Unconscious Living

The positive or asserted self is hard work, and not in a good way either. It’s a futile type of work, like the type of work where we keep having to push a boulder up a hill only to see it roll right back down again every time. The work involved in maintaining the positive self is Sisyphean, therefore – it is the task of Sisyphus, which none of us will envy him for. Who would be foolish enough to envy Sisyphus, as he labours away fruitlessly at his hopeless task?

 

The positive thinking brigade would have us believe that this task, the task of getting the positive self over the brow of the hill, can be achieved. ‘Never say never!’ is the battle cry. Success is only just round the corner. Success – that magical word! This word can mean lots of different things but the ultimate type of success, the type we’re all looking for, is successfully getting the positive self ‘over the brow of the hill’. That’s the big payoff, that’s the payoff we are all gunning for. Unconscious living is all about chasing this particular payoff. We try and we try and we try, and when we fall flat on our faces – as we often do – then (when we feel able) we dust ourselves off and continue on with our quest. And all the while the positive thinking brigade is cheering us on…

 

Unconscious living is fuelled by the staunch refusal to see that the task upon which we daily labour was doomed to failure right from the start. Seeing this is despair, and ‘despair’ is a dirty word, just as ‘depression’ is. The whole point of unconscious living is to keep on believing that success is just around the corner, and keeping ourselves upbeat on this account – we have to be positive because anything else is a disgrace, because anything else is ‘letting the side down’. We are required to be remain upbeat and be of a generally optimistic disposition, but – in order that we might maintain this bright and shiny attitude – we also have to make sure that we stay stupid. Being wilfully stupid is the key to the whole endeavour. The world of unconscious living corresponds to Chogyam Trungpa’s ‘Realm of Intelligent Stupidity’ (or ‘Animal Realm‘) therefore. We’re not really that stupid, but dumbing ourselves down is the first requirement of this particular game, which is ‘the game of the positive self’. How could we play it otherwise?

 

Maintaining the positive self was always going to prove to be the ultimate in futile tasks – it is the archetypal futile task. Our belief is that if we put enough energy into it (and if we get a bit of luck coming our way as well, perhaps) then our labours will one day come to an end – we will have reached the top of the hill and it will all be downhill from then on. Everything will be just ‘plain sailing’ from then on. We will have reached ‘Success City’ and there be no looking back. It’ll be time to party. This is why Gurdjieff says that we are like men rowing feverishly around a lake, hoping to reach that point where we never have to row any more, hoping to reach the point where we don’t have to strive and strain anymore. This is the ego’s idea of heaven or paradise – the place where its existence will be eternally validated (or vindicated), thus relieving it from the wearisome task of having to validate and vindicate itself the whole time. Nothing is sweeter for the ego than this vision. The very thought of it is maddeningly sweet, and that’s all it is – a thought…

 

In order for this ‘dream of escape’ to remain as maddeningly attractive to us as it is we need to make sure to stay dumb, as we have already said. If we were actually examine our thinking in this regard then we would see though it straightaway. The positive or asserted self only gets to exist because we are continually asserting (or validating) it – it is the result of us straining towards some kind of artificial ideal – the sort of ideal that can never come to anything in reality. It’s like a face that pull, or a role in a play that we step into – the face that we are pulling can’t continue to exist unless we keep on contorting our face muscles, the role which have taken up will vanish in a puff of smoke the moment we stop acting. Neither ‘the face that has been pulled’ or ‘the role that is being acted’ has any existence of its own, obviously! The problem is however that we can’t see the positive or purposeful self (the self we say we are) as being an artificial construct, as being the result of sustained effort or intention on our part. It’s a ‘deliberate act’, but we got so caught up in it that we can’t see that it isn’t real. We have been making the effort so long that we no longer register the fact that we are making an effort. The effort (which is us taking ourselves as seriously as we do) has become our baseline – it’s all we know.

 

Alan Watts says that the rational sense of identity (or ego) is like a chronic knot a tension in our muscles – we are tense the whole time, although we don’t usually know it. We have identified with the knot of tension – we think that the painful knot of tension is ‘who we are’ so we don’t want to let go of it. We would be deadly afraid of letting go of it – what else have we got, after all? What else is there? We have been in the purposeful realm so long that we think purposefulness is all there is. If something isn’t done purposefully, we say, then how can it happen? If we don’t deliberately make it happen, then nothing will happen. We have got so immersed in the purposeful world that we think it’s the only world there is; we are so identified with the purposeful or positive self that we think ‘this is all that we are’. We have forgotten entirely about the spontaneous side of our nature, which is so much faster in its remit. If we say that the purposeful self is like a small rock rocky island that is constantly being battered by the surf, then the spontaneous aspect of who we are is like the ocean itself, which knows no boundaries.

 

When we live the life of the positive self then we aren’t living life at all but only our idea of it. The positive self is our idea of who we are and our ‘idea of who we are’ can’t live life! Only we can do that, as we really are. Whatever else we are doing when we live on the basis of the positive or asserted self, it’s not living. What we are actually doing – when it comes down to it – is spending all of our time (or most of it) validating the arbitrary ideas that the PS is based on. The ideas won’t stand up by themselves of course – ideas never do! Needless to say, we aren’t aware that we are constantly engaged in validating (or seeking to validate) our ideas about the world. If we saw ourselves doing this and the game will be up straightaway! Instead, we see ourselves as defending or promoting ‘what is right and true’ and fighting against ‘what is wrong and false’. Every belief there ever was sees itself as being ‘the right one’; every belief there ever was sees all other beliefs as being false. We play this game tirelessly, refusing to see the obvious, refusing to see that no belief is ‘the right one’. Beliefs are only there to prop up the false idea we have of ourselves, after all. They are there to back up our cover story…

 

Deep down we don’t care a jot about what is true or not true. Deep down, we haven’t the remotest interest in the truth; we are actually deadly afraid of it. Truth is the enemy of the positive self; the truth (like the mighty ocean) is very broad, whilst the PS (which is the rocky island) is very narrow. In order to survive, the PS has to live in a very narrow world; it has to live in the very narrow world of its own ideas, which it has to defend all the time. It has to police the borders constantly, it has to maintain the artificial limits that it has itself created, and which wouldn’t exist otherwise. The ocean has to be denied at every step of the way therefore. The truth has to be denied every step of the way – the truth is far too rich for our blood! The truth is too generous and we survive as the ‘mind-created self’ by being mean, by being narrow in our outlook.

 

We might sometimes ask ourselves why it is that we human beings love so much to create such narrow, restrictive beliefs about the world and this is the reason – because we wish to protect the integrity of the false, thought-created view of ourselves, which is the rational self or ego. This self, as we have said, doesn’t get to live life – hasn’t got time for that (and it’s too afraid, anyway). All the purposeful self has time for is validating and vindicating itself and this is a ‘full-time job’, as we keep saying. We put up for what is essentially ‘a miserable parody of life’ (what else would we call a life that is made up of constant futile self-validation?) because we have the belief (unconscious as it might be) that one day this cherished inauthentic self won’t need validating any more – that one day we will have achieved some a lasting state of glory. That’s the dream – no matter how absurd it might be – that keeps us going. That’s the magic battery that never runs down. If we could only see what we were doing then we’d drop it in a flash but we can’t see it. We don’t want to see it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The System Runs Us As Extensions Of Itself

The generic self is dependent upon the system. In a way, this is a very obvious statement. Of course the generic self is dependent upon the system. In another way, this question of the GS being dependent upon the system is well worth going into, this relationship – a so-called ‘relationship’ – is at the very heart of everything. This relationship is a paradoxical one, as Alan Watt says – it is paradoxical because whilst we are told that we are independent, and given the apparent ‘responsibility’ of being autonomous agents, we are in truth wholly dependent upon the system, which determines everything about us. Everything about the generic self comes from the system after all; that’s the whole point of the generic self – the whole point is that nothing is truly ours, the whole point is that everything comes from the outside. This being the case – as it is the case – how could we possibly be ‘independent’ of the system? Society might be said to be a type of ‘hall of mirrors’ in which we only know ourselves through our reflection in other people’s eyes, or in other people’s minds. This makes each person dependent upon every other person to know who or what they are, or even – you might say – if they are. We are addicted to the approval or good opinion of our fellows just as surely as a heroin addict is addicted to heroin, says Anthony De Mello, and this is why – because the collective tells us who we are. The system tells us who we are, and this is why we can’t ever be autonomous beings in the way we like to think we are, or in the way that society paradoxically holds us to be. When we allow ourselves to be defined by the system then we are not independent of that system. When we are defined by a system then we never have any separate existence from that system and so naturally ‘being free from it’ is never going to be a realistic proposition! Neither can it be said to be the case that we can have a relationship with that system – we need to be ‘other’ than something in order to have a relationship with it. A thing can never be said to have a ‘relationship’ with itself.

 

The generic self is the system which informs it, therefore. When we deal with the generic self we are dealing with the system – that’s who we’re talking to. When we are dealing with a socialised human being, then it society itself that we dealing with, and yet the rub here is that society itself doesn’t exist. It might seem somewhat stupid to claim that society doesn’t exist when we can all plainly see that it does (or at least, we can all plainly see that society is an actual ‘thing’ that needs to be taken into consideration) what we mean is that it doesn’t have any genuine existence of its own – it’s a production, it’s a thing that we vote into existence and so if we didn’t vote for it then it wouldn’t be there, plainly. The same is true for any group, clearly – a group is created by everyone involved agreeing to take certain things for granted and if we didn’t so agree then there wouldn’t be any group. Society is created by agreement as are all groups and what this means is that its emissary – the ‘generic self’ – also only exists because we’ve agreed for it to. The GS is no more ‘an autonomously existing entity’ than society is, therefore.

 

It might seem that this (the nonexistence of the GS) would constitute something of a disadvantage but nothing could be further from the truth – the nonexistence of the GS central to the whole scheme of things! The fundamental nonexistence of the GS means that when we identify wholeheartedly with it (as we do) we become very ‘needy’ and that of course suits the system down to the ground. When we are identified with the GS (so that the game which we are playing is the game that we are it) then in the game there is an absolute irrevocable absence of existence, an absence of existence that no one can ever do anything about. This has to be the case – obviously this has to be the case since – by definition – there is nothing of us in it! The GS corresponds to Gurdjieff’s ‘personality’, which James Moore explains by saying that it is ‘other people’s stuff made concrete in us’. We are busy living out other people’s ideas of who we are and what life is about, and the people we got it off acquired these ideas from yet other people, and so on and so forth. Everything is just ‘passed on’ and ‘passed on’ and it’s impossible to identify the original culprit, the original ‘instigator’ of the whole damn thing. The ‘originator’ is a meaningless concept. But because we are all ‘handing over’ our responsibility, with fervent eagerness, to this idea of who we are and what life is about the idea grows and thrives and takes on ‘a life of its own’. It grows and thrives and takes on a life of its own’ despite the fact that it doesn’t have a life, despite the fact that it doesn’t actually exist and never did. It isn’t really life that we talking about here therefore but a species of ‘pseudo-life’ – for what that’s worth.

 

This is what happens as a result of our ‘gullibility’, if we might use that word. Another term might use is ‘conformity’ – we have such a such an urge, such an overwhelming tendency, to conform to the structures and systems that we ourselves have created that these structures and systems take on a life of their own and rule over us (despite the fact that – as we have said – this isn’t real life at all but only a cheap imitation of it, an imitation ‘without any soul’). This process of handing over responsibility (or ‘handing over power’) to the systems that we have ourselves created so that they are empowered and we are correspondingly disempowered is utterly perverse and yet at the same time absolutely characteristic of what it means to be a human being. It’s what we do all the time! We do it all the time and we never pay attention to the fact that we doing it and so the origin or source of our malaise remains a complete mystery to us. We have created endless trouble for ourselves in this way – by handing over our power to the structures that oppress us and render us ‘not properly human’. It might sound unreasonably harsh to say that we are ‘not properly human’, or that we ‘fall short of being human’, but what else would we expect? We create the system and hand over all responsibility to it (so that we think what it wants us to think and behave as it wants us to behave) and this enables the system to ‘create out in its own image’. The system runs us as extensions of itself in other words, and this is what it means to be ‘the generic self’.

 

Because the system ‘runs us as extensions of itself’  – which is absolutely what it does do – it is inevitable that we are going to ‘fall short of what it means to be a human being’. We are no longer functioning as human beings after all – our humanity was the price that we had to pay in order to adapt ourselves to the security-producing mechanical system, as unpalatable by this awareness might be to us. When push comes to shove we will always do what we’re supposed to do; when there is no particular pressure on us then we can have the luxury of fooling ourselves that we are free agents, that we can act autonomously, that we can rebel’, but the bottom line is that our allegiance is always to the system. We can ‘act the rebel’ – we can act any way we like, of course – but these are only ever postures; the GS loves to look as if it’s a rebel but rebelling is the one thing that it can’t ever do. How can the GS rebel when it isn’t us in the first place? How can the GS rebel (or ‘think for itself’) when how it was created in the first place is by totally conforming to the system. The GS is a puppet, it is ‘the act of conformity personified’, and on this account it is never going to make great rebel! Puppets never do.

 

When we are the generic self then we are always going to fall short of what it means to be a human being – that’s a given – but the rub is that we are always going to fall short when it comes to the system’s standards too. The system always has impossible standards to live up to and no matter how machine-like we make ourselves we are always going to fail to meet the required standards. This is simply because the system is an abstract (or ‘unreal’) entity and so its standards are not practically realisable in the real world, which is where we happen to live. This is why the system is such a tyrannical master – because it is trying to impose its unreal standards on us, because it is always trying to make us into an unreal thing like it is’. The machine can’t help doing this because it can’t see itself as being unreal, because it can’t ‘recognise reality as being reality’. So when we experience the inner critic’s ongoing abuse of us, it’s constant derogatory putdowns and vicious belittling of us, this isn’t another human being inside us, it’s the machine. If (just to give one example of this sort of thing) I suffered throughout my childhood at the hands (or at the tongue) of a critical father then the inner critic isn’t ‘my father inside my head’ – for all that it might seem like it – it’s what we are calling ‘the machine’. It’s the very same machine that was in my father’s head. It’s the very same ‘machine’ that keeps on being ‘passed on and on’ from generation to generation. The machine inevitably wants to turn us into faithful versions of itself; whenever we put a machine in charge of us this is always what is going to do. It can never totally succeed however because there is always going to be something human in us, but it’s going to keep on at us all the same. It’s going to keep on ‘putting us through the wringer’ until it gets what it wants, which is an outcome that is never going to happen.

 

Being the GS definitely isn’t what it’s cracked up to be therefore! The only way we can never get to feel ‘good’ is when we get the approval or acceptance of the collective and we can only get the approval or acceptance of the collective by turning our back on ourselves as we truly are and dedicating ourselves to the values that everyone else is dedicating themselves to. Such is society – whether we choose to see it like this or not. This becomes particularly obvious in the type of small rural community where everyone is afraid to be seen as being in any way different or odd; this is a very real fear because when we get to be seen as different or odd in a very small rural community then it becomes all but impossible to live in that committee. But this is a slippery slope that leads inescapably to a very bad place since there is always going to be something a little bit odd or peculiar about us, were anyone to look closely enough. Eradicating all our personal peculiarities is an ‘impossibly ideal’. It is of course also true that folk can get very good indeed at being just like everyone else, and thinking just like everyone else, exactly like everyone else, and believing the very same thing that everyone else believes in but even when we are superlatively skilled at doing this (superlatively skilled in the art of mimicry) there is still always going to be the fear that we are going to be found out for something or other that is out of our control, and this is a fear that is never going to go away. We are balancing on a knife edge and there is no way to get off it. No matter how complacently normal and comfortably judgemental we might be, we are still balancing on a knife edge. The generic self is both complacent and running scared at one and the same time, even if this may sound contradictory.

 

Society is all about interjecting external ideals, external values, and treating them as if they were our own. We are educated in the game and then we play the game. We talk about chasing dreams or achieving our goals but almost invariably these are the system’s dreams and goals and not our own. When I am the generic self then nothing is my own, as we keep saying. It’s always ‘somebody else’s stuff’ When I am the generic self then my individuality, my uniqueness is an illusion; it is no more than a flimsy fantasy that the system supplies me with. It’s a comforting illusion to be sure, but it is an illusion all the same and that’s the frightening thing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Escaping

It is possible to imagine (if we are given to thinking in this way, which of course a lot of people are) that we could – if we wanted – live life in a more ‘spiritual’ way. It is also possible (perfectly possible, in fact) to try to do this, by replacing our old, more crudely ‘ego-orientated’ and materialist way of thinking about the world with a more refined, subtle and spiritual approach. This is like getting rid of your old smelly sofa and getting a brand new suite from British Home Stores or IKEA, or getting rid of the old lifestyle and welcoming in the new. It is possible to imagine that this is how we go about the process of ‘spiritualizing in our lives’ but this isn’t how it happens. This is getting it ‘back to front’! This is ‘putting the cart before the horse’!

 

What’s happening here is that we have jumped ahead and tried to put into place the type of life that we would have if we were more spiritual, and then by ‘stepping into this life’ assuming or hoping that this will somehow ‘spiritualise’ us. The reason this approach may be said to be ‘back to front’ is of course because ‘a more spiritual life’ (so to speak) is what we live after we become ‘more spiritual’ – leading what we understand to be a more spiritual life most certainly isn’t going to make us so, it’s just going to involve us in the type of ‘unconscious mimicry’, changing our costume rather than changing the one who is wearing the costume, to use Alan Watts’ memorable analogy. The clothes don’t change the person wearing them. We smile when we’re happy – we don’t smile in order to become happy!

 

The very fact that it is our understanding of what constitutes a spiritually-orientated life ought to be enough to tip us off. If I have not yet developed this spiritually-orientated attitude (which obviously I can’t have done or I wouldn’t be looking into making changes in this direction) then how on earth am I going to know what ‘a spiritually-orientated life’ would look like? I can of course read about it in books and magazines and absorb ideas from the burgeoning spiritual improvement industry but this can only ever provide me with certain notions about what this thing called ‘the spiritual life’ should look when seen from the outside, not what it’s like from the inside (so to speak). And – what’s more – the one who is absorbing all these ideas, the one who is forming an impression of what the spiritual life should look like, is the ‘spiritually-unimproved me’, which is me as I actually am right now.

 

The thing about this is that anything understood by this current self (by the ‘me’ I actually experience myself to be right now) can only ever serve to reinforce the unconscious assumptions about life that go to make that self, that ‘me’, be what it already is. I can only understand stuff that fits in with my unexamined assumptions about life; or to put this the other way round, everything I understand is necessarily understood on the basis of my current conditioning. This inevitably means that when I try to change – by buying into whatever ideas, whatever theories or model appeal to me – I’m not really going to change at all. Genuine change can’t come about as a result of purposeful or deliberate action because purposeful or deliberate action is only ever going to reaffirm our current way of understanding the world. How could we imagine otherwise? Change cannot be something that I can impose on myself because the ‘I’ which is seeking to impose the change will itself remain unchanged. As Alan Watts says, the self that seeks to do the improving is the very one that needs improving! This is the invisible glitch behind all ‘managed changed’ – the glitch being that the one who does the managing will never change. Deliberately setting out to change ourselves ensures that we stay the same; it actually reinforces our position.

 

As soon as we see this glitch (in all its glory) then the point we’re making becomes very very clear, it becomes ‘as clear as clear could be’, but then after we have assimilated the point the question arises as to how we can proceed if we do genuinely wish to lead a more spiritual life. If there isn’t – as Krishnamurti says time and time again – a method, a path, then how do we go about getting from ‘here’ to ‘there’? The point that we are missing when we try to deliberately adopt a more spiritually-orientated life (or when we in any way try to ‘improve’ or ‘better’ ourselves in general) is that we are trying to walk away from ourselves as we actually are. We want to be different from the way that we are, but this isn’t ‘being spiritual’ – it’s simply an exercise in escapism! We’re trying to escape into a more spiritual way of life, a more spiritual way of being. If we were genuine about it then we wouldn’t be getting involved in escapism but rather we would be interested in seeing things as they actually are. If we were sincere in ourselves with regard to the wish to ‘walk a more spiritual path’ we wouldn’t be walking away from ourselves the whole time, turning our backs on ourselves as we really are, but rather we would be staying present with ourselves in our actual, ‘unimproved’ lives. This isn’t a matter of willpower (in the usual sense of the word), it is purely a matter of courage.

 

Courage means ‘the willingness to see the truth about how we are’. It also means the willingness to live our lives as we are, even though this may not be very pretty to look at. The more willingness we have to see this unvarnished truth, the more we change as a result! So let’s say that I’m not very spiritually-orientated and I’d like to be more so. Suppose I am ‘egoically’ or ‘materialistically’-orientated (and – again – presumably I must be or I wouldn’t be wishing to change) then in this case ‘being the unspiritual person that I really am’ is the spiritual path! All I have to do is live my life as it unfolds, in the plain old ordinary way that it always does unfold. This may sound too easy to be worth anything, it may not seem like any sort of meaningful challenge at all, but the thing here – of course – is that I have to do it consciously, without making excuses for myself! I live my regular old life, as it unfolds for me, but I see myself as I do so as I actually am.

 

This – needless to say – turns out to be not so easy after all. What normally (almost always) happens is that there is lots of self-deceiving activity going on (both of the conscious and unconscious variety); this is activity that is specifically aimed at preventing us from seeing ourselves as we really are. What this activity essentially comes down to is self-validation – no matter what we do, there is always ample validation (or justification) for it. All of our actions take place within some kind of ‘validating context’, a validating context which serves to make it okay for us to be the way that we are; quite possibly it makes it more than just okay, quite possibly it makes us absolutely right to be that way. This sort of ‘self-excusing’ or self-validating’ is of course a deeply familiar kind of thing. Living consciously isn’t therefore to do with whether we manage to stick to the accepted moral or ethical code or not (moral codes are validating contexts in themselves) but rather it is to do with what would in the past have been called ‘the conscience’. It has to do with a ‘truth sense’ that we all have. Living consciously has nothing to do with what is seen as right or wrong by our thinking mind (which is the ultimate ‘validating context’) but right or wrong (speaking figuratively here) with respect to our innermost nature, our true nature, which is usually kept effectively silenced!

 

This isn’t a matter of judging ourselves and then feeling either good or bad according to whether we have succeeded or failed – which is of course how it works in the traditional religious context. Living our lives consciously doesn’t mean thinking that we should be different from how we actually are and feeling bad when we can’t change this state of affairs – that’s living unconsciously, not consciously! Consciousness means seeing ourselves as we really are which – as we have said – turns out to be the very thing that we don’t want to do! Our whole motivation in the so-called ‘spiritual quest’ was to get away from seeing this, after all! Why – we might wonder – is it so very difficult to see ourselves as we are, rather than either automatically validating or automatically condemning ourselves (which is really just reverse-validation)? This is – as investigation shows – always the case, but the question is ‘Why should it be the case?’ What’s going on here? What’s the big problem in ‘seeing ourselves as we really are’?

 

The ‘big problem’ is of course that we want so desperately for there to be a self to lead this ‘spiritual life’ – we want for there to be such a thing as ‘the spiritual self’! That’s the identity we want. Given the fact that there is no such thing as ‘the self’ – spiritual or otherwise – where does this leave us? What direction do we go in, now and (given the fact that there is no self there to develop) who is the one who wants to go there? This is where purposeful behaviour meets its abyss – and this is an abyss that no one can ever get past. It also happens to be an abyss that no one can ever see, which means therefore that we don’t know that we can never get past it. When we are unaware of the abyss then we can happily carry on with our purposeful activity and our rational thinking; we can carry on with our dreams. When on the other hand we see the Abyss, when we see the Great Discontinuity, then all of that is cut off as if with a knife!

 

Purposeful behaviour is how the self carries on being the self – as long as it can – via its purposes – (or via its fears, which are the same thing) extend itself into the future (or rather extend the idea of itself into the future) then it is happy. When the Discontinuity is spotted however, then that is the end of all that! The Sword of Manjushri (which is the sword of wisdom) cuts all our goal-orientated activity away, all our thinking away. To see the Discontinuity is to have awareness of the essential relativity of all of our thoughts and all of our goals. It is in other words to have awareness of the way in which all of our thinking is utterly nonsensical. Inasmuch as our identity is created entirely out of our thinking then to see the Discontinuity (between our thoughts and reality) is to see that our notion of having an identity (either good or bad, successful or unsuccessful) is also ‘utterly nonsensical’. Is this really what we want to discover, however? Do we really have an appetite for this sort of thing?

 

 

 

 

‘Therapy’ Happens Despite Our Interference, Not Because Of It…

We can’t force ourselves to be interested in the truth! This is the most impossible thing in the world. To say that we can’t force ourselves to be interested in the truth (which is equivalent to saying that we can’t force ourselves to be interested in our own true nature) is a statement that has huge consequences for therapy, very obviously, and yet at the same time it’s not something that we have a tendency give much if any thought to.

 

If we force ourselves to see the truth (or try to force ourselves, rather) then what this means is that we don’t want to see (or establish a relationship) with our actual situation, which is revolves around the fact that we aren’t really interested in the truth. Not being interested in the truth is the default situation for all of us, strange as this may seem to the psychologically naive. If we were interested in seeing the truth then we wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of trying to compel ourselves to be interested, obviously. The issue of ‘forcing ourselves’ would never arise – nothing that happens naturally needs to be forced!

 

How on earth could we ever force ourselves to be interested in anything? If the interest isn’t there then it isn’t there. If the interest isn’t there then we won’t be interested in the fact that there is no interest there! If the interest isn’t there then whatever we do to try to remedy this situation will only be an act, a façade, a hollow pretence; as soon as we stop putting the effort in then the so-called ‘interest’ is going to stop dead. It’s not a real thing, after all.

 

Coming back to the question of therapy – allowing that they might even be said to be such a thing – it’s clear that the matter – essentially – ‘out of our hands’. We can’t instigate it, we can’t orchestrate it. We can’t ‘manage’ it, much as we’d love to, much as we always talk about doing so… After all – as we have just said – there’s absolutely no way that genuine therapy can ever take place unless we are genuinely interested in the truth of our situation, and – equally – there’s absolutely no way that we can actually cause ourselves to be interested in the truth of our situation if we aren’t to start off with. So where does this leave us?

 

What brings about change is ‘one thing and one thing only’ – what brings about change is our relationship with the truth. If there is no relationship with the truth then there is no possibility of change, obviously enough. Change can never come about in any other way – it certainly can’t come about the sake of convenience’. As a rule, change is never what we might call convenient’! Also as a rule therefore, genuine change comes about despite us, not because of us…

 

So here we have a situation where the only thing that can ever bring about change is a relationship with the truth and – furthermore – as we have just said, this relationship is in no way subject to our will, in no way subject to what we want or don’t want. This is always our situation – there’s no other situation that we could be in, there’s no situation in which we can bring about a relationship with the truth because that happens to be ‘what we want’.

 

As we keep on saying therefore, this has major implications for therapy – all types of formalised therapy involve two things – they involve a blueprint for whatever it is that’s ‘supposed to happen’, followed by an official protocol of ‘how to make that process happen’. This is ‘rational therapy’ in a nutshell – you could walk into just about any psychiatric hospital, any mental health setting in the world, and see this sort of thing happening. This is how healthcare services think change should happen. We think that this is how to ‘do therapy’; we think that therapy should be done ‘on purpose’, in accordance with a formal set of ideas about what is supposed to happen, and why.

 

This isn’t therapy though, it’s just us imposing (or rather trying to impose) our ideas upon ourselves and other people, which is what we always do. That’s what ‘unconscious living’ is all about. We pretty much don’t know what else to do in life – we have the idea (or rather absorb it from someone else) and then we try to impose it, if at all possible, on the world around us. We call this ‘purposeful or goal-orientated behaviour’! Anything else is too ‘passive’ for us; anything else just feels like sitting on the sidelines twiddling our thumbs and watching as life passes us by. This isn’t to say that rational therapies ‘can’t produce any results’, only that the results in question will always be achieved at a price which makes them – in the end – not worth achieving. After all isn’t this always the way when it comes to forcing ourselves (or other human beings) to be the way that we think we/they ought to be? Alan Watts says (somewhere) something to the effect that society works by compelling us to do what we would naturally do anyway, and that – by doing this – it effectively alienates us from our own life. Society plays what is essentially a ‘self-contradictory game’, says Alan Watts.

 

To act rationally is to act with a purpose – this is inevitably the case. We can’t act in any other way when we are acting from the basis of rational thought. This being so, when we try to act so as to establish some sort of relationship with the truth of our situation, then we always have to have some kind of ulterior motive for what it is we are doing (or trying to do). We always have this ‘reason’ or ‘purpose’ that was there before we started trying to reach the position of ‘having established a relationship with the truth’, and so what does this tell us?  It tells us a hell of a lot – it tells us everything we need to know, really. Any reason or purpose or goal that we might have prior to us ‘establishing a relationship to the truth’ is necessarily going to be irrelevant to the truth, irrelevant to the actual reality of our situation…

 

There is (and can be) no reason for us wanting to establish a relationship with the truth, with reality, and this is something that the rational mind can never understand. There can be no logical reason for wanting to do this. It’s only through dropping all reasons, dropping all purposes (i.e. dropping all our theories and beliefs) that we can come face-to-face with the truth of our situation, and we can’t do this on purpose. There are no ‘reasons’ for letting go – letting go isn’t something that can be orchestrated by the thinking mind for its own convenience. If we do have a ‘reason’ for wanting to let go then we are ‘holding on’ to this reason, and this is a contradiction that we are never going to get beyond.

 

We can only establish a relationship with the truth of our situation we give up all hope of being able to orchestrate things for our own convenience. Another way of putting all of the above would be to say what actually helps is to work with the process that is already going on (which is not a process that has been created by the busy-body rational mind) rather than trying to instigate and manage the type of change that we want to see happening. Working with the process or processes that are already going on in the psyche is another way of talking about the natural, spontaneous process of healing, or ‘becoming whole’. This type of approach sounds hopelessly wishy-washy to anyone coming from a rational-intellectual platform but – when it comes right down to it – working with impulses that are genuinely our own, impulses that are spontaneous rather than directed is the only real thing that we can do.  Anything else is fantasy, anything else is make-believe, and what’s so ‘hard-headed’ or ‘pragmatic’ about that?

 

Ultimately, what we’re afraid of is ‘relinquishing control’ and it just so happens that mental health (or Wholeness) can never be attained via some sort of dextrous and resourceful controlling, despite what we might like to think! Not only that, but attempting in any way to control the process that is going on not only fails to have any helpful effect, it is actually the very opposite of helpful. Spontaneous processes are thoroughly jinxed when we try to ‘help them along’. Mental health can’t be a goal. I can’t make myself forgive you if I am holding something against you, and if I try to ‘make this happen’ then I’m actually putting the process into reverse; all that’s going to happen is that – deep down – I’m going to resent you all the more! The same is of course true for patience – if I try to force patience then all that happens is that I start to get impatient with my own lack of patience, so I am actually  – though my efforts – becoming less patient than ever! If I persist long enough with this nonsense I will eventually become extremely frustrated and angry….

 

We can work with what’s there, but we can’t work with what’s not there. We can’t impose our ideas of ‘how things should be’ on the situation, in order words, and if we try to then we’ll just make things worse for ourselves. We’ll dig ourselves into a deeper hole. What this comes down to is simply ‘working with the truth of our situation’, and no matter what our situation might be, there’s always truth to it, and this means that there’s always somewhere that we can start working. Our actual situation is that we are – in all probability – interfering with the natural process of becoming whole again, so rather than trying to fight against it we ourselves to relate to the truth of what’s going on here, and this is a far more genuine type of work than the so-called ‘work’ of trying to fix ourselves…

 

 

 

 

 

The Lure Of The Generic

We fear the individual, the unique and we are attracted to the generic, the regular. Our aversion to the unique is the same thing as our attraction to the generic. The movement towards the generic is the movement away from the unique. Our attraction to the latter is our fear of the former.

 

But why would this be true? Why do we fear the unique so much? Why are we so averse to it? This is actually a very strange thing – it’s a very strange thing because the unique is the only thing that’s real. Everything is unique when it comes right down to it – how could there be something genuinely ‘real’ that isn’t also unique? By the same token therefore, the generic isn’t real – there’s no actual content in it, no content at all. There is nothing in the generic yet we are drawn so strongly to it; we are drawn to it like moths to a candle flame.

 

It’s easy to see why ‘the generic’ (or ‘the regular’) has no content. The generic only gets to be the generic because it belongs to a class (i.e. to ‘a genus’) and yet classes are only there because we say that they are. We get out our ruler, our measuring stick, and we mark off what is in the class, and what is not, and that’s how we create this thing that we’re calling the ‘generic world’. But if the generic only comes into being because of our ‘classes’, because of our artificial ‘divisions’, then how can it be real? How can reality come out of unreality? How can the ‘generic world’ – which is the only world we know or believe in – be any more real than the unreal categories from which it is constructed? This point is made very clearly here by Alan Watts –

I have said that one of the great meanings of nature in the West is “classification”: “What is the nature of this thing?” In Greek, physis – from which comes our physics – has to do with the world as apprehended in a certain way: the world is apprehended according to its classes, and those classes are abstract. When we say of something, “It is immaterial,” “It doesn’t matter,” that means it has no quantitative measure. It doesn’t amount to anything; it doesn’t add up to anything. It is unquantified. But what we need in life is not so much quantity as quality. Mere quantity is absolutely abstract. It’s the quality, the essential taste, the flavor of life, the meaning of it, that is the important thing.

There are ways of measuring qualities, but in our language you always have to turn them into quantities. When a cook, standing over a stewpot, adds salt, takes a taste, puts in a little more, tastes again, and then says “Now that’s just right,” we can have someone stand behind him and record the actual quantity of salt added. And that would be the quantitative abstraction that corresponds to a taste experience that was not an abstraction at all. However, in order to bring people back to the real world, you have to temporarily suspend their abstract thinking, because it is through abstracting that you get the notion that you are one thing and I am another, and that events are separate from each other, in the same way that minutes are separate. We try to draw the lines on our watches that separate one minute from another as finely as possible because we want to know exactly the moment one minute turns into another. And those lines, by their very thinness, show us how abstract, tenuous, filmy, and unreal they are. They are measures; but don’t confuse measure for what is measured. The world that can be seen and felt without abstractions is the world in which you are connected to everything that is, to the Tao and the whole course of nature. However, you have been taught differently because you have been hoaxed and wangled by people who chatter and explain, and who have already hypnotized themselves into a view of the world that is quite abstract, quite arbitrary, and not necessarily the way things are at all.

What we are essentially doing in life is therefore ‘fleeing from the real and gravitating to the unreal’. This is what it’s all about. This is the basic tropism involved (which we might also call ‘the basic tropism of unconsciousness’ and which is also sometimes called ‘the law of fear’). Once we see this then it is not too hard to get a handle on what is happening here – we’re busy ‘escaping from reality’, which is actually not to radical an idea for us to get our heads around. ‘Escaping from reality’ is a fairly familiar kind of concept for us – anyone with any self-awareness at all is aware of this (at times overwhelming) impulse that exists within us. The more insight we have into our underlying motivation to find safety in systems (and our love of orderliness and predictability) the more clearly we see this ‘impulse to hide away from reality’.

 

How does this apply to what we started off talking about, however? Why would we be ‘attracted to the generic and repelled by the unique’? One point that presents itself straightaway has to do with what we could call ‘ease of processing’ – basically, we can process the regular but we can’t process the irregular. Of course we can process the regular – the regular gets to be the regular in the first place via ‘logical processing’, and so naturally it is amenable to logic. The great thing about the regular or the generic is that we can ‘generalise our learning’ – once we find out how to do something in one situation then we can apply this principle ‘across the board’ and this makes life a lot easier. Is it any wonder that we like the regular, the generic as much as we do? Is it any wonder we like things to be neat and orderly? This is as true in the field of mathematics as it is in everyday life. Until comparatively recently chaos and chaotic processes were completely ignored as James Gleick says in his book Chaos, and were never to be found mentioned in any mathematics textbook. Rudy Rucker in his book Infinity and the Mind points out that even the ancient Greeks – who with the likes of Euclid and Pythagoras pretty much started off mathematics – despised the regular and considered it lacking in the perfection that all numbers ought to possess –

It is possible to regard the history of the foundation of mathematics as a progressive enlarging of the mathematical universe to include more and more infinities. The Greek word for infinity was apeiron, which literally means unbounded, but can also mean infinite, indefinite, or undefined. Apeiron was a negative, even pejorative word. The original chaos out of which the world was formed was apeiron. An arbitrary crooked line was apeiron. A dirty crumpled handkerchief was apeiron. Thus, apeiron need not only mean infinitely large, but can also mean totally disordered, infinitely complex, subject to no finite determination. In Aristotle’s words, “… being infinite is a privation, not a perfection but the absence of limit. . .”

There is even a story that Pythagoras secretly drowned one of his students on a boat trip because he discovered an irrational number, a number that failed to meet the required standard of perfection. One version of the story says that the student (who was a guy by the name of Hippasus) was killed for coming up with the so-called ‘golden ratio’, another version says that he was eliminated coming up with the square root of two, which is another irrational number. Mathematicians and scientists have traditionally had problems with irregularity, and so do the rest of us – we don’t like things that don’t obey the rules; we don’t like things that aren’t amenable to analysis.

 

The irregular or unique can’t be generalised, obviously. When we confront the irregular there is nothing that we have learned beforehand that can help us, and whatever we learn now won’t be any good to us in any other situation! There is no generalization possible. We can therefore say – on the basis of what we have just discussed – that what repels us about the unique is its difficulty, i.e. what it ‘requires’ from us. The unique requires something very particular from us; it’s not just a matter of hard work’ – although that comes in it into it as well, of course. A unique situation requires that we ourselves have to become unique. This is a very remarkable thing to consider – when we generally come across problems or difficulties what we do is to look in our toolbox to see what tricks or strategies we have there that might help. We are looking for the right size of screwdriver, the right size of spanner, and once we find it then it’s just a matter of doing whatever we have to do with the tool and then it’s ‘job done’.

 

When we come up against a situation where there isn’t some kind of ‘standardised fix’, where there isn’t any tool (or strategy) in our toolbox that will get the job done, then we are ‘thrown back on ourselves’. What are we going to do? How are we going to tackle it? It’s no good asking anyone else for advice or looking it up on the Internet – this problem is for us and us alone. It’s ‘uniquely ours’. This is a very particular kind of demand that is being made and us therefore; we are being asked to exercise a muscle that we have never exercised before, and this hurts. When a particular muscle has been developed then it actually feels good to use it, as we all know, but when the muscle hasn’t been developed at all, and we don’t even know where that muscle is (or even if we have one in the first place) then this is a very different story. To say that what we are being asked to do is hard is a masterful understatement!

 

When I come up against a truly unique situation and all my tools or strategies are ‘no use to me’, then what I’m being asked to do – so to speak – is to manifest my true unique nature. This is the ‘muscle’ that I have never up to this point developed; this is the muscle that I don’t know where to look for, or even know if it’s there at all (and almost certainly I will say and believe that it isn’t there). Of all the challenges that we could ever possibly be faced with this is the greatest. There is no greater challenge than this – there simply isn’t ‘any such thing’ as a challenge that is greater than the challenge to dig deep and manifest our true unique nature. Rather than undertake this challenge therefore, we retreat (as we have said) into ‘the world of the generic’. We retreat into the Consensus Reality where all the answers are provided for us, and where – as a result – we never have to worry about ‘manifesting our own unique nature’.

 

This ‘retreat into the generic world’ puts us in a very strange situation, however. It’s not just that we prefer to have ‘ready-made problems’ handed to us, as Eric Fromm says (so that we can tackle them with ready-made methods, with strategies taken straight out of the super-convenient ‘Book-of-Strategies’) – it’s that the ‘sense of ourselves’ that we have, the ‘sense of ourselves’ that we operate out of, has also been provided for us. It’s the whole package.  Our sense of identity comes to us straight ‘off-the-shelf’ (or out-of-the-brochure’) and is delivered right to our front door the same way everything else is – that’s what the Generic World is all about, after all! What we’re talking about here is the ‘Common Domain’, it’s the formula-driven, mass-produced world of Jung’s Everyman.

 

This all sounds very easy, all very convenient therefore, but what we don’t see is that there is no place in this generic world for us as we really are! That’s the whole point of the exercise, after all – the whole point is that we don’t have to’ dig deep’ and find out who we really are. That’s the ‘advantage’ that we’ve been angling for the whole time! The so-called ‘advantage’ of life in the Generic World is that we never have to dig deep. The advantage of life in the Generic World is that we never get essentially challenged so that we have to ‘discover who we really are’. All the challenges that we meet in the GW (the trivial challenges that have been ‘engineered into the system’) are ‘dummy challenges’ – they are challenges that really only exists for the sake of ‘reaffirming or confirming the reality of the Generic Self’). This so-called advantage however the same time ‘the Very Great Disadvantage’ – it is also – unbeknownst to us – The Great Calamity.

 

The ‘Very Great Disadvantage’ is that there is no place that we have created for us, as we truly are. One analogy might be to say that it’s like being in an abusive/controlling relationship where the other person controls everything about us, including how we actually see ourselves: the ‘advantage’ of this situation is that we don’t ever have to think for ourselves (that after all is the one thing we are never allowed to do) and yet obviously this is the disadvantage at the same time. Another way to analogize our situation is to say that it is like sending a surrogate to live our life for us – a very crude and robotic sort of a surrogate, a surrogate without any of the finer feelings of which we are innately capable. This is like Colin Wilson’s idea of the ‘internal robot’ which he talks about here in this quotation from The Intuition Network:

Yes, well, you see, the basic point about the philosophy of Gurdjieff, and I suppose about my own basic ideas, is this recognition that we have inside us what I call the robot — a sort of robot valet or servant who does things for you. So you learn something like talking French or driving a car or skiing or whatever, painfully and consciously, step by step. Then the robot takes it over and does it far more quickly and efficiently that you could do it consciously. However, the important thing is not to interfere with the robot once he’s learned it, because you completely screw him up if you do. Now, the robot does all these valuable things like talking French and so on for us. The trouble is he also does the things we do not want him to do. We listen to a piece of music; it moves us deeply the first time. We read a poem, we go for a country walk, whatever, and it moves us. But the second or third time you do it, the robot is listening to the music or reading the poetry or doing the country walk for you. I said I’ve even caught him making love to my wife. And this is our real problem — that the robot keeps taking us over and doing the things that we would rather do. Now, Gurdjieff recognized this; he talked about the machine. Gurdjieff, of course, would walk into, let’s say, the dormitory of his students at midnight, snap his fingers, and everybody had to be out of bed and in some complex position within two seconds flat. Obviously he would keep people at a certain level of tension by doing this. Do you remember that Sartre said that during the war, when he was in the French Resistance and he was likely to be arrested and shot at any moment, he never felt so free. And obviously you would in these circumstances — you keep your energy so high because of your sense of crisis, that you would feel far more free. Now this is clearly the secret of freedom — keeping your energy so high that the robot is a bit like the thermostat on the wall which turns on quite automatically when your energies drop below a certain point, and then suddenly, without even noticing it, you’re living mechanically, robotically, instead of with the real you. The interesting thing is that it’s only a matter of one degree. Therefore, if it’s just one degree to turn on to the robot, it’s only one degree of effort to turn the robot off.

It’s certainly very convenient to have the internal robot take care of all the details of our live for us. By this same argument it is all the more convenient (it is ultimately convenient, we might say!) when the robot takes over completely and actually goes right ahead and lives our life for us in its entirety, whilst we ‘fall asleep at the wheel’, so to speak. We’ve ‘gravitated to the generic’ like moths to a candle flame and the result of this is that the robotic surrogate gets to live our life for us. This doesn’t work however – it’s a cheat that couldn’t possibly ever work! Only I can live my life and if I try to get the robotic surrogate to take on this ‘responsibility’ for me all I’m doing is creating suffering the like of which I can’t even begin to comprehend. According to Erich Fromm,

The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.

The movement towards ‘unconsciousness’ is therefore the movement towards self-destruction – nothing good can come out of putting all our money on the strategy of running away from our own true nature, after all! Nothing good can happen as a result of embracing the Generic Mind. All that happens when we fall ‘asleep at the wheel’ is that dark forces which we know nothing about are all too quick to take over the vehicle, and drive it over a cliff…