The Limitations Of The Game

When all of our ‘capacity to do’ (or our ‘capacity to know’, for that matter) is supplied by the external authority of the game this might be said to be ‘fine up to a point’! It is fine (in a very limited sort of way, admittedly) up to a point, but then when that point is reached it immediately becomes not so fine at all. This critical point – which is the critical point at which external authority or ‘obeying the rules’ is no longer going to cut the ice for us – is always going to be reached sooner or later: either the environment we live in will place demands on us that the game-rules aren’t equipped to deal with, or – somehow – we lose faith in our ability for the rules or procedures to work for us, even though the tasks we are trying to carry out aren’t in any way new or especially demanding. In a nutshell, it could be said that what we’ve learned in life can no longer help us.

 

Whichever way it happens – and we could perhaps call the first scenario ‘stress’ and the second ‘anxiety’ – we’re caught out because we don’t have the capacity to call upon any resources other than those that are supplied by the external authority. If the EA can’t help us in a situation then it all starts to go to pieces, because we’ve never been encouraged to develop true autonomy. Nothing in society encourages us to (or supports us in) developing true autonomy; this is in fact the one thing the social system doesn’t want us to have! We go to pieces when we’re challenged in a way that the EA can’t help us with because we don’t have any intuition as to ‘what to do’  in the situation – intuition after all means ‘teaching from within’ and the only type of teaching we have (when we’re adapted to the game) is ex-tuition, or ‘teaching from without’…

 

Ultimately, it’s just not possible to live life solely on the basis of ‘teaching from without’ or ‘guidance from the operating system of the rational mind’. We’ve missed out something very important here – we’ve missed out ourselves and this omission is inevitably going to show up at some stage of the proceedings! Suppose I hit upon a neat way of living my life without me actually needing to be there – suppose I let the ‘inner robot’ of my habits run the show for me, to use Colin Wilson’s apt phrase. Suppose I just treat life as a kind of an established routine and just let it run according to the way it always does run – wouldn’t that be great? No real effort at all is needed in this case – I will never be challenged by anything radically new because all I’m doing is just playing the same loop over and over again. It’s all just ‘plain cruising’ in this case and I can put my feet up and hang an ‘out to lunch’ sign around my neck. I’m letting ‘the system’ run my life because I don’t want the bother, essentially. So the question we’re asking is ‘What’s the down-side to the plan? Where are the snags – if there are going to be any – going to appear?’

 

The question we’re asking is ‘How are the problems that arise from this business of me letting the system run my life (if there are any) going to present themselves?’ We have already said [in the Chapter Invisible Aggression] that when, in ‘the contest between realities’, the generic (or collective) reality wins out over our own unique non-generic reality – as it almost always does – then we have lost the core of who we are. We’re adrift as ‘an inauthentic constructed identity’ in the sterile, pointless world of society, trying to achieve goals that aren’t really ours, and which wouldn’t do us any good even if they were. Another way of putting this is to say that we’ve lost ourselves in the acts we put on to the extent that we know longer know that they are only ‘acts’! So we can now reformulate our question as “What problems are likely to arise when ‘the act we are putting on’ gets disconnected from ‘the one who is putting the act on’?’

 

We’re in the situation of a person who for the sake of convenience has put on a mask and then forgotten that they have done so and – as a result – are proceeding to live the ‘life’ of ‘the disconnected or unowned mask’. We have become identified with the mask and the point at which this identification takes place is the point at which the mask gets ‘a life of its own’, so to speak; the mask gets a life of its own, but at the same time it doesn’t really have a life because it’s not actually alive! Even just expressing matters this way (and it will be a very familiar perspective to anyone who has studied Carl Jung) clarifies things hugely. Already, the sense of ‘how the problem could manifest itself’ is very clear from this description of our situation. It is abundantly clear. When we look into it what we’re talking about here sounds more than just a little bit like ‘being possessed’ and Jung actually speaks in exactly these terms when we talks about ‘being possessed by the persona’. At the risk of being overly repetitive in our approach, we can now reformulate the question we have been playing about with here as “What psychological problems might conceivably arise of being possessed by a bundle of mechanical reflexes which masquerades as a self and has started living our life for us on our behalf, whether we like it or not?”

 

The question has in fact become little short of ridiculous at this stage – after all, what part of the situation that we have just described isn’t a problem? We would be better off asking if there is anything about the situation, as we have just set it out, that isn’t frankly and horrifically appalling! The only part of the package, as described, that is in any way ‘non-problematic’ would be the superficial representation of what’s going on, as provided for us by that mechanical agency, when we are able to actually believe in it (which will be, at best, only for some of the time). As we keep saying, the mechanical agency is living life for us (is living life as us) and the only way this is going to seem OK to us is when we are able to think that this highly limited (actually totally limited) frame of reference IS us. That’s the only way we’re ever going to feel good about the machine that lives life on our behalf…

 

There are two elements (we could say) to this illusion – [1] is that we think the machine is us (or that we are the machine) and [2] is that we don’t in any way perceive the machine to be only a machine, which is to say, limited or constrained to the point that there is actually nothing real about it at all. When both of these elements are present and intact then the illusion can function flawlessly; we will never smell a rat and the illusion will therefore perpetuate itself indefinitely!

 

The ‘fully-functioning illusion’ is one in which there is no question of this bundle of reflexes and judgements (or prejudices) not being who we are; it is the situation where there is not even the slightest shadow of doubt [1] that this ‘foreign introject’ is our own true self and [2] that the subjective world in which we live (which is made up entirely of attractive and aversive projections based upon the inherent biases of the machine) is expansive and full of possibilities (and not at all ‘closed’, therefore). These two requirements for a fully functioning, fully operational illusion are – when it comes down to it – quite inseparable – if one starts to fail then both do. When we start to feel that our world is limited to the point of being empty of any worthwhile content this in turn causes us to doubt the authenticity of who we think we are and if – looking at this the other way – if we were to doubt our own authenticity, our own worthwhileness as a person, then the world would appear to have nothing in it for us – it would hold no promises for us, no possibilities for us. There might be something in it for someone else perhaps but that doesn’t matter because there is nothing there for me… The world reflects our own state of mind when we are unconscious, as Johannes Fabricius says in The Royal Art Of The Alchemists – if I feel bad then the world is a bad place and if I feel good then it is a terrible place. The world is a projection of my inner state – the possibilities I see out there for me in the ‘projected world’ are really nothing more than illusions deriving from the ‘central illusion’ of the self-construct!

 

Another (possibly clearer) way of putting this is to say that there are two ways in which ‘malfunctions of the machine’ might start to manifest for us, one being in terms of limitations that affect our purposeful (or goal-orientated) actions in the world and the other being in terms of what we might call ‘limitation in our very being’. A ‘limitation in the potency of our purposeful actions’ simply means that we are not able (or rather that we feel we are not able) to do, whilst a perceived ‘limitation in our being’ means that – actually – we don’t have any being since being can’t be limited and yet still remain ‘being’! The nature of being is to be limitless, without edges or boundaries. To perceive oneself to be in any way ‘a thing’, in other words, is to perceive oneself as having no genuine being. That’s why we say ‘a mere thing’; thing-hood is a degraded state of being, a state of being with all the good taken out of it. It reduces us to a joke. Perceived limitation of purposeful action corresponds to anxiety therefore, whilst ‘perceived limitation of being’ corresponds – we might say – to depression. In the former we are impotent to do, in the latter we are equally impotent to be – our so-called ‘being’ is felt to be fraudulent…

 

We can bring this all back to what Gurdjieff says about us being unable, in our normal everyday mode of being, it either do or be. On the face of it, to the overwhelming majority of us, this sounds like utter nonsense. It doesn’t penetrate our consciousness even by a millimetre, even by a nanometre. It’s double-dutch – our acclaimed (but deeply unconscious) experts will scoff for all they’re worth. And yet what Gurdjieff is saying isn’t that hard to understand – not if we look at it from the perspective that we have been setting out here. Of course we can’t do if our internalized set of rules and procedures are already doing everything for us! We have become so dependent upon the crutch of the ‘inner robot’ that if it were taken away from us we would simply collapse on a heap on the floor!

 

Similarly, then, it is perfectly clear and straightforward to see that in our normal, everyday mode of existence, we cannot be. We don’t have to be – we have a machine that will do that for us! We have a fully-functioning ‘slave-system’ to do that for us (only things have flipped over for us and we’ve ended up being the slaves). It’s like having slaves to chew our food for us because we’re too lazy to make the effort – if our slaves were to leave us or die then we would be thrown into a crisis since our jaw muscles would have become far too weak to chew any unprocessed food. We would have become functionally incapable of mastication! It’s not that there is any shortage of food – the table in front of us is heaped with it – it’s just that we can’t eat it. We’d choke if we tried…

 

In this analogy, ‘the food on the table’ corresponds to reality (or ‘genuine being’), and the sustenance that lies within it. Genuine being is however unknown to us and as well as being unknown to us it is something we seriously don’t want to have to meet; we are averse to ever coming across it because it completely fails to facilitate us. More accurately, it completely fails to facilitate our ‘idea of ourselves’, i.e. – who we think we are. More accurately still, reality will facilitate our idea of ourselves (just as it will facilitate any of our ideas, any of our thoughts) but what it won’t do is facilitate our unquestioning belief in this idea. We have to do that bit ourselves! Reality can float any number of ideas or concepts, just as the sea can facilitate any number of waves, but it doesn’t insist that we take them seriously – it is us who insists upon that. Truth is not in the business of ‘facilitating illusions’ after all! Far from facilitating them, it ruthlessly undermines them. And in the same way, far from supporting our ideas and concepts, the truth fatally undermines them…

 

Oddly enough, therefore, genuine being is actually destructive to us. ‘He who is near to me is near to the fire’, warns Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Reality is destructive to us because it doesn’t support the illusions that we have about ourselves – it’s a food that is too rich for our blood! The only type of sustenance we can take is something that we might call ‘pre-digested being’, which is actually non-being in disguise. The conceptual self can only have conceptual being, in other words, and so to state that we, in our normal everyday mode of existence, cannot ‘be’ makes perfect sense. In the conditioned modality of existence, we cannot be, and what’s more, we cannot have anything to do with being. Our being is illusory and so too are our purposeful actions (naturally they are since they are ‘actions that stem from an illusory sense of self’). Our purposeful behavioural output – to a large extent – is actually our (covert) attempt to stabilize and promote our illusory sense of self and so it can’t be any more real than that mind-created self is.

 

The ongoing endeavour to maintain, stabilize and promote the mind-created self – no matter how apparently successful it might be – is always going to be fundamentally irresolvably glitched and what we call ‘neurotic suffering’ is how this irreducible glitch manifests itself. And yet as unwelcome as neurotic suffering might be (and there is no visitor more unwelcome at our door), it betokens a freedom far beyond anything we could ever have imagined…

 

 

 

 

 

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