We Can’t Be Trapped In Reality

We can’t be trapped in reality because reality contains no limits; we can however be trapped in our idea of reality, our map of reality. This sounds rather ‘new-age’ or idealistic perhaps, but it is also perfectly true. When we say this that doesn’t mean that there are no biological limits in reality because of course they are – I can’t go and live at the bottom of the sea and I can’t wade through a lake of fire wearing nothing but shorts and a T-shirt, but this isn’t what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the ‘fine structure’ of reality, so to speak, not the grosser structures that exist within it. There are no limits built into the fine structure of ‘reality’ (or ‘space’) – limits are only to be found in the grosser structures, not in the actual ‘essence’ of things.

 

Even to try to explain it like this is going wrong however because ‘structure’ is always built on limitations. That’s what structure is – it’s a system of limits, a system of rules. So instead of saying that ‘the fine structure of reality’ has no limits built into it we should just say that intrinsic space has no limits on it; if it did then it would hardly be worthy of being called ‘space’, after all! If space came with certain inbuilt limitations than obviously there wouldn’t be any ‘space’ in it – there would only be compartments, and compartments can only accommodate what they were designed to accommodate.

 

This gives us a good way of looking at the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic space – intrinsic space is space that hasn’t been designed, hasn’t been created, and which holds no purpose. Extrinsic space, on the other hand, is space that has been designed, has been created, and which does have some sort of ‘inbuilt’ purpose. Extrinsic space is another way of talking about games, in other words. In the general run of things it pretty much goes without saying that we don’t distinguish between ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ space – this isn’t really a type of differentiation that occurs to us. But we if we could see the difference then this would save us from an awful lot of confusion. Because we don’t appreciate that there is this ‘finer’ or ‘subtler’ to reality – which exists beneath the surface of structure, so to speak – we naturally imagine ourselves to have our existence solely on the structural level. We implicitly see ourselves to be structures, in other words. We implicitly see ourselves to be ‘things existing in a world of things’, as Colin Wilson put puts it.

 

When we understand ourselves to have our essential existence on the level of extrinsic space, without understanding what extrinsic space is or that it is there at all, then this is a very different kettle of fish from simply and problematically ‘being’, in an unconditional way, which is the actual un-manipulated situation. This is a whole different ballgame, therefore. What we are doing when we are immersed in extrinsic space is to be pretending to be something without knowing that this is what we’re doing. We are ‘playing a game’ but there’s nothing playful about this game – on the contrary, it is deadly serious. Existence on the level of extrinsic space has an immensely immersive quality to it – it gets to be as immersive as it is because we have now have zero capacity to understand that they could be such a thing as ‘intrinsic space’ (which is also the same thing as freedom). Understanding ourselves purely on a structural level precludes any awareness of intrinsic space, just as it precludes any awareness of what freedom actually means…

 

The only type of freedom we are interested in is extrinsic freedom, which can be defined by saying that it is ‘the freedom to believe that we are the structure’, along with the freedom to operate as the structure, in the way that this structure needs to operate. Extrinsic freedom is the freedom that is built into the game; it translates into ‘the freedom to play the game’ therefore. In order for this surrogate form of freedom to work we have to believe that we truly are the structure which is the self-concept; furthermore, in order for us to continue to believe that we are this structure we have to be able to operate as that structure. Take away our extrinsic freedom, in other words then we would no longer be able to sustain our unreflective belief that ‘this is who we are’. For the conditioned self then, a good supply of extrinsic freedom is absolutely essential; for the conditioned self running out of EF is like running out of oxygen.

 

‘Extrinsic freedom’ might sound like a fancy sort of thing but it isn’t – it’s a very readily understandable concept indeed – it simply means ‘the freedom to obtain our goals’. If we were totally unable to obtain any of our goals, for an indefinite period of time, then – to the conventional way of thinking about things – this is to be regarded as a very dire situation indeed. There is none worse, in fact. We are therefore exhorted ‘not to give up hope’, and ‘keep on trying,’ and so on and so forth. The whole dreadful rigmarole of ‘positive thinking’ comes into play here – positive thinking is all about hanging onto the illusion of our extrinsic freedom for as long as we possibly can. This is just another way of saying that positive thinking is all about staying identified with the conditioned identity (which is our idea of ourselves) for as long as possible. Extrinsic freedom can equally well be seen as ‘the freedom to make meaningful choices’ and our mental health is generally seen as being synonymous with the freedom that we have to make choices. CBT for example, in its traditional form, is all about our so-called ‘freedom’ to make helpful or advantageous choices – we are given to understand that, with regard to our mental state – no matter what the situation we might find ourselves in – we can always make helpful choices. The unspoken implication here is of course that if were to happen that we weren’t able to make any choices then this would be the most undesirable situation imaginable. This would be – the implication is – a very grim scenario indeed. If you were to talk to anyone in the world of mental health care they will almost certainly equate ‘mental well-being’ with ‘the capacity to make choices’; how – we might ask – because anyone possibly argue against this when it sounds so very obviously true?

 

And yet what is ‘obvious’ is not generally true – these two terms don’t actually belong together! The truth, by its very nature, is not going to be obvious – the truth is always unstated, not stated! When we make choices then we are using the thinking mind; we are using the thinking mind because that’s where our ‘choices’ come from. To think is to choose and to choose is to think. ‘The freedom to make choices’ is therefore the same thing as ‘the freedom to think’ but the thinking isn’t actually freedom! When we think we allow our awareness to run down well-worn tracks; when we think we allow our consciousness to be robotized. If I am to have the ‘freedom’ to make rational choices about my situation then what this means is that I must NOT have the freedom to see that my so-called choices don’t involve any free will. How could they when they are completely determined by the mechanical system which is thought? This is what James Carse calls ‘self-veiling‘ – if I am to play a game then I must not know that this is what I am doing; I have to veil from myself the freedom that I have not to play or the game won’t work. ‘The freedom to choose’ is therefore another way of talking about negative freedom; it is ‘the freedom not to be free’, or ‘the freedom to be unfree and yet not know it’.

 

Once we ‘see beyond the obvious’ then it is clear that by equating mental health with ‘the freedom to make meaningful choices’ (choices that are meaningful to us, anyway) we are inverting the natural order of things, so to speak. We are inverting the natural order of things because – in ‘the natural order of things’ – our greatest good must be synonymous with our freedom, whereas the inverted scheme of things asserts that our ‘greatest good’ is synonymous with ‘the integrity of the game that we are playing without knowing that we’re playing it’. We must protect the integrity of the game no matter what because this is the means by which we get to be unfree without knowing that we are. What could be clearer example of inversion than this? What kind of a crazy thing is this to assert – that our happiness and well-being is somehow to be found within the narrow confines of our meaningless games? How do we get away with saying that ‘mental health’ is when we identify so much with the thinking mind that we actually lose touch with reality? To use the thinking mind is one thing, but to identify with it is to identify with a fiction since the thinking mind deals only in abstract conventions. To identify completely with the TM is to lose oneself in a game that we cannot see to be such.

 

Mental health – when we look at it in a ‘non-inverted’ way – can be seen as the freedom not to have to buy in to any of the thinking mind’s so-called ‘choices’. This is a negative definition, not a positive one. Our ‘greatest good’ lies not in any of thought’s constructs, not in the fulfilment of any of its plans, but in the removal of that ‘double restriction’ – [1] the restriction (or imprisonment) within the world that thought has created for us, and [2] The restriction which prevents us from being able to see that this so-called ‘world’ isn’t actually the world at all but an artificial construct. This brings us back to our ‘starting-off’ statement with regard to the impossibility of being trapped in reality:  we can’t be trapped in reality because reality is made up entirely of freedom! It’s overflowing with freedom. We CAN be trapped in the thought-created world, the game however, because the thought-created world is made up of nothing but limits, nothing but rules. The TCW disguises its own stark lack of intrinsic freedom by providing us with a whole heap of extrinsic freedom – as much of it as we want! Extrinsic freedom hoodwinks us into believing that we already are free when we’re not. It does this in a very cunning fashion – it camouflages the lack of intrinsic freedom by saying (or implying) that we will be free if we obey the rules correctly. This is what extrinsic freedom IS – it’s the freedom that supposedly exists ‘outside of ourselves’, it’s the freedom that is obtainable ‘via obeying rules’ – the only drawback here being that this freedom doesn’t actually exist. It’s slavery in disguise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only Space Can Help Us

We can’t see anything unless we can see that thought operates within a realm within which there is no space, and that space is something that is driven out of our lives by our constant rationalizing and constant purposefulness. We can’t therefore see anything unless we can see that space is driven out of our lives by the constant advantage-seeking activity of the self-concept, and this is the one thing we never do see. The other side of this rather bleak-sounding observation is that any bit of space at all between us and the self-concept is going to be hugely beneficial to us. Any bit of space at all is going to break the strangle-hold that the tyranny of thought has over us – it will still be there, in all its strength, but we will now have another way of looking at things. Its way of seeing things won’t be the only way.

 

The problem is however that we don’t want to have any space between us and the self-concept. That’s not something we see as being a good thing! The whole point of the game that we are playing – without realising that we are playing it – is to identify with the Mind-Created Sense Of Self as much as we can and we do this by constantly manoeuvring, constantly scheming, constantly acting so as to obtain some kind of benefit or advantage for ourselves (which is to say, for the ‘self-concept’). This is all the MCSOS can ever do – it has no other mode of operation or orientation available to it and so when we are ‘passively identified’ with the concrete, mind-created self that’s all we can do as well. We’re ‘locked into it’ – we’re locked into a state of narcissistic self-absorption and the ‘self’ that we are so immersively absorbed with is an alien introject, a ‘foreign installation’, as Carlos Castaneda puts it. We do not therefore ever want to open up a space between us and the MCSOS – there doesn’t seem to be any concrete benefit in this for us! Certainly there is no benefit for the concrete self, which can only ever be demoted by the presence of space. We automatically want to do everything we can to affirm and validate the defined identity which is the Mind-Create Sense of Self, not reduce its Prima donna centrality on the stage of life. We don’t want to sideline our idea of ourselves by bringing perspective to ‘the game we are playing without knowing that we are playing it’.

 

Having said this, is also of course true that humanity has always made apparent moments in this direction. We are all naturally appalled by the spectacle of out-and-out self-obsession (unless we too caught up in it to see it ourselves) and so we generally make a deliberate effort not to be so brutally selfish. This is called ‘morality’ or ‘polite behaviour’ or ‘common decency’. All the great religions exhort us to see beyond the demands of the self and push ourselves to find generosity of spirit, to ‘give’ instead of ‘take’ all the time. There’s a glitch in deliberate morality though and the glitch is that we doing all of this for the sake of the self, in order to improve it or redeem it, in order to make the culprit more acceptable to our fellow man (or to God, if we happen to be religiously orientated). So we’re still trying to benefit ourselves; the self-concept – as we have just said – can’t do anything else other than constantly trying to seek the advantage. It’s no good expecting the self-concept to do anything different because it can’t. A leopard can’t change its spots, as it is said. As crude as it might seem, and it is crude, the basic gist of conventional or exoteric religion is that it is sold to us on the promise that it can guarantee us immortality in the afterlife – immortality in heaven rather than in hell, to be more specific! And what could play on the self-concept’s inbuilt mechanism for ‘seeking the advantage’ more than this? We are being presented with the ultimate advantage on one hand, and the ultimate disadvantage on the other. This is how it is seen from the viewpoint of the self-concept anyway: the thing that the self-concept likes best of all is the thought of ‘eternal validation’, whilst its ultimate nightmare is without question an existence made up of never-ending devalidation.

 

Conventional religion actually reinforces the illusion of self-concept, therefore. The whole point of our earthly existence becomes to secure a place in heaven and the twist here is that what we are seeking, without knowing it, is immortality for the Mind-Created Sense of Self. Since it is our unquestioning belief in the MCSOS that is responsible for all neurotic suffering (and all our psychotic suffering too, for that matter) this is not really going to do us any good! Our idea of the ‘optimum situation’ is that the self-concept will be ‘glorified by association’ at the right hand of God – what greater could there possibly be something doesn’t even exist in the first place? We are therefore preserving the source of our misery rather than seeing it for what it is and renouncing our automatic allegiance to it; if we could do this in the course of our lives then this would be genuinely helpful. This would be infinitely more helpful than the farce of purposeful morality. To spend our entire life obeying the rules of some dogmatic, one-size-fits-all system in the desperate hope that our (false) idea of ourselves will be somehow saved as a result couldn’t possibly be less helpful on the other hand. We couldn’t improve on this as a way of effectively denying (and ultimately betraying) our true nature if we tried.

 

It could be argued of course that is not our ego, our rational concept of ourselves, that is to be saved but our soul, which is naturally a lot less tangible (and less obnoxious) that the everyday ego. But when we fear the devil and the state of eternal damnation that awaits us if we fail the test of righteousness it is not our soul that is full of fear but the mundane rational ego that supposedly guides it. We don’t know ourselves as ‘souls’ (which is mere dry metaphysics as far as most of us are concerned), we know ourselves as we rationally understand ourselves to be. Furthermore, exoteric religion, as we have been saying, does not create a climate within which we feel encouraged and supported in looking beyond ‘the ideas of things,’ or beyond ‘the stated official version of things’ – that would inevitably lead to heresy after all; this would lead inevitably to heresy since we would then be then moving beyond the strict dogmatic understanding of the world that our religion has given us. Dogmatic religion (needless to say!) values the obeying of rules not the questioning of them, and ‘unreflectively obeying the rules’ is exactly the process that ends up in the creation of the concrete, mind-created self. It is fear that creates the mind created self in other words, and fear is what lies behind all dogmatic religions, no matter what proponents of these religions might say to the contrary. Dogma is always the denial of fear. Fear is always ‘the instrument of control’ – what greater fear can there be after all than the fear of spending all eternity in the inexpressibly tortuous state of damnation?

 

What could be ‘healthier’ (‘healthier’ meaning ‘leading to Wholeness or Haleness’) would be if we could learn to ‘die before we die’ as Sufis say; to deny the existence of death by the dodge of believing in the immortality of the soul (or rather the person, which as we how we interpret this in practical terms since – as we have just said – no one relates to themselves as immaterial souls) is the exact opposite of what Shams Tabrizi says in the following quote –

It is never late to ask yourself “Am I ready to change my life, am I ready to change myself?” However old we are, whatever we went through, it is always possible to reborn. If each day is a copy of the last one, what a pity! Every breath is a chance to reborn. But to reborn into a new life, you have to die before dying.

When we live ‘according to the rules’ (as is required by any dogmatic belief structure, religious or otherwise) then our life cannot be anything else other than ‘each day being a copy of the one that proceeded it’; this is how we obey the rules, after all – by repeating the same thing over and over again. To not do this is to break the rules. The idea of ‘each day being nothing more than the copy of the one that proceeded it’ provides us with a very good way of understanding what the mind created sense of self’ actually is – when we strip it whatever glamour might possess – the MCSOS is that state of being where every day is a copy of the other. It’s where we do the same thing today that we did yesterday (think the same thoughts that we thought yesterday) and create an identity out of this.

 

The identity is the duplication or copying, in other words, and the astonishing thing here is that it doesn’t in the lease bit matter what is being duplicated or copied – content isn’t what this is about (although this is of course claimed to be the case). The ‘identity’ doesn’t come out of the pattern that is being repeated but from the simple fact that it is being repeated, and this makes a nonsense of the way in which we understand the term ‘identity’ therefore. It’s not the particularities of our so-called identity that matter but that we should have that basic repetition, whatever it is that’s being repeated. To put this in the simplest terms, the whole thing is a sham. Not only is the MCSOS a sham, it’s a sham that is a perverse inversion (or parody) of our true nature, which is not an endless repetition of the same thing, but fluid or ungrounded change, change denies nothing. ‘Fluid change’ – change that doesn’t, out of fear, hang onto any vestige (imaginary or otherwise) of the past – is where every day genuinely is new, and is not a tweaked rehash of the old. There is nothing more marvellous than a new day dawning that truly is ‘a new day’, and by the same token there’s nothing more wretched than a new day which is actually not a new day at all but only a repeat of yesterday. There’s no reason for repeating yesterday indefinitely other than fear (the fear of letting go of the known), and it is this fear that drives the conditioned-self in everything it does and thinks.

 

When fear drives us into the place that it always does drive us into then there is only one thing that is helpful and that is to find a way of cultivating a bit of space in our lives – space between us and our thoughts about the world, space between us and our ideas of ourselves. Only space can help us, nothing that thought has made can do. None of thought’s tricks and tools are of any service here! The lack of space is what has made life so unlivable, for us, so unrewarding and gruelling for us, and space cannot be manufactured by the thinking mind; the one thing we genuinely need (rather than being told that we need) can’t be the result of the rational process, highly developed though it might be, and so we are thrown back on ourselves. Our society can’t help us; it can’t help us because it implicitly denies that there is anything such thing space; our society deals only with the known, acknowledges only the known, values only the known, and this is its curse -this why we are really and truly ‘thrown back on ourselves’. It’s only that bit of us that hasn’t been ‘put there’ by society that helps now; the part of us that was put there by society is now our enemy. It’s the ‘enemy within’ – it’s the inner critic, the inner judge, the inner saboteur, the inner controller…

 

Two things are needed to free us from the tyranny of thought therefore, not just the one. Cultivating space in our lives (rather than filling them up with our cleverness, and what we have made with our cleverness) is one thing, but learning to see the inner controller – and realize what it is (an enemy rather than a friend, a tyrant rather than the benevolence protector) is the other thing, and what a difficult thing this is! To doubt the system that we have always relied on to run our lives for us when this system has always been the force that functions by causing us to doubt ourselves is no small thing – it seems like a miracle that this should ever happen at all! From time to time, we will start to suspect that something is amiss, and we will start to that the authority that runs our world for us really is ‘on our side’, this is only natural, but what happens then is that we become alienated from our own insight, alienated from our own wisdom in this regard. Because our insight is telling us something that that ruling authority of the thinking mind doesn’t want to hear (or rather can’t allow itself to hear) this mind paints insight and wisdom as being ‘the enemy’ and we turn against ourselves as a result. We are very effectively turned against our own true nature and – bereft of this source of wisdom, bereft of the what the ancient Gnostic Christians called the Luminous Epinoia – we are left with no choice other than to believe what the ‘Tyrant Machine’ of the thinking mind tells us…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tyranny Of Thought

When we relate to the world primarily via our thinking then this puts us in a very awkward and painful position – the odd thing however being that we’re not generally aware of this pain, aware of this awkwardness. The reason for the pain inherent in our position when we are relating to things solely by our thinking is that it’s not actually the world that we are relating to but our ‘mental map’ which we superimpose – without realising it – onto the world. Thought, and our mental map of the world, are one and the same thing and this creates what we might call ‘a fundamental lack of perspective’ It is this fundamental lack of perspective that is putting us in the awkward position that we are in. There is of course no actual space between thought and thought’s projections, and this lack of space has far-reaching consequences. ‘Space’ being, we might say, that part of the world that thought is unable to recognise and classify, and therefore unable to make a copy of and ‘turn it into itself’.

 

Lack of space, or lack of perspective, means lack of freedom with regard to our ability to interpret what the thinking mind is telling us. We’re essentially ‘stuck to our descriptions’; we are ‘literally bound’ to them, so to speak. What we are told to be true is what we understand to be true, these are not two different things but the same one since both ‘the conditioned self’ and ‘the conceptually-mediated world that the conditioned self believes in’ are governed by thought. ‘Thought is relating to thought’ and that’s why we can say that there is no perspective here. Something else is needed for us to have perspective – something that we very rarely have access to! The thinking mind however doesn’t see the need for there to be ‘anything else other than itself’ and that’s why we don’t see that there is anything amiss when we’re operating solely on the basis of thought. Thought can’t see ‘the problem in itself’, so to speak. Not only does it automatically take it that there is no need for anything other than itself, but it also automatically assumes that anything not fitting into its logical scheme of things must be some type of error. It’s not just that thought doesn’t trust anything apart from itself therefore but rather that it sees everything else is an enemy to be eliminated. It is in the nature of thought is to be ‘fundamentally aggressive’, or ‘fundamentally violent‘, in other words.

 

The ‘elimination of everything apart from thought’ creates insoluble problems however,  as we started off by saying. What we’re really talking about when we say that ‘thought has an automatic tendency to eliminate everything that is not itself’ is of course hyperreality – thought actively gets rid of anything that isn’t part of its own account of reality, part of its ongoing description or classification of reality and so we end up with a situation where everything has been turned into ‘a book of accounts’, or ‘system of descriptions/classifications’. The taxonomy of the world is identical to the world. We then – via the agency of thought – relate to this ‘world that is made of the descriptions’ and ignore everything else, which puts us in a very impoverished situation. We end up living in an impoverished version of reality that we cannot recognise as such because the system of thought can’t recognise anything other than itself – because it simply doesn’t have the capacity to recognise anything else other than itself. We are in that very curious situation where we are stuck to our own descriptions, stuck to our own thoughts, even though there isn’t actually anything substantial in them. Thoughts are all we’re allowed and yet here’s no actual ‘flavour’ (or ‘nutrition’, for that matter) in them.

 

This is no small problem therefore but we ‘get around it’ so to speak, by passing on from one thought to another, one mental construct to another, quite rapidly, so that we never get to be aware of the essential hollowness (or ‘aridity’) of thought. This is just like watching a bad film (a film that’s pretty much the same as a thousand others that we might have seen) but not noticing how bad it is because we are allowing ourselves to be distracted by the action or drama that’s going on. We go from one spectacular car chase to another, one intense drama to another. Or we could say that life in the thought-created world is like being stuck to our social media feed – we get presented with one item after another in quick succession and each item has some kind of fascination associated with it to draw us in and make us look at it. Our ‘thought feed’ keeps on presenting us with click bait’, and we just keep on clicking. We’re ‘clicking’ all day long!

 

Part of the illusion – the core part, we might say – is that we feel ourselves to be ‘in charge’, we feel that we are controlling what is going on, that we are choosing those items which are of interest to us and rejecting the others. This is a kind of ‘empowering’ illusion therefore – we are ‘empowered’ to feel that we have actual agency in the situation and this feeling is crucial for the whole delusional system to work, to remain viable. The truth of the matter is that we don’t ‘choose’ thoughts however – we’re powerless not to click them! We can’t choose not to think a particular thought, after all – it’s stuck to us straight away. The apparent act of ‘volition’ whereby we ‘choose to think a thought’ is a perception that thought itself generates in order to ‘suck us in’, as David Bohm points out. The euphoria of feeling that ‘this is what I want to do’ comes about when we identify with the false or mind-created sense of self so of course it’s not really ‘what we want to do’, it’s what the mind-created self wants us to do (which is just another way of saying that it’s what ‘the thinking mind wants us to do’. We are being controlled by our thoughts in other words and this is hardly surprising since thoughts are pretty much all we are – our thoughts are the only thing that we take seriously, anyway. There is more to us than thought but we just don’t give it any credence.

 

Even if we didn’t want to think a particular thought we don’t really have any choice when it comes down to it. We have to think some thought or other or else we would have nothing to relate to – the thought-created world is the only world we know, after all. Thought has stolen the show. If we didn’t one think one thought then we’d think another; we have to be thinking something, we can’t just ‘think nothing’! The bigger picture is that we don’t have any freedom, therefore. We are compelled to engage in thought; it’s not something we have any alternative to. Thought is the whole world to us so where else are we going to go? Even when it comes to thinking specific thoughts we don’t have any choice in the matter – a thought comes along and we think it, generally speaking. That’s how things work, for the most part. When we try not to think a particular thought then we think it more, not less! Saying ‘NO’ to a thought simply gives energy to it and so we get even more stuck to the thought that we were before. The only (apparent) option we have open to us is the drastic option of repressing the thought, of burying it down deep, but this just gives to thought more energy than ever – vastly more energy than ever, in fact. We are creating a time-bomb. When it comes down to it, we actually don’t have any options therefore; we only have ‘the illusion of options’ so we have to live off these illusions. We have to dine on them as if they were genuine food…

 

All of our neurotic pain comes from the profound lack of perspective that over-valued thought engenders in us; all of our neurotic pain comes from being totally controlled by thought, which is of course a very obvious statement once we make it! If we had a bit of perspective then we wouldn’t take our thoughts quite so seriously and if we stopped taking our thoughts quite so seriously then we would no longer be feeding them so much. If there was just a little bit of space (‘space’ meaning ‘that which is not thought’, or ‘that which is not produced by thought’) between our mind-created image of ourselves and the picture of reality that thought shows us then we wouldn’t be stuck so fast to this picture. The reason hyperreality has the type of ‘absolute magnetic power’ over us that it does have is precisely because there is no gap, no discontinuity, between our mind-created view-point and the conditioned reality that we are relating to. The lack of space is what gives the System of Thought its power over us; the lack of space is what makes us stick fast to our descriptions of reality as if we’re glued there. The ‘lack of space’ is really just is a ‘lack of freedom’ therefore, as we have already said. We can’t question anything without perspective and so if we can’t question the world that is made up of our descriptions of it then our descriptions have total control over us. As David Bohm says, we don’t control thought; thought controls us whilst giving us the (false) information that we are controlling it.

 

There is another, deeper aspect to this business of ‘being controlled by thought’, therefore. If we can’t question our descriptions then of course these descriptions become ‘real’ to us; the lack of perspective causes the Mind-Created Virtual Reality to spring into (virtual) existence, and as soon as it springs into existence it subjugates us, it establishes a tyranny over us. Lack of perspective causes MCVR to come into existence and believing in the MCVR is what causes us to lose all our perspective, and so it’s a closed loop that we’re caught up in. This is the ‘loop of hyperreality’ that survives by feeding upon itself! It’s not just that we are held prisoner by the thought-created world though – the subjugation is more complete than that. As we said earlier, though provides us with the illusion that we are in control and when we buy into this illusion then we identify with the ‘Mind-Created Sense Of Self’. We buy into it (or we are very likely to buy into it) because of the pleasure or euphoria that comes about when we allow ourselves to believe that we are ‘in control’. This ‘believing that we are in control’ (or that we have at least the possibility of being in control) gives us a tremendous sense of existential security and this sense of existential security is hugely euphoric. It has a magnetic pull that we just can’t resist and the power of this magnetic pull comes from the (false) perception that it is us who wants to do what the external mechanical force is compelling us to do. The euphoria of experiencing a sense of existential security is as euphoric as it is because it is the denial of our deepest fear, which is the fear of ‘not being in control’.

 

Imagining that we are in control is the much the same thing as imagining that we can repress or bury a thought that we are very afraid of. It feels good to be able to do this and that good feeling ‘pulls us in’; the euphoria is only ever obtained at the price of incurring its opposite at some future point in time however – the whole thing is just an exercise in ‘self-cancelling activity’, therefore. Self-cancelling activity is very attractive (enough not to say totally addictive) because it causes us to feel so good in the first phase; having bitten at the bait however then we can’t help moving into Phase-2, which is wholly repugnant, wholly repellent to us and so from this point on we have no way out of the positive/negative cycle – we have ‘no way out’ because we can’t question the negative any more than we can question the positive. We didn’t want to ‘question the positive’ anyway – we were enjoying identifying the MCSOS at that point. We were enjoying Phase-1, which is the euphoric phase, and so now we have to suffer the dysphoric phase of the cycle, which is Phase-2.

 

Everything about the mind-created world is suffering, therefore. It is suffering through and through and there is no relief in it anywhere. The only ‘relief’ available is the apparent relief that comes from ‘buying into the illusion’ and that short-lived relief comes at the price of feeding the System of Thought and therefore reinforcing the false reality of the ‘mind-created world’, and thereby enabling it to have even more power over us than it did before. In the absence of any other type of relief to be had then of course we are going to go for this apparent relief; we are going to lunge for it in the manner of a drowning man clutching at a straw. We don’t have the capacity to see it for what it is, anyway; we don’t have the power question it. We don’t have ‘the power to question’ anymore because we’ve given it away…

 

 

 

 

Art: Resident Evil-2 from – gamerevolution.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Challenge of Becoming Real (Part 2)

The social world which we inhabit makes only one requirement of us and that is that we adapt ourselves to it. The only real rule of the system is that we should fit in, in other words. It is the perception that we aren’t fitting in, or that we don’t know how to fit in, that lies behind social anxiety. Social anxiety is a peculiar thing inasmuch as we don’t really ‘get it’ unless we ourselves suffer from it, which is to say, we don’t really understand how important it is that we should fit into society until we can’t! If we were to think about it a bit more deeply, we knew we would see that nothing else would matter the social world other than itself ever – the social world is a equilibrium-system and an equilibrium system – by definition – doesn’t care about anything other than its own standards. ‘Its own standards’ constitute the equilibrium that it is always trying to accord with – the social system is always ‘agreeing with itself’, so to speak. It doesn’t know how to do anything else.

 

If we adapt ourselves to the social world then ‘that’s all that matters’ therefore; that’s all we need to do. We can rest content with this achievement (according to the social system at least). This is where the problem lies however – we believe the social system when it says that ‘everything is okay’, when it says that ‘we are okay’, but the social system, like any equilibrium system, is only right because it sets it is. It’s not right for any other reason, it’s not right because of any reasons that might exist outside of itself, it’s only right because it has agreed with itself that it is! The social world is in equilibrium-based system, as we keep saying, and equilibrium systems orientate themselves around their assumed equilibria values (i.e. they are normative in nature) and so they are as a consequence completely insensitive to anything else. Anything else is branded as error – it is branded as error because he doesn’t agree with the assumed values and if we can understand this basic principle then we can understand all that we need to know about the social world.

 

To understand that society is an E-system and to understand ‘what E-systems are’ is important because then we can understand why adapting to the social world can never be any kind of ‘final end’. Never mind a ‘final end’, it’s not even taking us in the right direction! We are all very naïve this way – we’re stupendously naïve, in fact. We think that when society tells us that we doing well (i.e. when our peers or people in positions of authority tell us that we doing well) then this actually means something. We think that we can pat ourselves on our back then; absurdly, we allow ourselves to feel that we have in some way tackled life’s great existential challenge, and have, moreover, come out of the test covered in glory. We can see this happening all around us – everywhere we look we can see that those of us who have in some way successfully adapted themselves to society up are allowing themselves to believe that jumping through whatever hoops we have to jump through is the same thing as ‘rising to life’s challenge’. This is absurd of course because if life were to challenge us then we would fall to pieces immediately. We’re not prepared for a real challenge. This is because society is no more than a game, no more than ‘an exercise in make-believe’, and those of us who’ve done well in it have simply demonstrated ‘our prowess in pretending’.

 

We can’t of course just turn our backs on the social world – in practical terms, there just isn’t really else to go! We can’t head off to live in the desert or in the wilderness or the mountains because the deserts or the wilderness or the mountain can’t support us all – humanity has become far too numerous for that to be an option any more. What we can do however is take part in society without at the same time complacently allowing ourselves to believe that achieving social adaptation is the same thing as ‘rising to life’s existential challenge’! It’s not that we shouldn’t have to perform our socialised roles and tasks, therefore (although perhaps sometimes we shouldn’t) but rather that we shouldn’t take them seriously as society wants us to. It is a crucial part of the game that we should be ‘taking it seriously’ of course – a game isn’t a game unless we take it seriously – and so what we are actually saying here is if it were the case that we had any genuine interest in own well-being, our own mental health, then we would give up the social game as a bad deal. It would no longer be the main thing in life (if not the only thing). No good whenever come out of putting all our money on the social game, after all. It can’t – after all – supply us with the one thing that we need, which is ‘who we truly are’. It can supply us with all sorts of things but not this; that, we have to work out for ourselves!

 

It sounds (perhaps) sarcastic to express things in this way; it sounds sarcastic to say ‘if it were the case that we had any genuine interest in our own well-being’ but it’s not meant in that way. It’s important to acknowledge that it is extraordinarily hard to see through the hoax that has been perpetrated on us by society (which is to say, ‘by ourselves’). The hoax is that our well-being is the same thing as the well-being of the social fiction which is the mind-created sense of self (or ‘I-concept’, as Wei Wu Wei puts it). So it’s not that we don’t have any interest in our mental health, but rather that we have been tricked into lavishing all of our caring or all our attention in the wrong direction, onto the image of ourselves rather than what lies behind this image (which is something we can never ‘lay our hands on’). It’s intangible. The image of ourselves, the idea of ourselves, is – on the other hand – nothing if not obvious and we are stuck to this ‘obviousness’ as if with glue. The more obvious it is the more we are stuck to it!

 

‘Obvious’ doesn’t mean true, though! ‘Obvious’ is never true, ‘obvious’ comes about because of the way in which we have cut corners and tied up all the loose ends – there are no loose ends in an obvious statement of fact, but – at the same time – reality itself is nothing else but loose ends! Reality is never neat and tidy, and it never comes in nicely-tied parcels. Reality never comes in parcels and yet the thinking mind is the Master Wrapper of parcels – it never produces anything that isn’t all wrapped up and tied with a bow, so what this means is that the thinking mind never produces anything true. Its statements are conclusive and definitive and that immediately abstracts them out of the real world and into another realm entirely – the realm of formal descriptions. The products of thought have a very peculiar quality therefore – the quality of unreality. This unreal quality however is invisible to us; it’s actually reality that seems things peculiar to us, on the odd occasions when we catch might catch a glimpse of it. We don’t know what it is, we don’t recognise it – all we know is that it doesn’t fit into our plan of things, all we know is that we don’t want to let it ‘rock the boat’.

 

When we orientate ourselves around the productions of thought therefore (when we try to make everything, including ourselves, fit into thought’s neat and tidy scheme of things) then we put ourselves into an inimical position. Thought’s scheme of things is not hospitable to us. This doesn’t mean that we won’t – from time to time – experience pleasurable excitement; we will experience pleasure or euphoria when we believe ourselves to have ‘got things right’ by thought’s standards and we will experience excitement (of the positive variety) when we believe that we are going to get things right, and it seems to us that nothing can stop us obtaining the goal. We will also of course – by the same token – experience anxiety when we feel that we aren’t going to be able to live up to ‘thought’s standards’, just as we will experience despair or dysphoria when we perceive ourselves to have failed by the thinking mind’s rigid guidelines. But none of this is any real substitute for life – the world that is created by thought is not a genuinely hospitable one, as we keep saying. The thought-created world does not accommodate us – it’s like wearing a shoe that doesn’t fit us, a shoe that pinches.

 

The world that has been created by thought does not accommodate us – on the contrary, we are obliged to accommodate ourselves to it. This is what we started off by saying (albeit in slightly different way) – the social world has only one real requirement that it makes of us and that is that we adapt ourselves to it. Having gone into this question a little bit more we can now see that this is not such a small thing to ask after all. Society presents us with the necessity to ‘fit in’ as if this were the most natural thing in the world but there is nothing natural about it; as we have said, we are being required to accommodate ourselves to a system where the ‘accommodation’ is only happening one way. It’s all happening ‘at our expense’, in other words. And yet it’s not just that the social system is trying to make an argument as why we should try to fit into it – there’s no ‘reasoned argument’ about it; this is just brute force – we are simply told that ‘this is what we should do’. We aren’t given the means of questioning this arbitrary imperative; we aren’t allowed the possibility of seeing that there could be any other possibility (other than doing what we have been let to believe is the only possible thing for us to do). Our consciousness is controlled, in other words.

 

We have actually been given an impossible task; we have been presented with an impossible job and we have also been put in a position where we aren’t able to see that we don’t really need to engage ourselves in this task at all. The element of freedom (which always did exist and will always continue to exist) has been very effectively concealed – we never even suspect that this freedom is an actual thing. As far as we’re concerned intrinsic freedom as an alien concept; something that is simply beyond our ability to understand or imagine; it’s something there is no point in trying to talk about, in other words. The impossible task that we have been saddled with this is the task of adapting ourselves to an abstract realm, a realm within which there simply isn’t any space for things to be any other way than the way we are told that they should be. The rules are everything. And the rub is that ‘the way we are told things should be’ isn’t actually a ‘way’ at all. It isn’t a ‘way’ because the world that is made up of our formal, rule-based description isn’t actually a world – it’s a fantasy, not a world. We are being compelled to adapt to ‘a world that is made up of compartments’ when in reality there are no such thing as ‘compartments’.

 

We are actually being shoehorned into categories or compartments the whole time, on a continuous basis. This process is inevitable given that the social system can only recognise its own categories – it can’t recognise anything else, it can’t acknowledge anything else. Anything that is not recognisable as a known category is seen as being odd – by definition it is odd! The problem with this is that who we are in our essence can’t be fit into any established category; we can only be socially accepted when we aren’t ourselves therefore! There is no ‘winning’ if we can’t be who we really are, so what are we struggling and competing for? As we have said, it’s not even that we have any awareness of this being a choice either – we perceive ‘the need to fit into the prescribed categories’ as simply being ‘the way of things’. We don’t therefore understand the deterministic process in which we that we are involved in this way – we don’t see ourselves as trying to fit in to the prescribed categories, we just experience ourselves as ‘trying to be the right way rather than the wrong way’. We’re just trying to do the best that we can.

 

It is quite beyond any doubt that society operates by putting pressure on us to become congruent with the socially-prescribed images of what are we are supposed to be. Only a fool would try to deny this! This is how it always works in an equilibrium-seeking system – everything is determined from the outside. There are certain ideas regarding ‘how things are supposed to be’ and there is also some kind of ‘mechanical force’ that acts on us so as to cause us to try conform to these ideas. This mechanical force is so unquestioned that it actually becomes – in practical terms – the very same thing as our own motivation; it becomes our mind. The mind (which is synonymous with ‘the mind-created sense-of self’) and the social environment within which it operates are ‘nested equilibrium-seeking systems’, therefore. They are the same system, each mirroring the other. In psychological terms, what this means is that the mechanical force which we have adapted to has become our own will, and our own will (naturally enough) never gets questioned.

 

When we understand the social world (and ourselves as we are when we are 100% adapted to it) in thermodynamic terms, as we have just done, then our situation can be seen very clearly. The type of motivation that we are running on (i.e. extrinsic motivation) is the mechanical drive to accord with the equilibrium values (or ‘what is normal’) no matter what. Our ‘sense-of self’ is an equilibrium value that we are forever trying to accord with, just as society is. Trying to accord with our ideas of ourselves (and fighting back fiercely when these ideas are challenged) is our Number One Preoccupation. But this is getting it all backwards – when we faithfully accord with the E-values of society (or with the E-value that is the mind-created sense of self) then we become unreal. The movement towards the equilibrium is the movement towards fantasy, and this is why we can say that our attempts to deliberately move towards mental health or ‘peace of mind’ are always going to be secretly ‘self-sabotaging’. That’s why ‘positive therapy’ doesn’t work. If we were genuinely interested in becoming real, on the other hand, then we’d be moving away from the equilibrium, not towards it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trapped In The Prison Of Thought

There are only two ways to be in life – one is where we are contained by our thinking, defined by our thinking, and therefore controlled by our thinking, and the other way is where we are somehow bigger than our thinking. Thinking still happens in this second case, but it happens within us, not to us. It’s part of us, but it doesn’t define us. It’s just thinking – it doesn’t create our whole world for us.

 

Clearly there is a tremendous difference between these two modes of being – in the first case the thinking is the boss and in the second case we are the boss! One way the boot is on the one foot, the other way it’s on the other foot, and there’s no question as to which foot the boot should be on. Why on earth would we want thinking to be the boss? Why on earth would we want to let our thinking control everything about us and ‘tell us who we are’ and ‘what we should be doing’, after all? Why would we want to be shrunk down to size so that we have to live out our lives within the limited domain of the petty little world that thought has created for us?

 

This is really a matter of choice however – even though we are inclined to imagine that it is. It can’t be a matter of ‘choice’ however because choices come out of thinking and so we can’t choose to be ‘bigger than thought’, or ‘bigger than the thinking process’. ‘Choosing’ – just like ‘planning’ or ‘strategising’ or ‘analysing’ – locks us into the thinking process; it makes us a prisoner of the thinking process. It is an odd thing because the act of choosing automatically feels as if it’s empowering us; having choice sounds like the same thing as ‘having freedom’. It isn’t though because – as we have just said – ‘choosing’ is an operation of thought and operations of thought cannot lead to freedom.

 

Another way of making this point is to say that we can’t choose to be free. The only way we could ‘choose to be free’ would be if we could ‘choose not to choose’. If we could choose not to choose then would be free but we can’t do that because ‘choosing not to choose’ as a blatant self-contradiction! That would be like ‘deciding not to decide’, or ‘planning not to plan’ or ‘having a goal to give up all our goals’. We are trying to be free from the thing by doing the very thing that we want to be free from doing, so how is this ever going to work? The trouble is that when we are caught up in thinking we don’t have the perspective to see this blatant self-contradiction. We need to be outside the prison of thought to be able to see this and it’s precisely the fact that we can’t see it that makes ‘the prison of thought’ into a prison.

 

This is sounds wrong to speak of thought as ‘a prison’ – that’s not the way we like to see things at all. Just as we see the act of choice as empowering us, so too do we see the process of thinking as empowering us. If you were to go around saying that thought is a prison people will straightaway think that you’re crazy, so not only is thought a prison therefore, it also makes us see everything upside-down. Thought is the prison we can’t see to see to be such – it’s a box that we can’t see to be a box. It’s a box that we take to be the whole world! There are lots of consequences to spending our lives in an abstract box and the most straightforward way to talk about them is to say that we always going to be unsatisfied, the matter how well things might seem to be going for us. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are always going to be separated from life after all, that that’s the most fundamental form of frustration that there is. It’s like being stuck in a jam jar wherever we go – we can see, but we can’t touch!

 

The problem is that thinking can’t genuinely relate as to the real world, any more than this it can genuinely relate us to ourselves. Thought can’t connect us with reality (that was never its job, anyway) – all it can ever do is connect us with its ideas about reality, and thoughts’ ideas about reality are only an extension of itself, a projection of itself. So no matter where we go – we’re always going to be completely contained within the abstract ‘world that thought has made‘. We can’t escape from the box because thought itself is functioning incapable of leading us out of it. This brings us back to what we were saying earlier – that we can’t ‘choose not to think’ because ‘choosing’ is thinking. What else would it be, after all? We’re sifting through our mental categories, as always, and our mental categories – by their very nature – aren’t real. They’re about reality, they aren’t reality themselves.

 

No one is saying that we shouldn’t ever think about anything, or that there is no value in thinking, or anything like that – all we’re saying is something to the effect that “Wouldn’t it be great to leave all our thinking behind every now and again, so that we could experience a genuine ‘honest-to-goodness connection’ with the world, and with ourselves?” Wouldn’t it be great – in other words – not to be contained absolutely all the time within our thinking, as if there were actually some benefit or advantage to be had in this peculiar (and very frustrating) state of affairs? Who on earth is ever going to argue that there is any benefit to be had in being trapped in our thinking 24/7? Who is going to say that it’s a good thing to spend our entire lives ‘stuck in a box’, ‘stuck in the jam-jar of thought’?

 

No one would ever be ridiculous enough to say this of course, but what we do instead is to implicitly deny that this is the truth of our situation, when it most clearly is. There is no mention in society of the very great danger or drawback that is posed to us by runaway thought, just as there exist in society no pathways by which we can develop those other aspects of ourselves, those aspects which have absolutely nothing to do with the thinking mind. We value one thing and one thing only in this world of ours and that is the faculty of rationality, the faculty of reason. Our whole educational system is geared towards turning us into ‘better and better thinkers’, as if this will something solve everything, as if thinking itself were not the curse. What is actually being valued here is our ability to control or manipulate the world, because that’s what thought does. We have as a result become a very controlling, very manipulative, very insincere society – we are always beavering away to try and get things to be the way we think they ought to be. We’re always working away – like so many termites – in creating an artificial world for ourselves to live in and – ludicrously – we assume that this will be a good thing’! The fact that our world is getting uglier and uglier and meaner and meaner every year (as well as becoming less and less sustainable), doesn’t seem to impact on our core belief here at all.

 

Every socially accredited expert in town will swear blind to us that we doing are doing fine. Every government minister will tell us that we doing fine. Society itself  – through all its various mouthpieces – will tell us that we doing just fine, and it’s hard to argue against the totality of ‘society itself’! If we do try to disagree with the consensus then our point of view will be automatically dismissed on the grounds that ‘we don’t know what we’re talking about’ – obviously we don’t know what we’re talking about because we aren’t ‘experts’, because we haven’t been officially accredited as having the right to say anything. We’re wrong straightaway therefore simply because we’re not agreeing with everybody else! The fact that the only reason everyone else agrees with each other is because there’s ‘safety in numbers’ (and no one wants to run the risk of being collectively ostracised) doesn’t seem to detract from the strength of official argument in the slightest! This is the unassailable logic of the Monkey People spoken of by Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book“We all say it so it must be true!”

 

What we usefully can do here however is point out the key problem associated with being trapped in the thinking mind 24/7. As we started off by saying, the ‘key drawback’ with this state affairs is that when we are ‘contained by thought’ we can’t know what the world really is, or who we really are, but only what the apparatus of thought tells us on the score. We can only ‘know’ what we have labelled the world (or ourselves) as being, in other words, and that’s not really saying anything! We are ‘fatuously correct’ of course – we are correct in terms of the empty game that we have decided to play, but what’s so great about that? We are as far as our little pointless game is concerned, but what good will that do us? Not knowing who we really are, but only knowing our fatuous labels or designations for ourselves constitutes what we might call ‘the frightening abyss of ignorance’ and this frightening abyss of ignorance is all that our educational system is ever going to provide us with. It can’t impart actual wisdom to us because wisdom doesn’t come out of the thinking mind.

 

What society (which as David Bohm says is the product of thought) does is to separate us from who we really are by demanding that we put all of our energy and attention into adapting ourselves to the artificial world that it has created. This artificial world has nothing whatsoever to do with our actual nature and so the more we allow ourselves to be defined and controlled by it the more alienated from ourselves we become. The more ‘civilised’ we are, the more insane we are, as Foucault says. We might stand to gain all sorts of ‘materialistic benefits’, as the advertising industry keeps telling us, but none of these ‘benefits’ will help us get back in touch with ourselves, obviously. Their function is quite different – their function is to compensate us for what we have lost, although this will never be directly stated. Naturally it will never be directly stated – if it were to be then the deal we’re being offered would lose its appeal immediately!

 

If you were informed that you were expected to live in some kind of a way that fundamentally separates you from the essence of who you really are, but that you will be amply compensated by all sorts of banal daftness, by lorry-loads of ‘fancy fripperies’, how is this ever going to look sound good to you? That’s not how it’s done, however. It doesn’t work like that. No one ever tells us that the price of social inclusion is alienation from our true spontaneous nature and no one ever will! First we are alienated, and then we are ‘drawn in’ with all of these products and commodities that promise (in some vague way) to make us feel less alienated (or less ‘ridiculous’) and our continued attempts to fix or improve ourselves in line with the way that society says we need to be fixed or improved constitutes our whole way of life! That’s the whole package right there. And then – to cap it all – the clownish socially-accredited experts come along in their droves and dare to talk to us about our mental health and advise us on what ‘strategies’ we might avail of in order to improve it!

 

 

 

Art: Madness Returns’ Dollmaker’s Workshop, from gamesradar.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hypnotized By Images

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of images – images are what govern us in everyday life. If we were actually awake (which is to say, if we were actually paying attention to the fact that ‘images are only images and thoughts are only thoughts’) then images (or ideas) wouldn’t govern us, but we aren’t awake. This is the whole point: we aren’t awake and so instead we drift around in this ubiquitous state of being in which we are ‘hypnotised by images’, or ‘hypnotized by thoughts’. Our everyday modality is one in which we are governed by the ideas that we have in our heads and the images that we see all around us (which we also have in our heads because that’s where they take up residence) and the Number One Image that we are presented with in this commercially-orientated world of ours is the image of the existentially fulfilled narcissist! This is an odd notion right from the start because it isn’t possible to be in any way ‘fulfilled’ if we happen to be stuck in the narcissistic mode of being – that’s the one thing we are never going to be! We’re never going to be fulfilled because there is absolutely nothing at all fulfilling about narcissism. Consumerism is all about worshipping images and narcissism is all about worshipping the image of the self, and this means that we’re worshipping an illusion in both cases!

 

This key image – which we are bombarded with ten thousand times every day (unless we happen to be a hermit and therefore insulated from modern life) is deeply contradictory but this doesn’t in the least bit affect the potency of an image – who says that images have to be truthful, after all? The image we’re talking about here is the image of someone (the ‘idealised consumer’) who is leading an exciting and rewarding life as a result of purchasing certain products, or as a result of availing of certain commercial services. The runaway viral propagation of images is called ‘advertising’ of course and advertising is so commonplace to us, so much a part of our life, that we never give it a second thought. On the level that we generally understand it, advertising exists for the sake of selling certain products, certain services. On a deeper level however advertising can be seen as having the function of selling a whole way of life to us, a highly artificial way of life that we that we all now take completely for granted. As John Berger says,

Advertising is not merely an assembly of competing messages; it is a language itself which is always being used to make the same general proposal.

 

Every time we see the image of a happy/excited/fulfilled person within the context of advertising or promotions this is giving us the general message that it is possible for us to live this type of life and at the same time be fulfilled in every possible way. The fact that this message is entirely false doesn’t matter in the least, as we have just said, as the power of an image does not rely on its truthfulness but on its emotional appeal. How often do we see ‘truthful images’ anyway? What would a truthful image look like? Aren’t all images are created with some kind of agenda behind them? Is it even possible to create an image with no covert agenda behind it? In order to do this we would have to be ‘awake’, which is to say, we ourselves would have to be in that state of being in which we are not being controlled by unconscious biases or unconscious programming. When we are being governed by images that we have unconsciously absorbed from the social media, then all we can do is pass on’, whilst being under the impression that we are being original, being creative, being ‘true to ourselves’. This is what ‘the unconscious life‘ is all about…

 

Very oddly, no one ever comments on this. We do often talk about the fact that commercial representations of people promote an ‘idealised body-image’ which is very likely to have an adverse effect on our mental health (= ‘body-facism’). We also remark on the fact that social media generally only has an interest in people who are good-looking (= ‘beauty fascism’) and this too is undoubtedly ‘an unhealthy message’ to be spreading around the place. It is clearly an unhealthy message because it encourages us to be even more superficial than we already are! In focusing on body-fascism and beauty-fascism we missing the most significant point of all however, which is that the representations of people in advertising inevitably present in a highly positive light this proposition that we might call ‘the human being as a narcissist’ and this – without any question at all – has got to be the most disastrous of any image that we could ever be promoting. We are very effectively ‘shutting down our own consciousness’ in this way, and what could be more sinister than this?

 

As a culture, we suffer from a kind of ‘split personality’. We think we can do two things at once which are actually incompatible – we think we can put all this emphasis on the narcissistic modality of being (in the interests of commerce) and yet – at the same time – have some kind of actual integrity as a culture! If this isn’t a joke then what is? We don’t consciously think this of course, it’s just an assumption that we have all too glibly made. We don’t think that the trashy trappings of consumerism are that important really; we don’t think that this type of ‘bubblegum culture’ impacts on who we really are. It’s as if we think we can have all of this instantly disposable two-dimensional ‘rubbish culture’ going on everywhere we look and yet at the same time not be as adversely affected by it in some way. We can’t though – very clearly we can’t! All we need to do is look at the amount of money and resources that goes into commercial advertising (as opposed to any other type of message that might be possible). In order to have an impact on people’s consciousness big money is needed because all the channels of mass communication are operated commercially and this means that the type of message which we are going to see is inevitably going to be messages related to selling stuff, Whether we like it or not we are a culture that is based on consumerism (i.e. shopping) and nothing else. In one way, we already know this – we say it often enough, after all – but in another way it is clear that we don’t take it that seriously. If we did take it seriously then we would do something about it!

 

One way – perhaps the most important way – in which we try to hang onto our dignity and pretend to ourselves that we aren’t entirely superficial as a culture (and who actually wants to be superficial, after all) is by celebrating what we call ‘high culture’ (i.e. the arts and literature and theatre and so on) but whilst high culture might possibly have had relevance at one point in our history, it most certainly doesn’t now. It has now become, as we have said, our way of convincing ourselves that we aren’t entirely shallow and materialistic, which we plainly are. There might be a lot of money caught up in the arts but this just proves the point – culture is predominately the province of the rich and the powerful, and this stratum of society is more committed to the status quo than any other, obviously. They have got a lot more to lose if it changes! Our so-called ‘culture’ is just so much ‘window dressing’ when it comes down to it; it has no impact on our collective consciousness whatsoever and how can ‘culture’ be worthy of the name unless it has a profound impact on our consciousness? How can art be worthy of being called ‘art’ and this is unless it radically changes the way we see the world?

 

The truth is that we have quite forgotten the role of art, which – as Gurdjieff says – was originally to wake us up out of our everyday bland forgetful type of ‘awareness’ and cause us to ‘remember ourselves’. It exists as an antidote to the general anaesthesia, we might say. Art isn’t something that we ‘do in our sleep’, therefore. There are only two types of messages in the world – the messages that have the function of waking us up and the messages that have the antithetical function of anaesthetizing us, putting us to sleep. Our culture, without any doubt at all, (how could we possibly doubt it?) is totally geared towards the latter. All messages that have anything to do with commercial interests are there to ‘put us to sleep’ – it’s not in anyone’s interest that we should become more conscious rather than less conscious. [Although of course we could also say that it is in everyone’s interest that we do become more conscious.]

 

We could give one more example of how we try to pretend that we’re not as superficial as we are. Contemporary society’s interest in mindfulness and meditation arguably has much the same role as ‘culture’,  which is to say, it is there more as ‘a way of offsetting our general awareness of how terribly shallow and unsatisfying our modern way of life is’ than it is there for any other, loftier, reason. Again, if there were more to it than this then we would be actively challenging the deeply conservative structures that exist in society, and – to date – there are very few signs of this. We are – on the contrary – frighteningly compliant! Perhaps future generations might be interested in challenging the debilitating status quo more than we are, but we don’t seem to be in any great hurry to do so! There was far more ‘challenging’ going on in the 60s and early 70s than there is now, despite all our despite the current burgeoning interest in mindfulness and yoga, and healthy lifestyles, and so on.

 

The problem is of course – as has often been pointed out – that we have done what we are best at in the West – we have packaged the ‘consciousness movement’ and turned it into yet another product, albeit an apparently ‘less materialistic’ one. There is a change in emphasis here however that is both subtle, and at the same time not-so-subtle. It is ‘subtle’ because we haven’t noticed it happening, and it is ‘unsubtle’ because it represents hundred and eighty degree turnaround. It is a hundred and eighty degree turnaround because it has now become something to support the self-image, (i.e. something to enhance or validate or ‘accessorise’ it), rather than something to painfully show it up what it actually is, i.e. an obscuration of our true ‘self-less’ nature. Very clearly, there couldn’t be a bigger turnaround than this! What we are actually looking at here – as peculiar as it might sound – is yoga for narcissists, tai chi for narcissists, mindfulness for narcissists, etc. We only need to look at the images that we use to advertise yoga or mindfulness which are – of course – images of ‘good-looking happy people who are having a wonderful life and enhancing it even more with a bit of self-awareness’! It’s a very attractive image to be sure – the only down-side being that it is at the same time infinitely superficial!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selling Narcissism

The social life is one in which we are perpetrating a kind of hoax, with ever without ever focusing on the fact that this is what we are doing. We are perpetrating a hoax on ourselves, in other words. We very much tend to think that society (or the social life) is about something else, something eminently practical, but – primarily – this is the function that is being served. We are maintaining a fiction, we are validating a ‘purely arbitrary narrative’. No one who has ever studied society would ever claim otherwise.

 

One simple way to talk about this hoax is to say that we have been sold the idea that it is possible (and not just possible but highly desirable) to have a type of life that in reality it is just not possible to have. This is a rather big hoax therefore since, if we fall for it (as we generally do) then instead of living the life that it IS possible for us to live, we will be forever trying to live a life which we simply CAN’T live, no matter how hard we may try to do so.

 

As we have said, this is very far from being an obvious point; it’s so far from being obvious that most people wouldn’t get it no matter how much effort you were to put into trying to explain it. Of all the difficult things to explain this is right there at the top, and – not only is it challenging to explain and challenging to understand – the plain fact of the matter is that we absolutely don’t want to understand it anyway. We are very much invested in not understanding it; our whole lives – obviously enough – have been invested in this hoax and so can we really aren’t going to be open to this type of discussion.

 

One way that we could look at the hoax in question however is to say that it revolves around the idea that it is ‘good to be a narcissist’! This not ever stated like this of course, but that’s what it comes down to. We are presented with the idea or image of this type of life (the narcissistic type of life) and along with the image come all sorts of subtle (and not so subtle) incentivizations for us to conform to it. We are ‘sold the package’, in other words. We are sold the package and, as Sogyal Rinpoche says, we are sold it with superlative skill. Our great expertise as a culture lies precisely in promoting this particular illusion.

 

We are skilfully manoeuvred not only into believing that the narcissistic life is a very rewarding and satisfying one, but also into believing that it is the only type of life that there ever could be! Add into the equation the fact that everyone around us is also falling for this story hook, line and sinker, then the chances are that we will never smell a rat. The chances that we won’t fall for this hoax are microscopically tiny. There is a rat however and as it happens it is rather a big one. It’s a very big rat indeed! This is King Rat that we talking about here – the Great Granddaddy of all rats and there should be no doubt about that! This is the hoax of all hoaxes and no one seems to know anything about it. The problem is that we don’t know anything else – we don’t have anything else to go by. This is a lot like living in a dysfunctional family or being in an abusive relationship – we think what we going through is normal, we don’t realise that we are being taken for a ride. We mistake our prison for reality.

 

The nature of our prison (which is ‘the prison of narcissism’) is that it is entirely hollow, without any genuine substance (or ‘goodness’) to it at all. It is – we might say – ‘fundamentally unwholesome’. Our primary activity involves striving perpetually to bring in some kind of actual substance into our lives, or perhaps fooling ourselves into believing that there is some kind of substance there when there just plain isn’t. An example of how we cultivate this particular illusion is given by John Berger – the trick that we use (according to Berger) is that we go to a lot of trouble to create an impression or image of ourselves that makes it look as though we’re having a good time even though we’re not really, so that we can make other people envious of us. This is what Berger calls glamour.

It is true that in publicity one brand of manufacture, one firm, competes with another; but it is also true that every publicity image confirms and enhances every other. Publicity is not merely an assembly of competing images: it is a language in itself which is always being used to make the same general proposal. Within publicity, choices are offered between this cream and that cream, that car and this car, but publicity as a system only makes a single proposal.

It proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more.

This more, it proposes, will make us in some way richer – even though we will be poorer by having spent our money.

Publicity persuades us of such a transformation by showing us people who have apparently been transformed and are, as a result, enviable. The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. And publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour.

 

When we see that other people are envious of what they think we’ve got, then we can logically infer that there must have something there to be envious of! This then is John Berger’s explanation of what the hoax is. We might naïvely think that – in this consumer society – we invest all our energy on buying products so ‘the products will make us happy’, but this isn’t it – we are acquiring all the stuff and the status that goes with it in order that others might think we are happy, which then allows us to feed off the illusion that they have about us. Deep down we know that we can’t buy happiness but, what we can do is construct a believable illusion of us having a good time, having a meaningful life, so that we and others can believe in this illusion – the illusion that it is possible to live the type of conditioned life society promotes and actually benefit from this. The purest example of this is of course social media – why else would we spend so much of our time posting images of ourselves having a good time if we weren’t trying to construct a ‘believable illusion’?

 

Nothing we have so far said comes across as being too formidably difficult to understand, which is what we started out by saying. When the ‘difficulty’ comes in however is with the actual reason for the narcissistic life being so hollow, so devoid in substance or meaning. Why is the narcissistic life a life that is ‘impossible to live’? One way of looking at this is to think in terms of the Buddhist idea of ‘the good mind versus the bad mind’ – the good mind is the mind of compassion, and ‘the bad mind’ is the mind of self-interest or self-cherishing. If we live on the basis of the mind of compassion then there is meaning in our lives and we can actually grow; if on the other hand we live on the basis of self-interest or self-cherishing then our lives inevitably become sterile and joyless and there can be no growth. Who could possibly disagree with this?

 

All religions who have the function of teaching the compassion is better than selfishness (or at least they started out that way), but the point is that this is not merely a matter of ‘utility’; if we actually sat down and thought about it we would see this psychological truth very clearly – there can be no meaning in the life of the narcissist. We don’t of course ever see ourselves in this way; we have identified NPD as a designated psychiatric condition, it’s an ‘official diagnosis’, but this makes it even easier not to recognise that narcissism, to some extent or other, is pretty much the norm in our society. It also effectively distracts us from seeing that our consumer society actually relies on us falling into the trance of narcissism. We pathologize narcissism and promote it both at the same time therefore, which is rather conflicted of us, to say the least!

 

The ‘hoax’ that is being perpetrated in society (and very effectively too) is that it is possible to live in the Narcissistic Mode (even though we won’t call it that) and also at the same time lead a meaningful and fulfilling life, and because of the way that societal pressure works we feel obliged – without reflecting on the fact very much – to maintain the fiction that we are having that we are happy, that we are having the life we want to be living, et cetera. In this is what ‘living the life of the image’ is all about. This is where all the emphasis goes – into fooling ourselves (and others) that we are all having a great time having a great life. That however is quite impossible – obviously it’s quite impossible! What we are trying to do here is create the impression that everything is good is if the impression itself were the thing that mattered and not what the impression is about.

 

In very plain and simple terms what we’re doing here is to pretend to ourselves that the idea which we have (about ourselves or about life) is the real thing, and that therefore that this idea that we have (without realizing that it is only an idea) is the only thing worth concerning ourselves with. The idea we have about who we are and what life is all about is not just ‘important’ to us therefore, it is so overwhelmingly important that it obliterates all awareness of anything else. And even though it is very easy and very straightforward to make such a statement it doesn’t actually help us any to do so because we are all so totally convinced that ‘the idea is the thing’. This is our blindness. We are so convinced that we simply can’t be told otherwise, and this isn’t any sort of hyperbole – if you try to suggest to anybody that their idea of ‘who they are’ is nothing to do with ‘who they really are’ and you will be met with a blank look. Either that or the person you are talking to will automatically think that they know what you mean without really knowing…

 

There is a difference between the two things however and that difference is the biggest and most profound difference there ever could be. What we’re talking about here is the greatest gulf there is, no words exist that can express the enormity of this gulf and yet if you try to get this point across to someone you will almost certainly discover that you just can’t do it. If our mental health rests upon anything then it rests upon an awareness or appreciation of this gulf, an awareness or appreciation of this discontinuity, and – we keep saying – our awareness in this on this score is zero. We don’t appreciate that there is any fundamental  / irreconcilable mismatch between the conceptual world which we are so very familiar with, and the world as it is in itself.

 

This is easy to show – if our ‘awareness of the discontinuity’ wasn’t zero, wasn’t nonexistent, then every time we talked about ideas or thought about the world then we would do so in an ironic way. Our entire language will change accordingly in other words – we would no longer be talking in such a dull, flat, ‘concrete’ way. This becomes particularly pertinent in the case of our approach to mental health. If you were (for some reason) to open up any psychology textbook or journal you will immediately see the dullest, flattest, most concrete pseudo-technical language you could ever possibly imagine. There is very little in the world less interesting, less vibrant, less ‘coma-inducing’ than this type of stuff. The same will be true if you were to eavesdrop on a bunch of mental healthcare professionals talking shop (CBT or DBT therapists for example) – the language being used in this type of setting is invariably concrete, technical and dull – you’d feel like yawning and going to sleep on the spot if you didn’t have your professional image to maintain!

 

What life comes down to when we have no awareness of the discontinuity between thought and the reality is ‘the worshipping of the image’. Everything is about the image; nothing exists apart from the image – so what else could we possibly do other than ‘worshipping the image’. This is what narcissism is – it’s the worshipping the image which we call ‘the self’. In terms of mental health care, and our whole societal approach to mental health, what happens is that we – very absurdly – get diverted into promoting and maintaining the idea of ourselves, the image we have of ourselves. We are trying to protect and perpetuate a construct in other words, and the health or well-being of the construct – needless to say – has nothing to do with actual well-being! The construct doesn’t have any well-being anyway – there is no way for a construct to be well or not well, healthy or not healthy because it is only ‘a construct’! Within the narrow terms of the game that is being played the health of the concept does mean something (just as it does in any regular role-playing game on a computer or game console) but this doesn’t translate into actual reality. It doesn’t translate into actual reality at all. The reverse is true in fact because the more we cherish the concept or idea of ourselves the more we deny our true nature, and ‘denying our true nature’ is a recipe for all sorts of mental suffering!

 

So in a way (a very narrow way) it could be said that our fixing-type therapies are ‘genuinely technical’ – the only proviso being that they are all about ‘maintaining the health of the construct’, which is an unreal and therefore irrelevant thing. The poor inadequate self-construct is under siege from reality and it urgently needs some sort of support if it is not to give way under the strain; when this happens then in colloquial terms we call it a ‘mental breakdown’. Our general understanding of a mental breakdown is that it is just about the worst thing that could ever happen to us – it’s the ultimate personal catastrophe. In real terms however to see that the mental construct or idea that we have of ourselves is not all that it is cracked up to be (i.e. that it is not as important as we think it is) the most helpful thing that could ever possibly happen to us. When this happens we have the possibility of establishing a relationship with our true nature and establishing a relationship with who we truly are (outside of the narcissistic game that we are playing) is what mental health really all about. The one thing that it isn’t about is repairing our narcissistic bubble, which is all our culture cares about…