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!