminar’ sense that we are talking about here of course – just as long as we are identified with the Mind-Created Sense of Self we are always going to be looking at the world in a ‘positively slanted way’ rather than simply ‘seeing it straight’. The Mind-Created Sense of Self is after all a mere illusion and – as an illusion – it absolutely needs to be looking at the world in a distorted kind of way. It needs to be looking at the world in a biased or distorted way if it is to survive. Illusions always need more illusions, just as lies always call for more lies! Illusions definitely don’t need ‘the truth’, whatever that might prove to be. The more we identify with the illusionary sense of self that is provided for us by the thinking mind the hungrier we become for a ‘favourably distorted view of reality’. The more dependent we become on positive-type illusions to make us feel better then at the same time the more frighteningly vulnerable we become to the ‘unfavourable’ or ‘negative’ type of illusions. Identification with the illusion causes us to become more and more dependent upon ‘flattery’ and more and more reactive towards to ‘insults’, in other words.

 

We might perhaps wonder why it is that the thinking mind provides us with what we calling an ‘illusory’ view or image of ourselves. It might seem unfair to say (as we are saying,)that thought always creates a ‘false picture’ of who we are. The point is however that thought was never ‘meant’ (if we can put it like that) to ‘tell us who we are’. That was never its job. We are using the tool of thought for quite the wrong purpose and if we do this we’re going to get in trouble. Thought as a tool for ‘solving problems in the outside world’, not a tool for ‘telling us who we are’! We can’t know who we are by thinking about ourselves – that is a ridiculous way to go about things. Why on earth would we want to think about ourselves (i.e. look at ourselves from some kind of external or artificial or abstract viewpoint) when we could actually just be ourselves?

 

This is actually this is the very nub of the matter. As Alan Watts says, we can’t objectively ‘know’ ourselves (i.e. we can’t ‘know ourselves as an object of thought’) because in order to do this we would have to step outside of ourselves, we would have to divorce ourselves from the actual truth of our situation, and start playing this game of ‘being what or who the thinking mind says we are’. We can’t ‘see ourselves from the outside’ but what we can do is ‘be ourselves as we actually are’ and ‘ourselves as we actually are’ doesn’t need to buy into illusions in order to feel good. Even expressing things like this is deceptive – ‘ourselves as we actually are’ isn’t any sort of a ‘self’ at all really because ‘who we are’ isn’t ‘an object’, because ‘who we are’ isn’t ‘a thing’. We’d have to jump right out of the world of objects and things to understand this, and we don’t even know that this is possible!

 

Our true nature is consciousness and consciousness is something that exists in an ‘unconditional’ rather than a ‘conditional’ way (which is to say, it exists in a way that has nothing to do with the rules and regulations of the thinking mind). Consciousness is not an object and only objects are subject to the framework of right and wrong, the polarity of positive and negative, that rationality takes for granted. Once we fall into that trap seeing ourselves as objects (or ‘things’) then we obliged to think positively (we are obliged to try to control our situation so that things happen the right way rather than the wrong way). Consciousness (which, as honest self-observation will always show, is our true nature) has absolutely nothing to do with the tiresome and demeaning polarity of ‘right versus wrong’ or ‘positive versus negative’, so why would we ever want to go down that road? Why would we ever wish to bring that curse down on ourselves?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Negative Psychology Of Everyday Life

When we lose ourselves, and don’t know that we have lost ourselves, what happens next? What’s the story then? How does this peculiar situation work itself out? The awareness isn’t there, so we can’t find out what happens through ‘direct appreciation’ of the fact, so to speak, and yet we will still find out one way or another, sooner or later.

 

How could we lose something as big as ‘who we are’ and not miss it? One point that comes up in relation to this question (the first point, perhaps) is that we don’t miss it at all and that this is something which is empirically verifiable with the greatest of ease. All we need to do is take a look around us, or think about all the people we know, and ask ourselves whether they seem to be aware of ‘missing something very important’. Quite the opposite is usually true of course – we go around thinking that ‘we’re all here’, we go around acting as if our assuming basis is ‘the only true and correct one’. We take this very for granted, and our unconsciousness with regard to this assumption is what gives us our (apparent) ‘confidence’ in everyday life!

 

We could say that this is a statement of the basic human predicament: there is something very peculiar going on, but we can’t for the life of us spot it! We are not here at all, and yet we are absolutely convinced that we are. Because there are so very many people all feeling that they are fully and properly themselves (rather than being merely ‘tokenistically themselves’) this creates a type of ‘illusion field’ that is very hard to break out of, or see out of. We can’t believe that there is something crucially important missing from our lives because everyone else is acting as if everything is perfectly OK and ‘as it should be’; we can’t believe that we are suffering from an absence of our genuine being (which is a kind of ‘negative elephant in the living room’) because no one ever talks about it.

 

This ‘illusion field’ makes it extremely unlikely that anyone is ever going to trust themselves if they do start to get the uncomfortable feeling that there is more to them, or more to life, than everyone says there is (or that ‘there is more to being a human being than society tells us that there is.’) This awareness – we might guess – probably happens to people often enough and there are two ways things can go when it does – either we will go around telling everyone about it (in which case we will quite possibly get diagnosed as being classically psychotic and delusional) or we will have the presence of mind not to inform the world and his uncle about what we have just discovered and ‘keep the news to ourselves.’ We will in this case be able to get on our lives without either being diagnosed as having a mental illness, or in any other way being judged as peculiar or abnormal. The biggest possibility of all however is that we will simply just go along with the very limited expectation of what it means to be a human being that we have been provided with. Any awareness that is contrary to this expectation will simply be disregarded as not making any sense, as not being commensurate with the all-important ‘consensus viewpoint’.

 

So – just to recapitulate – we lose ourselves completely and we have no way of recognising that there is anything missing. This is the basic statement of the human predicament. We have fallen into ‘a dark pool of forgetting’, and as far as we’re concerned there is nothing to have forgotten. There is nothing to have forgotten and so we get on with your business of doing whatever it is that we imagine we have to get on with. We get on with the type of life that we would be obliged to get on with if there were no more to us than just what the collective mind defines us as being, or what our own ‘operating system’ (i.e. the OS of the rational/conceptual mind) tells us we are. The awareness of ‘being present as we truly are’ (for want of any better way of putting it) is gone, and instead we have a sense of ourselves that – very oddly – comes from outside of ourselves via some kind of an ‘external all-determining authority’, whether that external authority be ‘the thinking mind’, or ‘the collective/generic mind which we are all a part of’.

 

We could call the ‘amnesiac’ version of ourselves (the version that’s forgotten who it really is) ‘the mundane self, ‘the everyday self’, and we could ask the question again: what ways does the everyday self have of practically encountering or coming across ‘the lack which is itself’? One (perhaps surprising) way to try to answer this question would be to say that the everyday self encounters the ‘limitation-of-being which it suffers from without knowing that it is suffering from anything’ when it experiences irritation, frustration or annoyance. There is a whole range of situations which routinely cause us to ‘lose our sense of humour’ in this banal and ridiculous way. We’re looking for things to be a certain way and things just aren’t that way, and – what’s more – we don’t have any tolerance for things being any other way than the way we want them to be. Who doesn’t know what this feels like? How many times a day does this happen?

 

What we’re talking about here may seem to be very commonplace and therefore not very illuminating for the purposes of furthering any argument that we might be making, but the ‘obviousness’ of the example that we are using blinds us to what its true significance. The point we’re making can be expressed very clearly and concisely – who we really are isn’t petty-minded, judgemental and intolerant like this! We’re operating ‘below ourselves’, in other words; who we really are isn’t in the least bit upset by things (or other people) ‘not being the way we absurdly think they should be’. This is like a litmus test therefore – if we find ourselves to be irritable, petty minded and judgemental about all sorts of nonsense then that shows us beyond any shadow of a doubt that we are ‘not ourselves’; it shows that we have mistakenly identified ourselves with some paltry illusion of ‘who we really are’.

 

P.D. Ouspensky says somewhere that the false self is an engine for producing negative emotions – it generates negativity of one sort or another on an ongoing basis, just as a badly tuned car engine produces black choking smoke. The reason for this (we might add) is that the ‘false self’ has absolutely no strength or flexibility to it. How can a false construct (or paltry semblance) of ourselves have any genuine strength or flexibility, after all? All it can do when it’s under pressure is to produce a terrible grating noise; all it can do when under stress is to emit toxic negativity, and thereby most regrettably pollute the environment around it. What’s more (needless to say!) the false self is almost always going to be under pressure of one sort or another, this being the nature of the world we live in. Things never work out as we would like them to. There will of course be times when everything is ‘going to plan’ and then the false self will be content, and not be bitching or complaining or sulking or creating bad feeling one way or another, but experience shows that these ‘periods of placidity’ are never going to last very long…

 

Carl Jung says something similar when he states that the big danger (or perhaps even the biggest danger) we face in life is when the mask (or persona) that we wear in order to fit the assumptions and expectations of society grows onto us and becomes part of us – a part that we can no longer remove. We no longer even want to remove the mask because we are falling under its hypnotic power and we think that it is who we are. We have become ‘possessed by the persona‘, and it lives our life for us; it lives life on our behalf, so to speak. Now it goes without saying that this mask, this persona, doesn’t have any genuine human qualities. It can mimic them, it can ‘ape’ then, but it can’t actually manifest them. The ‘mask-which-we-take-to-be-ourselves’ cannot be sincere about anything either – how can it ever be ‘sincere’ when it is not a real thing, when it’s not really us? A mask is by definition insincere. In addition to its lack of genuine human qualities’ (which we can hardly blame it for since these are not in its nature) the mask also has the propensity to generate what is generally referred to as ‘negative emotional states’, which all come down to the ‘passing on’ or ‘reallocation’ of mental pain. The mask has to pass on (or displace) mental pain since it has zero capacity within itself to bear that pain; it lacks this capacity because it isn’t a ‘real thing’, because it’s only a gimmick, a show that we putting on.

 

What we have here is therefore a very straightforward way of detecting the absence of our true, ‘uncontrived’ nature – when we react to difficult situations by ‘going into a sulk’ or ‘getting nasty’ or ‘cutting up rough’, etc, then we know that we aren’t living life ‘as we essentially are’ but rather we’re living life ‘as the persona’, ‘as the mask’, ‘as the artificial construct’. Furthermore, when we find ourselves acting violently or aggressively or in a controlling fashion, we can say the same thing – ‘something inside us’ is living a life for us, on our behalf. The mechanical/artificial version of us can only do two things after all – it can either control successfully and be euphoric, or it can be unsuccessful in its controlling and ‘cut up rough’ (i.e. ‘become dysphoric’). Ultimately, both euphoria and dysphoria are ‘toxic states’ since both derive from ‘the false version of ourselves’. Nothing good comes about as a result of putting the false self in charge of everything – everything is bound to go to wrack and ruin. If the false self is in a good mood this is not a good thing!

 

This is, then, the ‘litmus test’ any of us can apply to see whether we have ‘lost ourselves without knowing that we have’. When everything is going smoothly and ‘all is to our liking’ then we will be apparently sweet and good-natured, but when things are no longer going our way then we will immediately ‘show our true colours’, so to speak, and become sour instead of sweet, unpleasant instead of pleasant; we will start passing on pain to other people in order to make them feel bad instead of us, in other words. Either this, or we will ‘internally redirect’ the pain and blame/punish ourselves instead, which is the other ‘mechanical option’ that we have. Either way, we’re not ‘peacefully allowing to pain to be there’ but rather we’re recriminating about it – either we are targeting ourselves or others in a thoroughly non-compassionate (if not wilfully malicious) way.

 

This is of course the basic stuff of everyday life. It’s all part of the terrain, it’s all part and parcel of being a human being. Through being self-aware and taking ‘responsibility for ourselves’ (as we say) we journey in the direction of becoming more truly human, and ‘less of a machine in human guise’. If we don’t cultivate self-awareness, and we don’t take any responsibility for our ‘manifestations of toxicity’ then we journey in the opposite direction. This dual possibility’ is – we might say – what life is all about: either we become less mechanical, or more mechanical in our nature. It’s got to go either one way or the other! If we work consciously with our ‘toxic manifestations’ then they are of great help to us because they point to the absence of our true nature and if on the other hand we make excuses for them (or don’t pay any heed to them at all) then these manifestations send us down ‘the bad road’ – the road that ends up in a situation of very great suffering. Everything depends upon whether we ‘ignore the warning signs’, or ‘don’t ignore them’; the direction we are travelling depends on whether we live consciously or unconsciously, in other words.

 

What we have so far said represents a very straightforward approach to the psychology of everyday life therefore, the only thing being that it’s a negative approach rather than a positive one – it’s negative because rather than attempting to describe or say something about who we are (our ‘true nature’) it’s a description of all the things that come to pass when we are not who we are (or when we forget who we are). Instead of proceeding naïvely, as we do in ‘positive psychology’, and attempting to say something meaningful about our true nature (which we absolutely have no clue about anyway) negative psychology operates purely by looking at what we might call the symptoms of our absence, or the symptoms of our self-forgetting, (which is of course the usual situation). More than ‘the usual situation’, it’s the only situation we know about. We don’t live in a world populated by conscious human beings, after all!

 

Positive psychology is bound to be dismally unfruitful given that it’s based on the description of an idea of our self which has nothing to do with our true nature, but which is merely the mechanical construct that we have mistakenly identified with. It is accurate in one sense however; it’s accurate because the false mechanical semblance of ourselves is the basis upon which we actually operate. It is ‘useless knowledge’ all the same because no matter how well we describe ‘the false mechanical self’ it’s not really going do us any good. It’s a tremendously ‘arid’ knowledge for one thing, and for another thing the better we get at optimising ‘the performance of the false self’ the worst were actually making our situation! Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, we are bound to say that investing all our efforts in furthering positive psychology is something of a grotesque mistake therefore. All we really need to know about the mask is that it is a mask – we’re never going to make it into anything else, no matter how assiduously we work at it…

 

 

 

 

Everything Is Communication

Everything is communication of one sort or another. Or rather, everything is either communication or ‘the fake analogue of communication’ (which we may also refer to as ‘pseudo-communication‘). Pseudo-communication doesn’t mean ‘lies’ or ‘fake news’ so much as the appearance of a two-way interaction going on when actually there is none. Pseudo-communication isn’t a real thing however – its just some kind of ‘collective fantasy’. In genuine communication there is actually something happening; with pseudo-communication however nothing is happening…

 

There is no interaction at all going on in the case of pseudo-communication because ‘interaction’ means that it’s a two-way street – otherwise, what we’re talking about is merely control and control by its very nature only works the one way! Control tells but it doesn’t listen. Control is the antithesis of communication therefore and in this world of ours everything is about control – either of the overt or covert variety. And yet control – ultimately – is an unreal thing. From what we might call ‘a psychological perspective’ (rather than a straightforward ‘mechanical’ one, which is of course purely practical), control is always ‘fear-driven’ and for this reason we can consider it to be a kind of ‘postponement of reality’…

 

In the past ‘the authorities’, the ‘rulers’, saw no need to disguise their power – it was taken as part of the divine order of things that the powerful should rule over the less powerful. No explanation was needed other than this: ‘It is the divine right of rulers to rule‘. Actually, this so-called ‘explanation’ was itself a manifestation of power, a manifestation of ‘effective covert control’. When the population believes that it is the divine right of kings to rule, then the question of challenging their power never arises! It’s no accident that the monarchy and the church were traditionally so closely related, so closely intertwined with each other.

 

The Queen of England, for example, has a particular (and very peculiar) position of authority within the Church of England – this authority in some special circumstances exceeding that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the United States presidents talk a lot about God even though we might quite reasonably wonder what the connection what exactly the connection is between the shady business of power-politics and the divine. A democratically elected president might seem very different from a hereditary monarch, but there is still this implied relationship with God. We could quite reasonably ask what presidents (or the Queen) would know of God, but the answer (of course) has to do with the validation of their rule.

 

Within the last hundred and fifty years or so the idea that one human being should have power over another, for no other reason than the brute fact that they are in a position to assert this power, has become to be seen as completely unacceptable – is apparent in fact. ‘Might’ and ‘right’ are no longer synonymous. In one way this is undoubtedly representative of a huge leap in consciousness – humankind has woken up out of long dark slumber, or it seems. And yet in another way however it might be said that the gains we have collectively made in terms of freedom are more apparent than real. The change is that control is not explicit any more, as has often been pointed out – the wielders of power have simply grown subtler in their approach.  They have upped their game and we have failed to keep up with them. We have allowed ourselves to believe in the false freedoms that they have given us.

 

Everything is communication of one sort or another and communication is just another way of talking about consciousness. Consciousness is our essential nature and our essential nature is to communicate – this comes as naturally as breathing. What passes for communication’ in this modern age of ours is something very different however – it has the appearance of communication but not the nature. We could equally well say that what passes for freedom’ in this world is a pale shadow, a deceptive analogue, of the real thing. We are free to do anything we want just so long as it is within the terms of the game that we have not yet recognised as a game.

 

Similarly with what we like to call ‘communication’ – we are free to communicate about anything we want, just as so long as we do so within the framework of reference that has been supplied for us, without us ever realising that there was any choice in the matter. We talk about the things that we have been given to talk about, in other words. We’re interested in what everyone else is interested in; we follow ‘what’s trending’ and what’s trending is simply what everyone else is passively following. What could be dumber than this? But isn’t not so much the ‘things’ that we are thinking and talking about but the context of meaning within which these things are embedded – the messages that we focus upon are part and parcel of a framework that we don’t focus on and so we’re swallowing something without knowing that we are…

 

The overall point that we’re making here is that if I am thinking within some ‘externally imposed framework of reference’ without realising I am doing so, then I am being controlled without knowing that I am. My way of seeing the world has been decided for me, and what more effective exercise of power could there be than this? ‘None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free,’ as Goethe famously says.  If I as ruler compel you to live within a certain predetermined structure (within a certain format of existence that has been decided by me) then this state of affairs is actually a communication in itself – I am communicating my power to you in no uncertain terms. That’s the message you are getting, loud and clear!  But when I control you (by ‘regulating your reality’ so to speak) in such a way that you never suspect that anything is going on, then in this case I am most definitely not communicating my use of power, which makes my the control of you all the more complete. The ultimate form of control is therefore where I control what things mean (i.e. ‘what is true and what is not true’). This is a type of control that cannot ever be questioned.

 

Within this set-up we imagine ourselves to be freely communicating when we are not. We aren’t freely communicating – as we have already said – because the terms that we have been given to communicate within are not our own. We’re playing someone else’s game. We are operating within the confines of a framework of meaning that has been imposed upon us from the outside without us understanding that we ever had a choice. Given these circumstances (given that we are ‘playing someone else’s game without knowing that we are’) there is of course absolutely no way that we can communicate freely. There is no way that we can be said to be truly communicating because in order to communicate we must first be able to see what is actually going on! Authenticity is needed first, in other words.

 

If we were to look at this in terms of interaction, we could say that there is no possibility of us genuinely interacting either with each other, or with anyone who might be in a position of power or authority over us. There is the appearance of this possibility, but that’s all – there is only the appearance. We are allowed to fool ourselves into thinking that our interactions are genuine and not ‘pre-programmed’. What’s happening is that we’ve been wrong-footed right from the start because we’re not responding from the standpoint of ‘us being autonomous beings’ (which is what we naturally assume ourselves to be) but inauthentic basis of us thinking that we’re autonomous when the truth is that we’re not. We’re actually heteronomous not autonomous – enforced heteronomy is after all ‘the rule’! There is – as we keep on reiterating – absolutely no way that we can be autonomous beings when our entire  way of seeing the world has been supplied to us by some ‘external authority’!

 

The ‘external authority’ that we’re going on about here can be very simply explained by saying it is the very same thing as ‘the game we are playing without knowing that we are’. The ‘external authority is the framework that we live out the course of our lives within without ever paying attention to the fact that it is there and that we are allowing it to decide for us what is real and what is not real. We could also say that ‘the external authority is the structure we adapt to, without ever paying attention the fact that we are adapting to anything’. If we had some understanding of the fact that we are in the position of being adapted to a common structure, adapted to a common system or ‘machine‘, then there would be freedom in this understanding and so we would be able to actually communicate. If we don’t have this understanding (the understanding that our way of seeing the world is only ‘one of infinitely many’ such possibilities) then we never communicate at all – all we’re doing in this case is ‘passing on the propaganda’. We’re passing on the propaganda that we have passively absorbed without realizing that we have! We’re allowing ourselves to be mouthpieces for the system’s ongoing super-virulent output of ‘pseudo-communication’, which isn’t communication at all but merely an exercise in covert control….

 

Art – florentjin hofman: big yellow rabbit