Living In The World Of Foregone Conclusions

Living in the world of our thoughts is a drag, as Alan Watts would say. What could be more dispiriting than always staying within the remit of our tired old thoughts, which are – when it comes down to it – nothing more than a bunch of recycled, tawdry old memes? Our conventional way of looking at things tells us that everything that everything good is to be found here, within this ‘realm of the known’; it tells us – more implicitly than explicitly, of course – that all possibilities are to be found here. And yet there are no possibilities here, not really – only the endless rehashing of the same old categories, which will never get us anywhere…

 

The world of our thoughts is ‘the world of foregone conclusions’, when it comes down to it – every thought, every idea every concept, is ‘a foregone conclusion’. It’s a cliché – it has nothing new to bring to the table!  All of our mental constructs are clichés in this way; all of our mental constructs are ‘foregone conclusions’. As Krishnamurti says ‘thought is always old’. What could be more fundamentally dispiriting than always going around on the same old tracks therefore, whilst trying to make out to ourselves that actually we’re headed for some grand destination? Of all the malicious tricks we could play on ourselves, wouldn’t this be the worst? And yet this is what we do just about every day of our lives – we go around in circles and tell ourselves that we’re going somewhere.

 

We tell ourselves that we’re ‘getting somewhere when we work towards a ‘foregone conclusion’ (or ‘known outcome’) and so does society as a whole. Conventional wisdom tells us that working towards a foregone conclusion is the best way to do things (if not the only way to do things); conventional wisdom tells us that we should always be working towards a goal, towards a known or defined outcome –that’s called ‘being in control’ and being in control of our lives is what it’s all about, or so we are led to believe. Being in control is good, just as being out-of-control is bad, but what we don’t see (and don’t show any sign of seeing) is that being in control all the time means never leaving the world of foregone conclusions…

 

We’re led to believe that the right way to live life is always to be working towards a known outcome (to be ‘always in control’) but being in control of what is happening (or of where we are going) isn’t what life is about at all – that’s something else we are talking about here, not life! We’re talking about some sham version of life, some sad mockery of life, not the actual thing itself. The actual thing isn’t ‘a drag’, isn’t a dull and wearisome matter of ‘working towards a known outcome as if we were actually interested in that. Quite frankly, that’s an appalling thing to have to do; it is – if we were to be honest – a form of torture that we are subjecting ourselves to. It is however a form of torture that we are, both on the collective and the personal level, constantly validating for ourselves.

 

Psychologically speaking, working to a foregone conclusion (or ‘known outcome’) is a form of living that is not living – it is in fact not so much ‘life’ as ‘the avoidance of life disguised as life’. Working towards goals the whole time is an avoidance of life because life is not a foregone conclusion! Life is not about ‘working towards a goal’, no matter what we might have been told, and no matter how many times we might have been told it. Life has absolutely nothing to do with our goals, as we would surely realize if we were ever to reflect on the matter. My goals are my own affair, they are important only inasmuch as I say they are, and I would be foolish in the extreme to think otherwise. Goals are not life and life is not a goal.

 

Intuitively, we all know this – we all know deep down that life is a mystery and that living life is to embrace this mystery on its own terms rather than putting it into neat little boxes of our own design. ‘Life is a movement towards an unknown goal’, says Jung, and not a movement to a goal that we ourselves have made up! When we move towards a defined goal or predetermined outcome then this equals ‘running away from life’; being always orientated towards goals equals ‘running away from life’ because we are thereby avoiding all uncertainty, all ‘risk’, and life is nothing else but uncertainty, nothing else but ‘risk’. All psychotherapists know this – all psychotherapists know that if you put all the emphasis on avoiding risk (which is the ‘sensible’ thing to do) then you will avoid life too. As Jesus says in John 12:25, ‘He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.’ [King James Bible]

 

So – just to repeat the point – the movement towards a known outcome isn’t life but the avoidance of life, and yet this is what our collective ‘wisdom’ tells us we should be doing. The template has been laid down in front of us and all the sign-posts have been put in place and nothing is left for us but to adhere as best we can to this template. The route-directions have been etched into our minds via the process of socialization and the only job remaining for us is to follow the route that has been mapped out for us. The behavioural reinforcement involved here is immense and it would be foolish of us to try to pretend otherwise – the more slavishly we conform to the template, the closer we follow laid-out route the more ‘success’ we stand to gain. The more we diverge (or deviate) on the other hand, the more certain is our ‘failure’ (within the terms of the game that has been thrust upon us). The more successful we are the more social reinforcement we receive (needless to say!) whilst the less successful we are, the more negative reinforcement (or negative kudos) we will incur. This is how society works, as we all know.

 

Who could possibly be brave enough to stand up against this type of pressure? What would it take for us not to fall in line with everyone else, and strike our own path, in flagrant contradiction of everything we have been taught? What would it take for us to let go of this business of working our way towards the foregone conclusion which – as we all know very well on some level – is terribly, terribly uninteresting? The ‘factor’ that would inspire us to ignore the game rules (and give up all the ‘safety behaviour’ that goes with them) is itself profoundly mysterious and not therefore amenable to logical analysis, whilst the factor promoting conformity is as plain as the nose on your face! We don’t need a PhD in psychology to understand what type of a process is involved here – we see it at work in every school playground…

 

There is a strong tendency at work for human culture to become more homogenous or less diverse and to a very large extent we can attribute this to advances made in the technology of communication; we are all much more ‘hooked up’ in this information age of ours and whilst there are obviously advantages to this there are also significant disadvantages – disadvantages that are for the most part much visible. The disadvantages of being in ‘lock-step’ with millions and millions of other human beings is that the behavioural reinforcement factor that we have just been talking about has now arguably become more powerful than at any other point in our history. This ‘conformity to the mental and behavioural template’ is at this stage – without any doubt at all! – the Number One threat to mental health that we face in our lives. It is ‘the Number One Threat to mental health’ because it reinforces to an extraordinary degree the tendency we already have which is the tendency to avoid the intrinsic uncertainty of life by following pre-established patterns of living life.

 

We need only look around us to see this – we live in a world that is governed by hypnotic images, images whose purpose is to tell us that our happiness and fulfilment are to be found ‘on the outside of us’, in the collectively-generated consensual hallucination that Jean Baudrillard calls ‘the realm of the hyperreal’. Hyperreality is by its very nature immensely hypnotic, overwhelmingly hypnotic – it is a drug like no other and we are pretty much all addicts!  We’re addicted to seeking life on the outside of ourselves in the realm of the hyperreal, in what we could call the ‘Image World’. We are – we might say – all addicted to looking for happiness and fulfilment on the outside of ourselves in this collectively-validated version of life where everything is all about ‘moving successfully towards socially-sanctioned goals. These goals contain – we imagine – the possibility of our happiness, the actualization of our very personal dreams (which is to say, the expression of our true uncompromised individuality).

 

This is the most ridiculous joke of all time however, if only we could see it! It’s a ridiculous joke because these ‘dreams’ were implanted in us in the first place and have therefore nothing whatsoever to do with our ‘true individuality’; actualizing them only increases the insidious control of the system that is regulating and defining our consciousness. Seeking the goals we have been told to seek empowers the system and disembowels us; the consensus world (which is unreal) becomes all-powerful whilst we (who are real) lose every last little bit of our power or autonomy. The game we are playing is based on the denial of who we really are and yet we are led to believe that we are ‘celebrating our individuality’! ‘Go on, you’re worth it!’, says the ad on TV…

 

There’s no fulfilment, no happiness to be had in this ‘world that exists outside of us’. It should actually be necessary to say this – of course there’s no fulfilment or happiness in the world that exists outside of ourselves! Whose fulfilment or happiness would it be, anyway? Certainly not ours! It’s fulfilment / happiness that belongs to the world of images and the world of images isn’t real. The world of images isn’t real and if it isn’t real then there can’t be any happiness in it! There’s no one in this world that exists outside of us (obviously enough!) and because there’s no one in it there can’t be any fulfilment or happiness. Happiness and fulfilment have to belong to a real person – they can’t belong to an image in image world, they can’t belong to an act we’re putting on!

 

The Image World – which is the world that we have collectively agreed upon – is made up of ‘known outcomes’ or ‘foregone conclusions’. That’s all that’s in it. The consensus hyperreality world itself is a ‘foregone conclusion’ – it’s a foregone conclusion that nothing real is ever going to happen here. It’s a foregone conclusion that our search for happiness and fulfilment in the world of images is going to fail. Saying that nothing real is ever going to happen in the image world (which we do not of course see as ‘the image world’ but rather as the one and only true world) is equivalent to what Buddhist teachers such as Milarepa have said about the ‘barrenness of samsara’ (samsara being the deceptive world of appearances). Samsara or the world of appearances is the most barren of all environments, for reasons we have already gone into. No desert is as sterile as this! And yet we perceive it to be positively bubbling over with the most enticing of possibilities. We avoid seeing the terrible barrenness of the Image World and instead fixate our narrow attention on our games of loss and gain, saying that ‘such and such an outcome’ is supremely important and then feeling either good or bad depending up how skilful our controlling is!

 

But no matter how much effort we put into the task of ‘denying the barrenness of samsara’ (or denying the futility of the game we are playing’) this barrenness (or sense of futility) will always show themselves at some point and when they do they will show themselves in the form of a particularly bleak for of suffering – a form of suffering so bleak in fact that we will think of it as a curse, or – in a more medical idiom – as a pathology or sickness. But this supercharged suffering isn’t a curse, or a ‘sickness’ – it’s actually the awareness of the barrenness of the Image World (which is an awareness we have worked so hard to avoid) that we have thrown away with such force (and then forgotten about) coming back at us like a deadly boomerang of pain.

 

‘Avoidance’ doesn’t just mean running away from things, it also means running towards them! When we run full-tilt towards our goals, towards our desired outcomes (or ‘dreams’) then we are avoiding life; we are avoiding life because life – as we have said – isn’t a goal or a desired outcome or a ‘dream’. Or to put this another way, when we run full-force at this thing we call ‘winning’ we’re creating a boomerang; we don’t know that we’re creating a boomerang, for sure, but our ignorance of what we’re doing won’t stop it coming back and hitting us in the head! Both ‘running away from negative certainty’ and ‘running towards the positive variety’ equal ‘the game’ and the game equals evading every last trace of awareness of the Great Mystery that is life…

 

Art: Eduardo Martinez. Taken from creativeboom.com

 

 

 

 

 

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