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…