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