Society Is An Advert For Itself

What we have succeeded in doing (without necessarily meaning to) is creating a completely ‘dishonest’ environment for ourselves to live in. We all heard about ‘fake news’ but what this amounts to is a fake world. We can make a very obvious statement at this point and that is to say that ‘living in a fundamentally dishonest environment is without any doubt going to be psychologically harmful for us’! This might seem like too obvious a point to make but we need to make it all the same because it’s such a vitally important one – it’s a vitally important point that we never actually pay any attention to! We might spend money in a health food store or go to the gym twice a week or practice yoga or meditation but we never seem to give any thought to the fact that our actual environment is fundamentally dishonest, and therefore toxic

 

I’m not making a metaphysical point here about the illusoriness of the world or anything like that – what I’m talking about is the fundamentally deceptive nature of the communications we surround ourselves with. Just to give one example – it is abundantly obvious that we are living in a world that is completely dominated by advertisements of one sort or another. Everything is an advert for something! This is therefore just another way of saying that the reality we are presented with on all sides is dishonest – it’s not what it seems to be. Everything we see or read is propaganda for the system that is being daily foisted upon us!

 

Adverts are ‘dishonest’ because they always claim to be about something else than what they’re actually about – the day has long since passed when adverts were purely and simply about providing information about a product. We have moved on a long way since that day. The science of advertising relies on the fact that we are very easily manipulated by ‘unconscious associations’, implications which are there, but which don’t need to be spelt out. These associations work on us without us knowing that we are being worked on. This is just the same as saying that ‘adverts work by manipulation’, which is very obviously true – no one is going to be foolish enough to try to deny this!

 

We might agree that this is true but say that it’s not really a big deal either – we all know that ads are about manipulation, but so what? We have got used it to this stage and presumably we all feel that we’re immune to it. Where advertising surely does become a problem however is when the whole world becomes one giant advert, one giant ‘publicity exercise for itself,’ as John Berger implies here –

Publicity has another important social function. The fact that this function has not been planned as a purpose by those who make and use publicity in no way lessens its significance. Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world. Publicity adds up to a kind of philosophical system. It explains everything in its own terms. It interprets the world.

The entire world becomes a setting for the fulfillment of publicity’s promise of the good life. The world smiles at us. It offers itself to us. And because everywhere is imagined as offering itself to us, everywhere is more or less the same. …

Adverts aren’t just trying to promote the product that they happen to be showcasing, John Berger says elsewhere – they are, much more importantly, promoting our whole way of life, the particular way of life within which that product has a place. So how could we say that it’s not a ‘big deal’ when our whole environment is designed to manipulate or control us and there’s nothing left in it that’s at all honest? Surely we must realise that there are bound to be seriously adverse psychological consequences to living in a world that is totally biased, a world that is nothing more than ‘an advert for itself!

 

If we were unlucky enough to grow up surrounded by people who always had an ulterior motive, who were always duplicitous, who never did or said anything without a hidden agenda, then our mental health would of course suffer grievously as a result – we’d be in need of an awful lot of therapy if this were the case. The same is true therefore when we live in an environment is always comes with an ulterior motive, an environment that is designed to control us, an environment which always carries some kind of ‘disguised coercive element’. The usual way is for us to be more or less oblivious to the coercive (or controlling) aspect of our environment, and unaware of the all pervading dishonesty of the type of communications that make up the world we have to live in, and so this means that we are ‘unfree without knowing that we are’. Apparently – however – this very peculiar set-up seems to work; apparently – we can get by perfectly well this way!

 

There is a problem here though even if we can’t see it – there’s a problem especially if we can’t see it! In order to accommodate ourselves to this invisibly coercive and deceptive world we have to live on a very superficial level, and this is fundamentally unnatural and therefore unhealthy for us. It has harmful consequences. Human beings are not naturally superficial; we not naturally lacking in curiosity about the world we live in. All we need to do in order to appreciate this is to look at children – children are (of course) full of curiosity, full of questions. Adults  – on the other hand – aren’t! As adults (oddly enough) we seem to swallow whatever line in nonsense it is that is being fed to us at the time. We’ll go along with anything. The alternative seems to be just too frightening for us!

 

So the ‘problem’ that we are looking at here is the problem – we might say – of compulsory superficiality. We are given no choice in this matter – were pushed into this extraordinary limited state of being from a very early age. We don’t know that this fate has befallen us (we have no way of knowing it) but the quality of our lives has been degraded all the same. Another crucial aspect of this ‘compulsive superficiality’ that were talking about here is that we don’t have any genuine volition. If we are being swayed by superficial appearances the whole time then how can we possibly be said to have any genuine volition of our own? This is clearly an impossibility.

 

We can put all of this together – therefore – by saying that we have created the world for ourselves which, rather than being based on the Principle of Truth, is based purely upon the Principle of Deception. We so used to this that we think nothing of it – our eyes are accustomed to the systematic insincerity and so we pay it no heed. As Matthieu Ricard says,

We are very much like birds that have lived too long in a cage to which we return even when we get the chance to fly away. We have grown so accustomed to our faults that we can barely imagine what life would be like without them. The prospect of change makes us dizzy.

In this world it’s not about ‘what’s true’, it’s about what seems to be true. It’s about ‘image rather than content’. We all know this very well – who’s actually going to deny it?  The question we’re asking here is ‘What effect is it actually going to have on us to be living in such a world?’  One answer is to say that the consequences of this state of affairs is that we become completely gullible, i.e. ‘100% manipulable by external controlling factors’. We do what we told to do and we believe what we’re told to believe, and what this comes down to is a complete lack of autonomy. We have ‘lost ourselves,’ in other words. We’ve lost ourselves completely. It is one thing to have autonomy and find yourself in a world that is trying to manipulate you (or amongst people who are trying to manipulate you) and quite another to have never had that  in the first place and to live in a world whose very basis is manipulation and coercion!

 

This is such an extraordinary thing to contemplate – we have created a world that denies us, a world that is ‘against us’! It isn’t the case either – I would argue – that this world is ‘bad for most of us but is good for a small minority’, which is very much what it looks like on the surface, admittedly. What we’re looking at here is a fundamentally unfair system, it is true, but even the so-called ‘winners’ in this game aren’t winning anything worth having! By denying others we deny ourselves, after all. By controlling each other we are just as bound as our victims by our own need to control. It’s actually the business of ‘playing the game’ that denies us, not whether we win or lose, which is of course what we are brought up to believe. ‘Playing the game’ denies us because by always striving for personal advantage (which is what we have been brought up to do) we turn our backs on our true compassionate nature, and if this isn’t a recipe for misery and frustration then nothing is!

 

We can only truly be ourselves by being compassionate  – as all the great Wisdom Traditions tell us; to try to find meaning in life by being selfish and manipulative and competitive  (which is what our society demands of us, whether we see it or not) is a road to nowhere! Meaning in life doesn’t come from being good at controlling, or from being a ‘winner in the game’, but from nourishing the imagination, nourishing the creative and compassionate side of ourselves. Our true nature is incomparably greater than we have been led to believe that it is, but we are afraid to find that out, and this unacknowledged fear drives all sorts of toxicity…

 

 

 

 

 

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All The King’s Horses

As long as ‘the machine inside us’ is allowed to do whatever it wants we won’t know that it is there. We won’t have a clue that it’s there. How could we know, how could we ever suspect? When the machine inside us is allowed to do exactly what it wants then all is peace and calm and we are allowed to get on with our lives. Only it isn’t ‘our life’ that we’re getting on with – it’s the machine’s life (or ‘the machine’s version of our life’).

 

This is our situation therefore – we’re letting ‘the machine inside of us’ live our life for us. We’ve handed over all responsibility to it, without even knowing that we have. We are living ‘the machine’s idea what life should be’ and it is keeping our constantly keeping us on track with a nudge here and a nudge there and something a lot worse than just ‘a nudge’ if we don’t get back on track quickly enough! We have complete unquestioning loyalty to the machine – its will is our will as far as we’re concerned!

 

The machine which is thought manifests itself as ‘the internal robot which lives our life for us’. Just so long as we are able, in an unimpeded way, to live the robot’s idea of what life should be then (as we have already said) we will continue on our way, content to believe that ‘all is as it should be’. There will still be problems of course, there will be many ways in which life fails to accord with ‘our’ (i.e. the machine’s) plan for it, but this won’t challenge the status quo in any way. Complaining about how things are going wrong only ever serves to affirm that they are wrong, after all.

 

We can continue in this way forever in the absence of any major upsets. We could in theory ‘question the status quo’ at any time of course, but in practice we don’t. Why would we? We are far too preoccupied with doing the machine’s bidding; we’re far too busy enacting the life of ‘the internal robot’, and thinking it our own. We are kept busy for this very reason – that’s part of the design. ‘The devil finds work for idle hands’ is one of the machine’s favourite sayings’! Even when we’re not busy in the sense of ‘physically engaging in tasks’ were busy we are busy – we are busy thinking robot’s thoughts and imagining that they are our own!

 

This is pretty much a perfect system, therefore – it can run and run and run. It can run along in this way – with us enacting the robot’s idea of what life should be, and us never noticing that this is what we’re doing – until our last breath. This isn’t just something that’s ‘fairly probable’ – it’s very nearly an absolute certainty, unless something happens to us to upset the apple cart in a big way. The machine has to be unable to ‘cope’ for a prolonged length of time, it has to find itself in a situation where it simply can’t control what is happening to it, and this situation has to persist for an extended period of time. Sometimes we have been in this situation right from the very beginning, right from the word ‘go’.

 

Alternatively, there could have been some type of trauma, not necessarily lasting very long, but sufficiently intense to disillusion us with the nice simple picture of reality that the machine has up to this point been providing us with. Up to this point we were (in most cases) living in a kind of safe and sanitised ‘bubble’ or ‘cocoon’ of ‘regulated reality’ – a ‘bubble or cocoon of regulated reality’ that was entirely illusionary, but which was nevertheless totally convincing for us. And just to help with the apparent stability or believability of this bubble, there are thousands (or millions) of people all around us who all believe in it in exactly the same bubble. Then something unexpectedly happens to burst this bubble, and once this bubble – the bubble of who we naïvely understood ourselves to be (i.e. the ‘assumed sense of self’) has been burst, it – just like Humpty Dumpty – can’t be put together again, even if we do have ‘all the kings horses and all the Kings men’ to help us.

 

‘All the King’s horses and all the King’s men’ may be taken as meaning ‘the mental health services’ within the context of this particular discussion! Once the ‘ego illusion’ has been compromised, so that on some deep level we can no longer believe in it in the way that we previously had done, then no sort of ‘therapy’ is going to restore this naïve belief. That just can’t be done, no matter how much we might collectively pretend that it can be. As patients we are of course under pressure – both from ourselves and the mental health services – for this ‘recovery’ to take place, but the truth is that it just can’t. ‘What has been seen can’t be unseen’! Once we gain some glimpse of ‘the fundamental falsity of our assumed basis’ – i.e. a sense that it ‘isn’t really what it implicitly claims to be’ – then we can’t ever go back to the naive (or ‘innocent’) belief that we used to have, in a much matter how much we want to. We have gone beyond that, however unwillingly…

 

Even if – as is most likely – we have no way of understanding what has happened, no language with which to articulate it – we still ‘know’ it in some deep way, and this deep-down knowledge shows itself in terms of a systematic failure of the type of ‘confidence’ in ourselves to be able to ‘cope’ with the world, or ‘deal’ with the world, or ‘do what is necessary to obtain the desired outcomes in the world’. No amount of talk about ‘coping strategies,’ or ‘skills’, or ‘distress-tolerance’ is ever going to change this – no matter how ‘scientific’ such talk might sound. Once cracks have appeared in the ego-structure itself, no matter of sellotape is going to fix it. Possibly we might still be able to ‘limp through life’ on the basis of an ego that we have unwittingly seen through, on the basis of an ego that we have inadvertently lost faith in, but we’re never going to get that old naïve ‘confidence’ back again. That confidence (or ‘ego-strength’) was based purely on ignorance and we are no longer ignorant in the way that we used to be. Or perhaps that ‘bubble of safety’ never existed for us – that is another possibility.

 

This (i.e. ‘therapy’!) is really putting us in an impossible situation therefore – we have to live in a world which everyone implicitly believes in but which we can’t believe in – no matter how much we may want to. If it happens that we find ourselves in therapy, or under the care of the mental health services, then we will have that same naïve illusionary view of reality projected upon us from everyone around us. How are the ‘trained mental health professionals’ that we meet going to know any different, after all; aren’t they are every bit as ‘unconscious’ (or ‘asleep’) as everybody else? Why would they not be? When we are in this position there are only two possibilities open to us – either we keep on ‘pretending’ and hope that no one notices that we are, or we stop pretending and get blamed instead by all and sundry for not trying hard enough to get better (or perhaps even for positively wanting to carry on being mentally unwell). If anyone tells you that this isn’t what happens every day in the mental health services clearly they are living on another planet entirely!

 

This isn’t quite the full story though – there aren’t just these two possibilities, there’s another one too. We don’t have to keep on trying to find ‘some way back’ (which is impossible in any event, as we keep on saying) – we could actually ‘go forward’ instead! ‘Going forward’ – in this context – means that instead of trying to ‘get back what we never really had in the first place’ (because it was never really ‘our’ life that we were living, or ‘trying to live’), we can try out a different type of life, a type of life that hasn’t been dictated to us by the machine of thought. When we carry on without spending all our time looking back to ‘how we used to be’ and trying in a futile way to ‘get back there’ what happens is that we very slowly learn a new way of being in the world, a way of being in the world that isn’t based on unreflective aggression and ‘false confidence’.

 

This is very hard because – to a large extent – we just don’t know anything else. We don’t know what else there is apart from obeying the dictates of the machine of thought. It is very hard to be free when we have been so long enslaved – it feels very strange and we don’t have anything to guide us. When the internal robot is broken and can no longer help us (or when it is so clearly a menace to our well-being that we have had to refuse its help) we find ourselves in a kind of ‘no-man’s-land’. What’s broken is broken and there’s no fixing it, and this means that ‘there is no turning back’. The way is barred. There may not be any ‘turning back’ it is true, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any ‘going forward’…

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Calamity

When we allow ourselves to be completely defined by the thinking mind, the mind that evaluates and categorizes, then the result of this – quite simply – is the self. That’s how we get to experience life on the basis of ‘the self’ (instead of ‘in some other way’). Unless something is unambiguously defined in a black-and-white way then we are unable to identify with it, and without identification there can be no self.

 

‘Identification’ simply means that I see some fixed position, some fixed viewpoint as being ‘me’ – it’s the fixed nature of the position of the viewpoint that allows for the possibility of making any kind of ‘literal statement’ about the world. How can we make a literal statement if there is not a ‘literal’ (or ‘concrete’) point of reference to make it from? Literal statements actually are the fixed point of reference projected outwards onto the world. As soon we say this, we get a strong hint as to what the ‘calamity’ to which we are referring might be – identification means that everything I see and experience from the point of view of that ‘fixed position’ is already inherent in that position, and between my perception of myself as being ‘this viewpoint’ and ‘the world that I perceive around me’ (which is as we have said tautologically contained within my assumed frame of reference) what else is there? For me, that is everything – that represents the alpha and omega of my total field of possibilities.

 

The principle behind what we are saying here is very clear – when I identify with the fixed position then I am just not going to be able to perceive anything that does not ‘agree’ with this fixed reference point of mine. I won’t be able to see anything other than those things that make sense in relation to the fixed reference point that I have tacitly accepted as being ‘the only possible way of looking at the world’ – naturally enough! So what has happened is that I have become sealed off within a closed system. No possibility of ‘radical reorganization’ exists within a closed system – clearly there can’t be any such because what makes the closed system into a closed system is the fact that there are restrictions placed on what can be allowed to happen in that system. The ‘self consistency’ of logical systems depends upon the limits that are placed upon what is allowed to happen within that system – which is of course the very same thing as saying that logical systems ‘function as such on the basis of rules’! No one is going to argue with this…

 

There is no calamity involved in allowing everything that happens in a logical system to be determined by rules – that’s how logical systems work, as we keep saying. But what is good for a logical system (such as the national railway system network or a big modern hospital) is not good for us as individual human beings. The one does not imply the other, and although this may seem like a very obvious point to be making it clearly isn’t a point that we understand in any practical way because the story of mankind is very much the story of how we have allowed our own systems to enslave us and make us miserable as a result of this wretched state of enslavement. This is the one mistake we keep on making over and over again and the fact that we are repeatedly making it is very clearly because we do not understand what we’re doing! We’re not even close to understanding what’s going on – we are forever focusing on improving the systems that enslave us rather than looking at how we can become free from them.

 

Society is a logical system and we are all defined by it, no matter what we might like to believe. We don’t want to believe that we are defined by society, we want to believe that we are ‘unique individuals living our own unique individual lives’, but this is simply not true. How could it be true, when we are not actually putting any effort into it? Being the unique individual that one genuinely is isn’t just something that ‘falls into our lap’, like a ripe fruit when the tree is shaken – it can only come about via arduous effort. This isn’t ‘effort’ as we usually see it either – it isn’t  effort that is made in a particular direction, effort that is directed towards a particular or specified end. We not ‘improving ourselves in line with some idea that we might have with regard to how we or someone else might think we ought to be improved’. That is merely ‘optimization’ and optimization is the process of adapting ourselves to some kind of logical system. Optimization is movement in the direction of losing autonomy.

 

The effort involved in becoming the true individual that one actually is (or rather that one could be) is of an entirely different nature to this – it involves what the alchemists of old called the Opus Contra Naturam – the ‘work against nature’. Rules or precedents exist that propel us in a certain direction – the Opus Contra Naturam means not going in this direction! The work against nature is of course what Carl Jung calls individuation. Individuation (or rather ‘the fruit of the individuation process’) isn’t something that just ‘falls into our lap’ (as the socialised identity does) – it emerges slowly as a result of our struggle to be true to ourselves (or ‘find ourselves’) in the face of a hostile environment, which is what the social system is as regards our genuine individuality. The inertial forces that are ranged against us are immense and implacable and it is as everyone knows much easier to just give into them and be like everyone else! At least then we will have company, rather than feeling very much on our own and in danger of feeling that the ‘fault’ lies within us, and not within society as a whole.

 

So society is one big machine that that we have to struggle against in order not to be defined by it, but the other manifestation of ‘the machine’ is the thinking mind, which is what we started off by talking about. We’re caught between the machine on the inside and the machine on the outside, and neither of them has any tolerance at all for ‘who we really are’ – the machine – any machine – understands only mechanical things, and ‘who we really are’ is not mechanical. Or as we could also say, ‘a machine only understands defined things, and who we are is not capable of being defined’. The problem is however that who we understand ourselves to be is both defined and limited, and as such the one thing that it fears more than anything else is a reality that is not defined, a reality that is not limited. There is no challenge for the conditioned self that is greater than this; the unlimited / undefined reality is not merely ‘a challenge’, it is its greatest terror!

 

We see ‘being defined’ as being a strength – we know who we are, we know what we think, we know what we like and what we don’t like, and this seems like a strong position to be in. Almost anyone you talk to will tell you that this is a strong position to be in – society will tell you this. It is however strong only in a very limited way – it’s like being a world-renowned expert in a very narrow field – without any doubt we are formidably strong within the parameters of our specialization and if our area of specialization were ‘the whole world’ then we would be genuinely strong! But because our area of speciality isn’t the whole world (obviously enough!) we aren’t ‘strong’ at all –we only have a kind of ‘pretence’ at being strong and inasmuch as we allow ourselves to believe in this pretence of ours (which is easily done) we get to imagine that we are strong when we are not. When we fall into the trap of believing our own pretence we make fools of ourselves, in other words, and ‘making a fool of oneself without being able to see it’ is not a genuine form of strength.

 

Although this might at first glance seem like a somewhat obvious and therefore trivial example to give, it only takes a moment of reflection to realise that what we are talking about here is the situation of the conditioned (or ‘mind-created’) self. The mind-created self gets to feel robust and unrealistically confident in its outlook (if not downright arrogant!) because of the way in which it believes in a strength which it doesn’t actually have. The traditional virtue of humility originally meant something like ‘the awareness of the fact that we don’t really know anything’ (as opposed to what we usually take it to be, which is ‘the theatrical effort of the arrogant self to try to show that it is not arrogant when the truth is that it simply can’t help being so’). The incentive for us to fall into the trap of ‘believing in our own pretence’ (or ‘believing that our very limited area of specialisation is the whole world when it plainly isn’t’) is that it creates a feeling of ‘ontological security’ for us – a feeling of ‘security-of-being’ that we just can’t obtain any other way.

 

Being defined gives us a sense of security therefore, but only when we been live in a world that is made up of nothing more than our own mental projections. If we want that feeling of being secure – the feeling of being secure that comes from being totally defined – we have to pay the price of having to live in a very small world – the very small world of our own thoughts, our own expectations. What else are our thoughts anyway, if not ‘expectations of the world’? We don’t know that we are living in this absurdly small world, but that doesn’t alter the fact that we are, and there are going to be consequences to this choice that we have made, even though we don’t know that we have made it.

 

It’s not a good thing to shrink down in this way – it brings suffering, and not only does it ‘bring suffering’, it brings ‘suffering-without-the-capacity-to-bear-it’. Within this ‘absurdly small world’ (which is the only world that makes sense to the defined self) we are constantly subject to ‘irritations’ of a totally trivial nature. We can say that these irritations are of ‘a totally trivial nature’ because precisely they are irritations that make sense to the defined self, and the ‘defined’ (or ‘mind-created’) self is itself completely petty, completely trivial! We all know this on some level or other – we are all deeply familiar with the pettiness of the everyday self. The only time we aren’t aware of this is when we are wholly identified with this self, which is – needless to say – all too often! This is a calamity in itself; to be infinitely petty in the scope of our concerns, without knowing that we are because we are so caught up in them – is without any doubt a terrible calamity. We only need the smallest bit of imagination to appreciate just how terrifying a fate this is.

 

That’s only the beginning of it however. In order to enjoy the ‘sense of security’ that comes with being narrowly defined we need to restrict ourselves to ‘living within a very small world without knowing that we are’ and in one way this seems to be a price that we are willing to pay. There are however distressing consequences to this manoeuvre that only become apparent after a while. The ‘consequences’ that we talking about can be understood in terms of counterproductivity – ‘counterproductivity’ means that we that when we exert ourselves to accomplish one aim (and thereby hopefully resolve the situation in some way) other problems – which we have not foreseen – immediately come into play. And when we try to fix these unexpected problems what happens next is of course that a whole clutch of new problems come into being which also need to be fixed, and so on and so forth. On the ‘macro-scale’ this sort of counterproductivity is fairly well-known to us – our linear/technological approach to managing our environment is always rebounding on us in various unexpected (and unwanted) ways, as Gregory Bateson pointed out back in the 1960s. Ivan Illich also speaks of what he calls ‘specific counterproductivity’ in the fields of education, communication, transport and health.

 

We are at least’ halfway aware’ of counterproductivity on the macro-scale, whether it is in regard to the planetary ecology or industrialized society, but we are almost entirely blind to what we might call ‘intrapersonal counter- productivity’, which is the result of us trying to control or regulate ourselves. No matter how free we try to be in ourselves the mere fact that we are defined (just as the world we live in is defined) means that we are already controlled in the most profound way possible, even before we do anything else. This is like being ‘strangled at birth’! Intrapersonal counterproductivity is where we try to obtain a benefit for ourselves but incur suffering instead (or where we try to avoid pain, and instead of avoiding it we bring it down on our heads a thousandfold). The more common term for this is of course neuroticism and the concrete or literal self is the source of all neurotic counterproductivity…

 

 

 

The Jinx

To be ‘unconscious’, in the psychological sense of the world, means that we absolutely can’t help seeing everything via some kind of ridiculous arbitrary viewpoint that simply isn’t true and never could be! That’s the sort of ‘jinx’ that we’re talking about here – the jinx of being made a complete fool of by our thinking, by our ‘ideas about reality’, so to speak.

 

It doesn’t matter what perceptions or understandings of the world we have therefore, they are only there because of our conditioned viewpoint. Our perceptions and understandings of the world only make sense in relation to this viewpoint – they don’t and can’t make sense in the other way. No matter what ‘serious’ tasks we might engage in, if we try to tackle them without first tackling the wooden beam that is lodged solidly in our eye-socket, we can only succeed at perpetuating our folly. ‘Perpetuating our folly’ is the best we can hope for…

 

The very idea of a ‘serious task’ becomes not-so-serious therefore – we may be taking ourselves seriously for sure but this is really just a joke that we can’t see – it’s an invisible joke, it’s a ‘joke at our own expense’! The reason this joke is at our own expense is because we are forever acting as if we have a very solid and mature grasp on things (our whole demeanour, our whole comportment says as much) whilst the truth of the matter is that we are the victims of a ridiculous deception that we have unwittingly perpetrated upon ourselves.

 

How is looking at the world from the basis of a viewpoint that isn’t true and never could be true ‘serious’? We point the finger at all sorts of so-called serious problems that are to be found in the world and which need our urgent attention but stubbornly ignore their root cause, which is our extraordinary ‘one-sided’ (as Jung would say) view of the world. We see things the way our thinking mind says we should see them, and not in any other way – the advantage in this is that we can then effectively utilise the world in the way we wish to utilise it, whilst the disadvantage is that our awareness is completely contained within the game we are playing with the result that we simply don’t know that we’re playing it.

 

Putting matters like this gives us a way of looking very precisely at our predicament in life. If our unwitting one-sidedness results in us only being able to attend to that aspect of the world which corresponds to the unconscious (or unexamined) expectations that we are invisibly encoded into our way of thinking about the world then what has essentially happened here is that we have set ourselves up as being ‘outside of life’ (or ‘apart from life’), and not just ‘apart from life’, but also against life, in opposition to life.

 

If we are completely ‘on the side of thought’ (and have no balance whatsoever within us) then there is no way that we will not be living ‘apart from life’, and ‘in opposition to life’. Not being in opposition to life is going to be a complete impossibility. Life is the Whole Thing, not just the partial or fragmentary view. Furthermore, life cannot be subdivided without ceasing to be life – when we subdivide it life just becomes an idea! We can’t say what this thing that we’re calling ‘life’ is because to say this is to put life in a compartment and to put life in a compartment is to ‘separate it from itself’. This is the whole problem in a nutshell – the whole problem is our unconscious compulsion to turn everything into a mind-created abstraction!

 

So the next question we could ask is ‘what happens when we place ourselves outside of life and in opposition to life?’ Very obviously, to do this is to incur all sorts of calamities. When we headbutt the universe, then we end up with a very sore head! When we break harmony with the Tao (even though, as Alan Watt says, this is ultimately an impossibility) then just as we are in opposition to life, life is in opposition to us and no matter how we figure it, when life itself exists in opposition to us than the one thing that we may rely on is that things are going to get pretty rough!

 

In very simple terms, when we are in this situation of being on the ‘other team’ with regard to life, then everything is going to turn against us. As Jung says our own psyche is going to turn against us. We are creating our own nemesis with everything we do.  “The more compulsive the one-sidedness, and the more untamed the libido which streams off to one side, the more daemonic it becomes” says Jung (Collected Works Vol 6). In this statement it is clear that we actually have two devils on our back here, not just the one. We have the ‘daemonic forces’ that have been called into existence by our ‘one-sidedness’ (by our ‘opposition to nature’) and we also have the compulsivity that is inherent in this one-sidedness. There is nothing to choose between these two devils – they are each as bad as the other! Compulsivity is a demon because it never gives us any peace, it goads us on forever and ever and we can never keep it satisfied, no matter how hard we may try. We are in this horrible situation where we do what we do not because we really want to (or because there is any joy in acting out ‘what we have in mind’ as Macbeth says) but because we have to. We have no choice. There is no freedom in the moment for us, only slavery to a pitiless (and quite insane) master!

 

And then if this were not bad enough, the result of us obeying the compulsivity created by our one-sidedness in this way is that we set up a force that turns against us and ultimately destroys everything that we have put so much effort into creating. We can’t win either way, therefore – we try to get some peace by placating the devil that is persecuting us from the inside (which, ultimately, we can never do because no matter how much we give it it will always want more) and we bring the devil on the outside down on our heads as a result of trying so hard to appease the demon on the inside! To say that we are ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’ is putting it far too mildly. We’re up shit creek without a paddle.

 

Needless to say, this conflicted situation creates great suffering. We try as hard as we do to enact all of our ideas, beliefs, and plans because we fervently believe this there is to be great benefit in doing so. Our rational-purposeful output matters a great deal to us – that’s why we are so very’ serious’ about it. It matters to us a great deal because we believe that we are going to set up some value in the outside world; we believe that we are going to ‘do some good,’ in other words. Our belief in the importance of our goals – whatever these might be – is however driven not by the genuine desire to ‘do good’ when we are in the grip of the thinking mind but ‘to do good by the criteria of the thinking mind’, which is not the same thing at all! ‘Doing good by criteria of the thinking mind’ simply means obeying its compulsions (or ‘doing what we are not free not to do’) – we just don’t see things this way when we are in ‘unconscious’ or ‘passively-identified’ state. We don’t see our true motivation.

 

So – as far as we are concerned ‘everything will come out all right’ just so long as we can attain our goals, and this is why they matter so much to us in the very serious way that they do. Yet, the fact that we are acting unconsciously (or one-sidedly’) guarantees that our efforts are all going to rebound on us in the most painful way; it guarantees in other words that we have set ourselves up so that the thing we see as being of the utmost importance is unfailingly going to go wrong for us, is going to backfire on us, and if this doesn’t spell ‘suffering’ then what does? The very thing that we are pinning all our hopes on is the one thing that could never work out for us. Action that comes out of one-sidedness is never going to work out for us.

 

The reason for this is of course because it is our unconscious or unexamined assumptions that are driving everything. Whenever we want to achieve we want to achieve on the basis of these unconscious assumptions and because these assumptions are completely unfounded (they can’t not be) we are heading off on ‘a journey to nowhere’ right from the very start. Thought can be a very useful guide in the pragmatic domain but it is never going to be of any service to us in the ‘absolute’ sense that we want it to be. Thought can never do us any good when used as an ‘absolute basis’ for how we are to live life! It can’t do us any good because in reality there is no such thing as ‘an absolute basis’. Life can’t be oversimplified on the basis of a theory or belief either of the religious or political or scientific variety. All theories/models/concepts/beliefs come out of the one-sidedness of the rational mind; they all come out of our ‘invisible assumptions’ and this is why they will always backfire on us.

 

We can use the rational mind to help us with the ‘little things’ in life, with the day-to-day mechanical details, but not with the big things, not the things that really matter. We can’t face life on the basis of a theory or model or belief as we have just said. To do so is an evasion of responsibility and this evasion will inevitably rebound on us! Nature unfailingly punishes unconsciousness, as Jung says. Ignorance is no excuse. Facing life on the basis of a theory/belief/model/opinion is living unconsciously (i.e. engaging on the basis of unexamined assumptions is living unconsciously) and to live life unconsciously is to be very thoroughly jinxed. We might not see it – we almost certainly won’t see it – but our ignorance doesn’t mean that the joke isn’t on us; our ignorance is why the joke is on us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mistaken Identity

Within the general terms of the Gnostic myth of the ‘False Reality’, or ‘Bogus creation’, we may take it as not just being the case that we are presented with a counterfeit version of the world which we – in all innocence – except at face value, it is also the case that we are presented with an equally counterfeit version of ourselves, which we accept – again – at face value, in all innocence.

 

We are caught in a ‘pincer movement’, so to speak; we are fooled on both fronts – the external and the internal. Between these two deceptions (which are of course ultimately the same deception) there is a vanishingly small chance of us ever finding genuine freedom. This is – beyond any doubt – the cleverest and most formidable trap ever devised. There are no inconsistencies; there is nothing there to ‘give the game away’.

 

When we reflect on it, it becomes obvious that there couldn’t be ‘the true self in the false world’, nor ‘the false self in a true world’. The true self would see the false world for what it is and would have no truck with it, whilst the false self would be shown up and exposed by the true world, and – as a result – be unable to continue with charade. Another (simpler) way of putting this is just to say that the counterfeit self is ‘part and parcel’ of the counterfeit world – it all comes in the same package.

 

This the idea of being supplied with a false a counterfeit version of ourselves is so radical, so audacious, that we would simply never suspect it. Anything else might be counterfeited and conceivably spotted, our surroundings, people in the street, our friends, our family even, but not ourselves. That’s the one place we will never look; the one place we will never think to look. My own identity is always going to be the ‘blind-spot’, in other worlds…

 

It’s not hard to see why this should be so. We only need to consider the coercive (and therefore unquestionable) nature of our wants, our desires, our needs – as soon as a desire (or a desire, or need) comes along we instantaneously go along with it and adopt it fondly as our own. We might fight against it but we certainly never question it. When a compulsive impulse (or desire) comes along I straightaway say it is me who wants (or doesn’t want) to do whatever it is that the compulsion wants me to do. We confuse the compulsive impulse for ourselves, in other words. There is no gap between ‘trigger’ and ‘reaction’ and it is the lack of any gap here that guarantees our identification with the impulse (i.e. that guarantees our ‘adoption of the false self’.)

 

When we look at things this way, it’s easy to see how it could come about that we would mistake the false, ‘coercive’ self for who we really are. It isn’t just our needs, our coercive impulses to act this way or that, our desires to obtain a particular outcome that we are talking about here either. When we think it is the very same thing – a thought comes along, coercively ‘hijacking’ our attention, and then straightaway we feel that it is us who are thinking. Straightaway I say that this is ‘my’ thought (which of course carries the implication that I am only thinking because I myself want to).

 

It’s very hard to meet anyone who doesn’t go around imagining that the only reason they think the thoughts that they are thinking is because they want to. We all imagine that it is ‘us who think the thoughts’, that it is us who are in ‘the driving seat’ with regard to the thinking process, and this just goes to show how solidly identified we are with ‘the counterfeit self’. How often do we doubt that this is the case, after all? How often do we doubt the super-compelling illusion of the volitional thinker who purposefully thinks the thoughts that he or she is thinking?

 

If we did see through the illusion this would appear to most of us as a particularly extreme form of ‘disorientation’ – it’s not that we don’t know where we are, or even that we can’t remember who we are (in the sense of remembering our phone number, national insurance number, name, address, etc)  – it goes a lot deeper than this. It’s rather than that ‘this person who I know myself to be’ (or rather knew myself to be) has nothing to do with who I really am. My normal everyday life has become strange to me, not really belonging to me, not really of any interest to me. My normal everyday activities and concerns have become profoundly meaningless to me…

 

‘This is not my beautiful house / this is not my beautiful wife,’ as the Talking Heads song goes. Turning away from the illusion in this way – the illusion of ‘who we’re not but who we nevertheless think we are’ – is what the Eastern traditions refer to as ‘Waking up’ or ‘Liberation’ therefore – we are being liberated from the illusion of who we think we are, we are waking up from the false identification with who were not, who no one is, and who no one could ever be! The remarkable thing here is just how extraordinarily resistant we are to seeing the seeing the illusion, to waking up from the false identification! We resist this liberating insight with everything we’ve got, we resist to the bitter end.

 

So what are we to make of this? What on earth is going on here? On the face of it, the notion that we should be stuck fast to a fictional version of ourselves (a cheap fictional version at that) so very effectively that no tools exist that could ever unstuck us, is bound to sound rather peculiar. Why should such an odd situation be the case? Why should we be so absolutely resistant to seeing the truth of what is going on, and letting go of our desperate attachment to this fictional identity’? It’s not as if there is anything particularly great about it, or – actually – anything intrinsically worthwhile about it at all. How can there be anything ‘intrinsically worthwhile’ about a fictional identity?

 

The whole scenario sounds utterly absurd, utterly bizarre. If someone were to write a play on this premise, we would all laugh at it. We’d either laugh at it, or walk out in disgust halfway through the performance, unwilling to subject ourselves to such nonsense. On the whole, it’s got to be true to say that we prefer our ‘culture’ to be about issues that we can more readily relate to! In another way however, it could be said that we have moved a step closer – culturally speaking – to having a certain familiarity with the Gnostic theme that we have been discussing. The motif of the False Reality (or ‘the Simulation’) is one which most of us have heard of; following the work of writers and philosophers such as Philip K Dick and films such as The Matrix or The Truman Show it is now firmly established as part of the intellectual/cultural terrain of the early 21st-century. How well do we really understand these motifs that we are playing around with though? Are they penetrating into our understanding of our own day-to-day lives, or is it just more entertainment in a world that is based on entertainment?

 

A familiar PKD motif is that of the ‘fake memory’. We are all familiar with the idea of being a humanoid android who has provided with an implanted set of memories. We live quite happily on this basis only to find out one day that none of it is true and that we aren’t that person at all, that we have no connection whatsoever with that ‘person that we thought we were’. It’s not androids in the near future that we are talking about though – it’s all of us right now. That’s our situation we are looking at – we just haven’t ‘got it’ yet!

 

This isn’t just some philosophical ‘curiosity piece’ – on the contrary, it has immense practical implications. It has immense practical implications with regard to our well being, with regard to our mental health. Wei Wu Wei, with the brevity that is characteristic of teachers of the Cha’an tradition, brings this all down to one line –

What’s your trouble? Mistaken identity.

We can get as complicated and as ‘scientific sounding’ as we like about the causes of mental ill-health, but all we doing here is ‘muddying the water’. We’re muddying the water big time! Never in the history of the human race has the water been muddied so much! Whatever our unconscious aims might be they certainly aren’t about shedding any light on the matter..

 

The only thing that will ‘shed light on the matter’ is to grasp what Wei Wu Wei is saying here – we don’t stand a chance if we don’t. We don’t have a hope in hell. If we insist, out of the pure force of our numbing unconsciousness, that we are this fiction, that we are this counterfeit self, then how we ever going to get to the root of our troubles? To insist – as we do insist – that we are this hollow counterfeit self is to take absolutely zero interest in who we really are, and it’s because we are taking absolutely zero interest in anything apart from the false self or phony identity that we are suffering from all the mental health difficulties’ that we do. What happens when I neglect, on a thoroughgoing basis, my true nature? What else can we expect to happen when we very forcefully deny the ground of our being and lavish all of our attention on the shallow fiction which we are compulsively identified with, in the utterly bizarre and ludicrous manner that we are? Can we really expect things to work out well for us on this basis?

 

When the nature of our trouble is ‘mistaken identity’, then everything we do in order to shore up the apparent validity of the mistaken notion who we imagine ourselves to be is going to ‘count against us’. The further we go down this road the greater our suffering will be, as is always the way with this thing we call ‘denial’. The only thing that we can do to free ourselves from our suffering is to see the mistake!‘To see the illusion is to depart from it’, as it says in the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Be Oneself In The World

To ‘be truly oneself in the world’ is fantastically, exquisitely difficult, and at the same time it is so sublimely effortless! It’s a kind of a paradox – it is after all because we always assume that we have to make an effort that we find ‘being ourselves in the world’ so difficult.

 

Any sort of doctrine, any sort of belief, philosophy or theory always means that we have to make a ‘specific effort’ of some sort. This is what a doctrine/belief/philosophy/theory is – it’s a bias of some kind, it’s an ‘overvaluing of one thing and a corresponding devaluing of another’. That’s how the discriminative mind works – it works by discriminating! ‘Discrimination’ means ‘this rather than that’ (obviously enough!) and so how can we ‘simply be ourselves in the world’ on the basis of ‘this rather than that’, which is a specifically-directed effort? I have to stop one thing and promote another, which is controlling, and – very clearly – there is no way we can ‘simply be ourselves in the world’ by controlling! There’s nothing simple about controlling. Or perhaps ‘being ourselves’ is not what we want, in which case controlling is serving us after all….

 

But even if ‘being truly ourselves’ is what we want, and we are expending effort in order to bring about this state of affairs, we are still going to miss the mark. We’re going to ‘miss the mark’ – so to speak – because we’re directing all our efforts towards approximating a ‘mental image of’ who we truly are’, and the problem is that we just can’t have an image of this! We can’t formulate an image of who we truly are (in order to aim at approximating it) because we just don’t know. We’re wasting our time entertaining mental images when it comes to the question of ‘who we are’. We don’t actually know what or who we are, so how can we hope to find out by straining either in one direction or another? And yet if we restrain ourselves from straining, or ‘making the effort’, and do nothing instead, this doesn’t work either, as the following words by Chuang-Tzu indicate –

The Confucian and the religious Taoist jump too far and fall on the other side, while the hedonist, the Buddhist, and the recluse fail to get on it at all. Chaung Tzu would smile at this situation and say, “You folks are too drunk with all those ‘isms’ of yours. Just be yourself in the world, neither trying (wu wei) nor not-trying (wu–pu-wei), and then you will find yourself on the horseback. For the ‘horse’ is none other than ‘yourself-in-the-world”.

All we ever do with ‘effort’ or ‘striving’ (or by deliberate ‘not-striving’) is to follow the discriminative mind wherever it points and the one thing that we can be sure of in life is that wherever to discriminating mind points is not going to be ‘it’.  ‘Neither this, nor that’, says the verse in the Upanishads. You are neither this nor that, nor anything else the thinking mind says you are. If we could understand this then that would save us from an awful lot of wasted effort therefore – the thinking mind is forever sending us on wild goose chases of one sort or another and no matter how many times it happens to us we never seem to wise up. We are as gullible, easy to trick, as ever…

 

We can never find ‘balance’ (or’ harmony’) in life by thinking about it. We can never find harmony in life by thinking about it because thoughts are always disharmonious! Thought is disharmonious by its very nature; thought – as we have already said – always proceeds on the basis of bias, deeming – as it cannot help but doing – ‘one thing more important than the other’. Krishnamurti says that’ thought is conflict’, which is another way of putting it. Thought is always fighting to establish its way over any other way; it is always striving to validate its own arbitrary assumptions even though does not acknowledged that these assumptions exist. This being the case, how can we ever expect to find the harmony which we are yearning for (whether we know it or not) by ‘being clever’ (or ‘thinking about it’)?

 

The truth is – as all the mystics say – that we are already there, we’re already part of that harmony, and so we ‘spoil it’ by trying, by making efforts to be there, to be ‘in harmony’. ‘When we try to accord we deviate’, as the Daoists say. We always think that ‘things aren’t right’, and that we need to ‘X, Y and Z’ in order to make them right. And even if someone were to come up to us and explain this to us, in a way that we could understand, all that would happen then would be that we would start deliberately trying to undo or counteract the biased efforts of the discriminating mind to ‘secure advantage’. All that’s happening here then is that this same discriminative mind is still trying to ‘secure the advantage’. It’s still trying to ‘solve the problem’. Bias cannot be used to overcome bias; the thinking mind cannot be used to remedy the thinking mind. When we use bias to remedy bias the one does not cancel out the other; instead of ‘cancelling out’ they ‘add up’ and introduce another layer of complication to an already complicated picture!

 

Isn’t this what ‘spiritual practice’ so often comes down to, trying to become a ‘more spiritually-orientated person’ and thereby rejecting or turning our backs on ourselves as we actually are? This is what Chogyam Trungpa calls ‘spiritual materialism’-

Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.

Spiritual materialism is – we might say – where we make a career out of being ‘spiritually-orientated people’; entering consciously into the unbroken harmony of life isn’t something that we can make a career of, or make any kind of a ‘thing’ of at all, however. This isn’t something that comes about as a result of making goals, as we keep saying – it’s not the sort of thing we can plan for. Similarly, there is no way we can develop a persona (or a life-style) around being conscious!

 

And yet – as we all know perfectly well – merely to carry on as we already are carrying on, mired up to our necks in our habitual thoughts, beliefs and behaviours, enmeshed in patterns we don’t have the power to break, is not going to do us any good either! We’re caught up in a ‘fundamental conflict situation’, at the heart of which is the FSOS (which is the ‘mind-created self’), and this conflict situation is only ever going to get more ‘aggravated’, more ‘inflamed’, more and more ‘entrenched’  as time goes on. This is the principle alluded to by Shakespeare in his play Macbeth where Macbeth famously says –

By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,

All causes shall give way. I am in blood

Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

We all know this principle very well of course; this is the very familiar situation where the lie we tell grows bigger and bigger (because that’s what lies do) and all we can do is ‘go along with it’, hoping (stupidly) that it’s all somehow going to come out OK in the end. So it is with the ‘assumed sense of self’, the ‘self construct’ which is ‘the fixed position we have adopted and then got stuck with’. So just ‘carrying on as we are’ is no good (because we are then going to be in Macbeth’s situation, although the chances are that we won’t have the insight he had) and yet if we try to improve ourselves so as to become more ‘spiritually-orientated’ then that’s no good either, for the reasons we have already gone into. All we are doing in this case is putting our ideas about what ‘leading a more spiritual life’ means to us into action and doing our best to follow through with them. This isn’t the same thing at all however; this is actually just what we always do – we are always ‘living our ideas of what we think life should be’, we are always imposing our own logic, our own brand of ‘order’ on the world. The art of living isn’t to find better or clever ways of imposing our own brand of order onto the world – that isn’t ‘art’ at all but mere bullying – the ‘art of living’ lies precisely in not doing this, it lies in ‘getting out of our own way’ (not in ‘imposing our own way’, which is what we think it is).

 

So just to summarise what we have been saying up to this point, using a method (whether it be a ‘therapeutic’ or ‘spiritual’ one) isn’t the answer because all methods are biases, because all methods are ‘disharmonious’. All we are doing is ‘thrashing around’. Who is using the method anyway apart from the ‘false or assumed idea of ourselves’ that we have randomly picked up along the way, and what exactly does that ‘false or assumed idea of ourselves’ want, other than to prove that it isn’t false! What else can the false idea of ourselves ever want to do other than ‘try to prove that it isn’t false’? What else could ever possibly motivate it? We can look at this in terms of guidance systems – the false idea of ourselves is, we might say, a ‘guidance system’ that is always going to lead us in the direction of increased suffering!

 

The false sense of ourselves as exactly the wrong thing to put our trust in therefore; the FSOS doesn’t trust itself either when it comes right down to it – it has no intuitive connection with anything (naturally enough) it is as a consequence ‘ all at sea’. What it does therefore is to pick up to pick some sort of angle or theory or belief at random, and then just ‘go along with it’ in a totally unquestioning way. It adopts a set of biases which it declares to be ‘true’, in other words! We need hardly point out that this pretty much sums up the entire history of the human race! Sometimes of course it may appear that the FSOS has no belief, has no ‘theory’ or ‘philosophy’ about life, but this isn’t so. When this seems to be the case – is it very often does – all that this means is that the FSOS has adopted the ‘default strategy’, the ‘default philosophy’. This ‘default philosophy’ – which is not a conscious one, by any means – simply states ‘I am always right’. In other words, whatever mechanical impulse may happen to come into my head I am just going to obey without question. This default strategy saves us from having to think any deeper about life – it is true – but only at the price of increased suffering.

 

To ‘be oneself in the world’ is not a matter of identifying with whatever deterministic imprint comes our way, it’s not a matter of blithely ‘going along’ with whatever phoney identity happens to land in our lap (which indicates that we don’t really give a damn what is true or not) that’s certainly not ‘ being oneself in the world’ – on the contrary, that’s being ‘the false idea of oneself in the world’! Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with that; ‘being the false sense of self is the world’ is a perfectly legitimate thing to do – we are of course completely free to do this. We could look upon it as a type of experiment – the experiment might be framed in terms of a question such as ‘what is it like to live life from the basis of the FSOS?’ (or perhaps, ‘What happens when we believe ourselves to be the FSOS in the world?’) It turns out that experiment – in one way – isn’t very interesting. It isn’t very interesting (or ‘fruitful’) because we only ever ends up in Macbeth’s situation, which is the situation where we’re ‘going ahead with what we’re doing because it’s easier to do this than it is to go back’! We press ahead to the conclusion, therefore, even if the conclusion is also our doom.

 

In another way (seen ‘the other way around’, we could say) the experiment is very interesting indeed! It is interesting because as soon as we get the hang of realizing that we don’t have to go along with the mechanical inertia of the situation, and that we are free to look at the world in ways that do not serve the narrow interests of the false or assumed sense of self, then we see that there is an awful lot out there to see. There’s a whole world out there to see and engage with – a world that has absolutely nothing to do with the predetermined script followed by this limited idea that we have of ourselves. This world is burgeoning with possibilities; it is as rich in possibilities as the ‘world’ which the FSOS concerns itself with is poor. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 3) –

Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.

We are still faced by the central paradox however – we can’t carry on the same as before, and neither can we do anything about it! What are to do therefore? The key to this dilemma lies in our motivation, as we have just hinted. The motivation of the self-construct is a very superficial type of motivation, the type of motivation that only ever wants to know what the solution to the problem is. What I really mean when I want to know ‘what the solution to the problem is’ is ‘What do I have to do in order to carry on being able to believe that I really and truly am this assumed sense of self?’ Naturally enough, I don’t frame the question in quite this way, but that’s what I mean. That’s the question that I’m actually asking. Everything we do (when we are in the normal (unconscious) mode of existence) is motivated by this question; as we have already said, the ‘false sense of self’ only has the one underlying motivation and that is to constantly prove to itself that it isn’t false.

 

Everything the FSOS does is based on preserving the integrity of this belief, obviously enough. Everything is based upon ‘me believing that I am who I think I am’ – all of my actions derive from this premise; all of my hopes and expectations, all of my plans, exist in relation to this all-important foundation stone. And yet – of course – it isn’t a ‘foundation stone’ at all, it’s pure supposition, it’s ‘pie in the sky’, it’s ‘a bucketful of moonshine’. The life of the FSOS is necessarily orientated around one Very Big Problem therefore, the problem being – ‘how to keep on successfully avoiding seeing that its basis doesn’t exist’. This isn’t a problem that it can address consciously either since that would rather tend to give the game away! Instead of addressing the problem consciously therefore we address it unconsciously – we turn everything around so it seems to us that we are pursuing ‘positive values’ in the outside world when the whole time what we really trying to do is validate our idea of ourselves, or ‘prove to ourselves at the FSOS really does exist’. That’s what we’re motivated to try to do.

 

This type of motivation is a very ‘flat’ or ‘two-dimensional’ one however – is nothing behind it but ‘the truth we don’t want to know about’, and so we’re stuck operating on this very superficial (and deceptive) level. On the face of it, we are interested in all these different things, we’re interested in this and in that and it’s all very diverse. The truth of the matter is very different however – we’re only interested in stuff that supports our very narrow view of the world, stuff that ‘supports our assumptions’. We’re only interested in the type of information that supports what we want to believe in and this selective attention is where our terrible ‘inner poverty’ comes from. The cure for this poverty is simply – therefore – to take an interest in the stuff that we don’t want to know, to take an interest in the stuff that challenges our preconceptions. We don’t have to go looking too far for challenges to our world-view (or to our ‘self-view’!) – they are after all arriving on our doorstep all the time!

 

 

 

 

The Thinking Epidemic

What happens when we allow ourselves to be completely defined by the thinking mind? What are the consequences of such a thing? This is turns out to be a crucially important question for two reasons – one reason being that we are all allowing ourselves to be completely defined (as if this were unquestionably a ‘good thing’) and the other being that the consequences of us allowing this are both extraordinarily far-reaching, and not at all good.

 

It’s not just ourselves we are defining – we are busy defining everything in sight! This is what thinking does, and we are all the grip of a mighty ‘thinking academic’, whether we realise it or not. Somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to imagine that letting the thinking mind take over (which inevitably means letting it define everything in sight) is what ‘progress’ (or ‘positive human advancement’) is all about. We are as a result in the throes of some kind of supposing growth spasm whereby, it seems to us, we are in the process of ‘thinking our way to greatness’. A glorious future is unfolding for us – or so we fondly imagine!

 

It’s not really ‘greatness’ that we’re thinking  our way to however – a better way of describing our destination would be to say that it involves ‘complete immersion in some kind of pointless, time-absorbing rational game which has nothing to do with life itself (although it claims – of course – that it does). We never tire of saying that what we are collectively doing is ‘celebrating life’ but nothing could be further from the truth! We not celebrating life – we are denying it. That’s what this pernicious business ‘defining everything’ (and ‘analyzing/organizing everything’) business really comes down to – the denial of life.

 

The process whereby thought insidiously categorizes and analyses and organizes everything it encounters under the pretext of ‘helping us’ can be seen as a form of ‘prototype bureaucracy’ that creeps up on us and, without us realising what is going on. The justification of the bureaucratic yoke is – as always – that it is serving us as a valuable tool which will facilitate us in living life in a better kind of a way. The end result is however always the complete opposite of this – bureaucracies choke life rather than facilitating it. Bureaucracies, we might say, ‘have no natural predators’ – there is nothing to prune them, nothing to limit them, nothing to stop them growing out of all proportion to their potential usefulness. The unspoken promise is always that once the necessary regulations have been obeyed, then we can get on with the important business of ‘living life to the full’ but the fact it is but the fact is that this just never happens – the bureaucracy just keeps on growing and growing until one day it actually substitutes itself for life, which was its ‘aim’ all along so to speak. ([It doesn’t have ‘an aim’ really of course, that’s just what it does.]

 

This is as true for actual bureaucracies as it is for the bureaucracy of thought, and if we can’t see this to be true then we really do need to shake the sawdust out of our heads! If we can’t see this to be true then this is because the insidious process of ‘bureaucratization has set in too thoroughly, has taken root too deeply, with the result that we can no longer ‘see the wood for the trees’. We started off this discussion what the consequences of us letting thought ‘run the show ‘ and organize the whole shebang for us according to its rules, its criteria, and its values, might be. We can take a stab at answering this question by saying quite simply that the consequences are that we become  as time goes on more and more alienated from all that is good (or ‘wholesome’) in life. The process is inevitably going to leave us very effectively disconnected from all that is wholesome in life and this disconnection – we may say – lies at the root of the ‘crisis in mental health’ that we are now witnessing at the start of the 21st century.

 

It might sound melodramatic to talk in terms of an ‘epidemic’ of thinking – people nowadays need to think anymore nor any less than they used to, we might argue. People think a lot – that’s fairly normal! There is a difference now though. In recent times we have, to a considerable extent, ‘externalised’ our thinking; out of our thinking we create this ‘designed world’ and then – as David Bohm says – this designed or constructed world ‘reaches back’ and thinks us! Or as we could also say, we determine our environment and then that environment turns the tables on us and determines us. We construct the designed world in time terms of our purposes, and then these very same purposes effectively trap us.

 

This is an old and familiar motif and we really ought to pay more attention to it than we do! There are a number of ways that the motif may show itself: the articer is trapped by his own artifice; the mechanical servant we create gets the better of us; the wish-fulfilling genie that we have let out of the bottle turns out to be more than we have bargained for… The lesson in all these tales is – we might say – that we should be careful what we ask for, because we might get it. Wishes are dangerous things! All machines involve a ‘simplifying down’ of the world – that’s what a machine (or a ‘model’) is – it’s an oversimplification of the world.  Stuff is (necessarily) left out. The peril here therefore is that we are very likely indeed to fall into the trap of mistaking the oversimplification of the world for the real thing. Or to put this in a slightly different way, we make a choice about ‘how to see the world’ and then some strange type of amnesia sets in and we forget that we have made a choice. We forget that there was any choice involved. This is what getting ‘lost in thought’ is all about – thought is a ‘choice we make about how to see the world’, only we never seem to remember that it is just a ‘choice’! We forget that our model is only ‘a model’.

 

What we are talking about here is remarkably simple and straightforward, and yet it turns out to be rather difficult to put into words. There’s an art in talking simply about things, and that art does not come easily. Carl Jung talks about our overvaluing of the rational faculty resulting in ‘a soul sickness’; and says that this malady manifests itself in terms of a profound lack of meaning in our lives. Of all the possible deficiencies that we might suffer from, this is without question the most insidious. For the most part, most of us would probably deny that we are suffering from any such thing. For me to admit to a ‘profound lack of meaning’ my life would be – in the current vernacular – tantamount admitting to being a ‘loser’; having no meaning in one’s life isn’t exactly what you would call ‘a success story’, after all!

 

It’s not usually the case that we deliberately pretend to have a meaningful life when we don’t; the lack of meaning that Jung is speaking about doesn’t ‘honestly manifest itself’ in the early stages of the process – that only happens right at the end. We could actually go so far as to say that it’s not the ‘lack of meaning’ itself that is the problem, but our inability to see it. There’s a very good reason why we are blind to the lack of meaning in our lives and that is – we might say – because we are so fixated on the arena of the outer life, that we entirely lose sight of the inner. It’s not just that we are ‘fixated on the outer life’ either; that’s not putting it strongly enough – we’re so entirely fixated on the outer life (i.e. the ‘show’ that is going on outside of us) that we don’t even know that there is such a thing as ‘the inner life’! For us, that simply doesn’t exist…

 

It doesn’t seem right to say this, of course. It doesn’t seem fair to say that we ‘have no awareness of the life that is going on within us’ because we all do perceive ourselves to be in touch with the internal world of feelings and emotions and cogitations. Sometimes it’s very busy in there; sometimes it’s so busy that it’s completely overwhelming, and so of course we know it’s there! The point is though that thoughts and the emotions that are brought about by thoughts, aren’t what we mean by ‘an inner life’ (or ‘a sense of interiority’); the true inner life is independent of what seems to be going on outside of us rather than being a mere reflection of (or ‘reaction to’) the outside world and the events taking place there. Similarly, our inner life isn’t a function of the thinking process, but rather it is ‘other than it’; the inner world is ‘its own thing’ so to speak, and not a mere ‘back-projection’ of the outside world, or an extension of the rational thinking process. The inner world is quintessentially ‘discontinuous’ with that rational mind – it belongs to another realm entirely.

 

The ‘external world’ (which is the world that is created by our thoughts and rule-based perceptions) has its own form of ‘meaning’. This isn’t really ‘meaning’ at all when it comes down to it but a system of motivation that is based upon’ reward and punishment’. It is of course easy to see how such a motivational system can substitute itself for ‘meaning’ – if I am yearning to achieve something that is going to bring about a very big reward if I succeed, then I’m very likely to say that ‘working towards this big reward’ is highly meaningful to me! Everything seems meaningful to me in terms of this final, all-eclipsing goal – the goal ‘gives meaning’ to what I’m doing. It ‘gives meaning to my life’, even. What we talking about is only a very superficial form of meaning however. It’s not meaning at all really since ‘steps towards the goal’ are only meaningful in terms of that goal, not in terms of themselves. Things are not ‘meaningful in themselves’ therefore. The moment is not ‘meaningful in itself’, but only in terms of a projected (i.e. ‘illusionary’) future!

 

So if we say that working towards the goal is a genuine form of meaning then we are saying something very peculiar indeed – we are claiming that seeing everything in life in terms of some projected future state (rather than appreciating it for what it is in itself) actually constitutes a genuinely wholesome and perfectly satisfactory way to live life. But it just plain isn’t – this is a very empty way to live life, it’s a way of going about things that is just not going to ‘feed our soul’ at all. What feeds the soul (so to speak) is the world as it actually is in itself, not the world as it appears when it seen as some kind of ‘stepping stone’ to a projected future state which is itself – when it comes down to it – no more than our own vacuous mental projection.

 

This brings us to the nub of the whole issue – the only type of meaning that the thinking mind produces is the type of meaning that is related to its own mental projections. There are two possible types of ‘mental projection’ – one is the type which we are attracted to, and the other is a type which we fear. There is the ‘reward’, and there is the ‘punishment’, in other words; these are the two types of projection that are created by the thinking mind. When we say that we find life ‘meaningful in terms of our goals’ then what this means is that we find life meaningful in terms of our attachments, which is to say, we find life meaningful in terms of the ‘projected world which we have mistaken or confused for the real one’. This is clearly absurd! How can we ever talk about ‘life’s meaning’ if we never see through the murky illusions of the thinking mind to life itself, which is what we are supposedly talking about?

 

The whole question of ‘meaning’ is very confusing; it is not at all as straightforward as we think it is. ‘Life itself’ is not a projection and so it doesn’t actually hold any meaning to us in the way that we understand the word! Obviously, when I talk about ‘meaning’ I mean ‘meaning in relation to me’ (i.e. ‘a subjective sense of meaning as it is determined by my own personal model of reality’); the unprojected world (i.e. the real world!) has no meaning in this sense. Because it’s not my projection it has nothing to do with me, and if it has nothing to do with me how can it be said to have meaning for me? If it’s not a function of my model or map then how can it be meaningful in relation to this model or map? The whole notion of life ‘having a meaning’ is problematic therefore; the way we use the word is referential, which is to say, it is meaningful only in terms of my own arbitrary viewpoint, only in terms of the game I am playing. The magic or mystery of life is however precisely that we are not projecting ourselves (or our ‘mental maps’) ahead of us wherever we go so although people often say that we ourselves are responsible for the meaning that life has (i.e.  that ‘we make our own meaning’) this is a type of ‘inverted truth’!

 

We don’t make meaning at all; what we make something very different – we make up games, we impose our own ‘private meaning’ on the world, but all of this is quite sterile. It is sterile because it’s only ‘us reflected right back at ourselves’ – it’s like looking in a mirror. When we define the world (or define ourselves) the result is always a perfect tautology. For us not to see that defining the world always produces a sterile self-referential reality is the most tremendous lack of insight. It is at the same time of course entirely to be expected given our proclivity for idolising rationality, but it is nevertheless a tremendous lack of insight! This state of affairs is what Professor James Carse calls ‘the silencing of the gods’ –

There is an irony in our silencing of the gods. By presuming to speak for the unspeakable, by hearing our own voice as the voice of nature, we have had to step outside the circle of nature. …

Forgetting that the way we have chosen to see the world is only a choice is what places us ‘outside the circle of nature’ – it is precisely this that traps us in ‘the tautology that we cannot see to be such’. We can’t really place ourselves outside the circle of nature of course, as James Carse goes on to say. We can’t really do anything that isn’t an expression of our own inalienable freedom. We’re only ‘outside the circle of nature’ on our own terms, the terms that we ourselves have made up. The thing is, however, that these are the only terms we believe in!