Trapped In The Prison Of Thought

There are only two ways to be in life – one is where we are contained by our thinking, defined by our thinking, and therefore controlled by our thinking, and the other way is where we are somehow bigger than our thinking. Thinking still happens in this second case, but it happens within us, not to us. It’s part of us, but it doesn’t define us. It’s just thinking – it doesn’t create our whole world for us.

 

Clearly there is a tremendous difference between these two modes of being – in the first case the thinking is the boss and in the second case we are the boss! One way the boot is on the one foot, the other way it’s on the other foot, and there’s no question as to which foot the boot should be on. Why on earth would we want thinking to be the boss? Why on earth would we want to let our thinking control everything about us and ‘tell us who we are’ and ‘what we should be doing’, after all? Why would we want to be shrunk down to size so that we have to live out our lives within the limited domain of the petty little world that thought has created for us?

 

This is really a matter of choice however – even though we are inclined to imagine that it is. It can’t be a matter of ‘choice’ however because choices come out of thinking and so we can’t choose to be ‘bigger than thought’, or ‘bigger than the thinking process’. ‘Choosing’ – just like ‘planning’ or ‘strategising’ or ‘analysing’ – locks us into the thinking process; it makes us a prisoner of the thinking process. It is an odd thing because the act of choosing automatically feels as if it’s empowering us; having choice sounds like the same thing as ‘having freedom’. It isn’t though because – as we have just said – ‘choosing’ is an operation of thought and operations of thought cannot lead to freedom.

 

Another way of making this point is to say that we can’t choose to be free. The only way we could ‘choose to be free’ would be if we could ‘choose not to choose’. If we could choose not to choose then would be free but we can’t do that because ‘choosing not to choose’ as a blatant self-contradiction! That would be like ‘deciding not to decide’, or ‘planning not to plan’ or ‘having a goal to give up all our goals’. We are trying to be free from the thing by doing the very thing that we want to be free from doing, so how is this ever going to work? The trouble is that when we are caught up in thinking we don’t have the perspective to see this blatant self-contradiction. We need to be outside the prison of thought to be able to see this and it’s precisely the fact that we can’t see it that makes ‘the prison of thought’ into a prison.

 

This is sounds wrong to speak of thought as ‘a prison’ – that’s not the way we like to see things at all. Just as we see the act of choice as empowering us, so too do we see the process of thinking as empowering us. If you were to go around saying that thought is a prison people will straightaway think that you’re crazy, so not only is thought a prison therefore, it also makes us see everything upside-down. Thought is the prison we can’t see to see to be such – it’s a box that we can’t see to be a box. It’s a box that we take to be the whole world! There are lots of consequences to spending our lives in an abstract box and the most straightforward way to talk about them is to say that we always going to be unsatisfied, the matter how well things might seem to be going for us. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are always going to be separated from life after all, that that’s the most fundamental form of frustration that there is. It’s like being stuck in a jam jar wherever we go – we can see, but we can’t touch!

 

The problem is that thinking can’t genuinely relate as to the real world, any more than this it can genuinely relate us to ourselves. Thought can’t connect us with reality (that was never its job, anyway) – all it can ever do is connect us with its ideas about reality, and thoughts’ ideas about reality are only an extension of itself, a projection of itself. So no matter where we go – we’re always going to be completely contained within the abstract ‘world that thought has made‘. We can’t escape from the box because thought itself is functioning incapable of leading us out of it. This brings us back to what we were saying earlier – that we can’t ‘choose not to think’ because ‘choosing’ is thinking. What else would it be, after all? We’re sifting through our mental categories, as always, and our mental categories – by their very nature – aren’t real. They’re about reality, they aren’t reality themselves.

 

No one is saying that we shouldn’t ever think about anything, or that there is no value in thinking, or anything like that – all we’re saying is something to the effect that “Wouldn’t it be great to leave all our thinking behind every now and again, so that we could experience a genuine ‘honest-to-goodness connection’ with the world, and with ourselves?” Wouldn’t it be great – in other words – not to be contained absolutely all the time within our thinking, as if there were actually some benefit or advantage to be had in this peculiar (and very frustrating) state of affairs? Who on earth is ever going to argue that there is any benefit to be had in being trapped in our thinking 24/7? Who is going to say that it’s a good thing to spend our entire lives ‘stuck in a box’, ‘stuck in the jam-jar of thought’?

 

No one would ever be ridiculous enough to say this of course, but what we do instead is to implicitly deny that this is the truth of our situation, when it most clearly is. There is no mention in society of the very great danger or drawback that is posed to us by runaway thought, just as there exist in society no pathways by which we can develop those other aspects of ourselves, those aspects which have absolutely nothing to do with the thinking mind. We value one thing and one thing only in this world of ours and that is the faculty of rationality, the faculty of reason. Our whole educational system is geared towards turning us into ‘better and better thinkers’, as if this will something solve everything, as if thinking itself were not the curse. What is actually being valued here is our ability to control or manipulate the world, because that’s what thought does. We have as a result become a very controlling, very manipulative, very insincere society – we are always beavering away to try and get things to be the way we think they ought to be. We’re always working away – like so many termites – in creating an artificial world for ourselves to live in and – ludicrously – we assume that this will be a good thing’! The fact that our world is getting uglier and uglier and meaner and meaner every year (as well as becoming less and less sustainable), doesn’t seem to impact on our core belief here at all.

 

Every socially accredited expert in town will swear blind to us that we doing are doing fine. Every government minister will tell us that we doing fine. Society itself  – through all its various mouthpieces – will tell us that we doing just fine, and it’s hard to argue against the totality of ‘society itself’! If we do try to disagree with the consensus then our point of view will be automatically dismissed on the grounds that ‘we don’t know what we’re talking about’ – obviously we don’t know what we’re talking about because we aren’t ‘experts’, because we haven’t been officially accredited as having the right to say anything. We’re wrong straightaway therefore simply because we’re not agreeing with everybody else! The fact that the only reason everyone else agrees with each other is because there’s ‘safety in numbers’ (and no one wants to run the risk of being collectively ostracised) doesn’t seem to detract from the strength of official argument in the slightest! This is the unassailable logic of the Monkey People spoken of by Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book“We all say it so it must be true!”

 

What we usefully can do here however is point out the key problem associated with being trapped in the thinking mind 24/7. As we started off by saying, the ‘key drawback’ with this state affairs is that when we are ‘contained by thought’ we can’t know what the world really is, or who we really are, but only what the apparatus of thought tells us on the score. We can only ‘know’ what we have labelled the world (or ourselves) as being, in other words, and that’s not really saying anything! We are ‘fatuously correct’ of course – we are correct in terms of the empty game that we have decided to play, but what’s so great about that? We are as far as our little pointless game is concerned, but what good will that do us? Not knowing who we really are, but only knowing our fatuous labels or designations for ourselves constitutes what we might call ‘the frightening abyss of ignorance’ and this frightening abyss of ignorance is all that our educational system is ever going to provide us with. It can’t impart actual wisdom to us because wisdom doesn’t come out of the thinking mind.

 

What society (which as David Bohm says is the product of thought) does is to separate us from who we really are by demanding that we put all of our energy and attention into adapting ourselves to the artificial world that it has created. This artificial world has nothing whatsoever to do with our actual nature and so the more we allow ourselves to be defined and controlled by it the more alienated from ourselves we become. The more ‘civilised’ we are, the more insane we are, as Foucault says. We might stand to gain all sorts of ‘materialistic benefits’, as the advertising industry keeps telling us, but none of these ‘benefits’ will help us get back in touch with ourselves, obviously. Their function is quite different – their function is to compensate us for what we have lost, although this will never be directly stated. Naturally it will never be directly stated – if it were to be then the deal we’re being offered would lose its appeal immediately!

 

If you were informed that you were expected to live in some kind of a way that fundamentally separates you from the essence of who you really are, but that you will be amply compensated by all sorts of banal daftness, by lorry-loads of ‘fancy fripperies’, how is this ever going to look sound good to you? That’s not how it’s done, however. It doesn’t work like that. No one ever tells us that the price of social inclusion is alienation from our true spontaneous nature and no one ever will! First we are alienated, and then we are ‘drawn in’ with all of these products and commodities that promise (in some vague way) to make us feel less alienated (or less ‘ridiculous’) and our continued attempts to fix or improve ourselves in line with the way that society says we need to be fixed or improved constitutes our whole way of life! That’s the whole package right there. And then – to cap it all – the clownish socially-accredited experts come along in their droves and dare to talk to us about our mental health and advise us on what ‘strategies’ we might avail of in order to improve it!

 

 

 

Art: Madness Returns’ Dollmaker’s Workshop, from gamesradar.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Limitations Of The Game

When all of our ‘capacity to do’ (or our ‘capacity to know’, for that matter) is supplied by the external authority of the game this might be said to be ‘fine up to a point’! It is fine (in a very limited sort of way, admittedly) up to a point, but then when that point is reached it immediately becomes not so fine at all. This critical point – which is the critical point at which external authority or ‘obeying the rules’ is no longer going to cut the ice for us – is always going to be reached sooner or later: either the environment we live in will place demands on us that the game-rules aren’t equipped to deal with, or – somehow – we lose faith in our ability for the rules or procedures to work for us, even though the tasks we are trying to carry out aren’t in any way new or especially demanding. In a nutshell, it could be said that what we’ve learned in life can no longer help us.

 

Whichever way it happens – and we could perhaps call the first scenario ‘stress’ and the second ‘anxiety’ – we’re caught out because we don’t have the capacity to call upon any resources other than those that are supplied by the external authority. If the EA can’t help us in a situation then it all starts to go to pieces, because we’ve never been encouraged to develop true autonomy. Nothing in society encourages us to (or supports us in) developing true autonomy; this is in fact the one thing the social system doesn’t want us to have! We go to pieces when we’re challenged in a way that the EA can’t help us with because we don’t have any intuition as to ‘what to do’  in the situation – intuition after all means ‘teaching from within’ and the only type of teaching we have (when we’re adapted to the game) is ex-tuition, or ‘teaching from without’…

 

Ultimately, it’s just not possible to live life solely on the basis of ‘teaching from without’ or ‘guidance from the operating system of the rational mind’. We’ve missed out something very important here – we’ve missed out ourselves and this omission is inevitably going to show up at some stage of the proceedings! Suppose I hit upon a neat way of living my life without me actually needing to be there – suppose I let the ‘inner robot’ of my habits run the show for me, to use Colin Wilson’s apt phrase. Suppose I just treat life as a kind of an established routine and just let it run according to the way it always does run – wouldn’t that be great? No real effort at all is needed in this case – I will never be challenged by anything radically new because all I’m doing is just playing the same loop over and over again. It’s all just ‘plain cruising’ in this case and I can put my feet up and hang an ‘out to lunch’ sign around my neck. I’m letting ‘the system’ run my life because I don’t want the bother, essentially. So the question we’re asking is ‘What’s the down-side to the plan? Where are the snags – if there are going to be any – going to appear?’

 

The question we’re asking is ‘How are the problems that arise from this business of me letting the system run my life (if there are any) going to present themselves?’ We have already said [in the Chapter Invisible Aggression] that when, in ‘the contest between realities’, the generic (or collective) reality wins out over our own unique non-generic reality – as it almost always does – then we have lost the core of who we are. We’re adrift as ‘an inauthentic constructed identity’ in the sterile, pointless world of society, trying to achieve goals that aren’t really ours, and which wouldn’t do us any good even if they were. Another way of putting this is to say that we’ve lost ourselves in the acts we put on to the extent that we know longer know that they are only ‘acts’! So we can now reformulate our question as “What problems are likely to arise when ‘the act we are putting on’ gets disconnected from ‘the one who is putting the act on’?’

 

We’re in the situation of a person who for the sake of convenience has put on a mask and then forgotten that they have done so and – as a result – are proceeding to live the ‘life’ of ‘the disconnected or unowned mask’. We have become identified with the mask and the point at which this identification takes place is the point at which the mask gets ‘a life of its own’, so to speak; the mask gets a life of its own, but at the same time it doesn’t really have a life because it’s not actually alive! Even just expressing matters this way (and it will be a very familiar perspective to anyone who has studied Carl Jung) clarifies things hugely. Already, the sense of ‘how the problem could manifest itself’ is very clear from this description of our situation. It is abundantly clear. When we look into it what we’re talking about here sounds more than just a little bit like ‘being possessed’ and Jung actually speaks in exactly these terms when we talks about ‘being possessed by the persona’. At the risk of being overly repetitive in our approach, we can now reformulate the question we have been playing about with here as “What psychological problems might conceivably arise of being possessed by a bundle of mechanical reflexes which masquerades as a self and has started living our life for us on our behalf, whether we like it or not?”

 

The question has in fact become little short of ridiculous at this stage – after all, what part of the situation that we have just described isn’t a problem? We would be better off asking if there is anything about the situation, as we have just set it out, that isn’t frankly and horrifically appalling! The only part of the package, as described, that is in any way ‘non-problematic’ would be the superficial representation of what’s going on, as provided for us by that mechanical agency, when we are able to actually believe in it (which will be, at best, only for some of the time). As we keep saying, the mechanical agency is living life for us (is living life as us) and the only way this is going to seem OK to us is when we are able to think that this highly limited (actually totally limited) frame of reference IS us. That’s the only way we’re ever going to feel good about the machine that lives life on our behalf…

 

There are two elements (we could say) to this illusion – [1] is that we think the machine is us (or that we are the machine) and [2] is that we don’t in any way perceive the machine to be only a machine, which is to say, limited or constrained to the point that there is actually nothing real about it at all. When both of these elements are present and intact then the illusion can function flawlessly; we will never smell a rat and the illusion will therefore perpetuate itself indefinitely!

 

The ‘fully-functioning illusion’ is one in which there is no question of this bundle of reflexes and judgements (or prejudices) not being who we are; it is the situation where there is not even the slightest shadow of doubt [1] that this ‘foreign introject’ is our own true self and [2] that the subjective world in which we live (which is made up entirely of attractive and aversive projections based upon the inherent biases of the machine) is expansive and full of possibilities (and not at all ‘closed’, therefore). These two requirements for a fully functioning, fully operational illusion are – when it comes down to it – quite inseparable – if one starts to fail then both do. When we start to feel that our world is limited to the point of being empty of any worthwhile content this in turn causes us to doubt the authenticity of who we think we are and if – looking at this the other way – if we were to doubt our own authenticity, our own worthwhileness as a person, then the world would appear to have nothing in it for us – it would hold no promises for us, no possibilities for us. There might be something in it for someone else perhaps but that doesn’t matter because there is nothing there for me… The world reflects our own state of mind when we are unconscious, as Johannes Fabricius says in The Royal Art Of The Alchemists – if I feel bad then the world is a bad place and if I feel good then it is a terrible place. The world is a projection of my inner state – the possibilities I see out there for me in the ‘projected world’ are really nothing more than illusions deriving from the ‘central illusion’ of the self-construct!

 

Another (possibly clearer) way of putting this is to say that there are two ways in which ‘malfunctions of the machine’ might start to manifest for us, one being in terms of limitations that affect our purposeful (or goal-orientated) actions in the world and the other being in terms of what we might call ‘limitation in our very being’. A ‘limitation in the potency of our purposeful actions’ simply means that we are not able (or rather that we feel we are not able) to do, whilst a perceived ‘limitation in our being’ means that – actually – we don’t have any being since being can’t be limited and yet still remain ‘being’! The nature of being is to be limitless, without edges or boundaries. To perceive oneself to be in any way ‘a thing’, in other words, is to perceive oneself as having no genuine being. That’s why we say ‘a mere thing’; thing-hood is a degraded state of being, a state of being with all the good taken out of it. It reduces us to a joke. Perceived limitation of purposeful action corresponds to anxiety therefore, whilst ‘perceived limitation of being’ corresponds – we might say – to depression. In the former we are impotent to do, in the latter we are equally impotent to be – our so-called ‘being’ is felt to be fraudulent…

 

We can bring this all back to what Gurdjieff says about us being unable, in our normal everyday mode of being, it either do or be. On the face of it, to the overwhelming majority of us, this sounds like utter nonsense. It doesn’t penetrate our consciousness even by a millimetre, even by a nanometre. It’s double-dutch – our acclaimed (but deeply unconscious) experts will scoff for all they’re worth. And yet what Gurdjieff is saying isn’t that hard to understand – not if we look at it from the perspective that we have been setting out here. Of course we can’t do if our internalized set of rules and procedures are already doing everything for us! We have become so dependent upon the crutch of the ‘inner robot’ that if it were taken away from us we would simply collapse on a heap on the floor!

 

Similarly, then, it is perfectly clear and straightforward to see that in our normal, everyday mode of existence, we cannot be. We don’t have to be – we have a machine that will do that for us! We have a fully-functioning ‘slave-system’ to do that for us (only things have flipped over for us and we’ve ended up being the slaves). It’s like having slaves to chew our food for us because we’re too lazy to make the effort – if our slaves were to leave us or die then we would be thrown into a crisis since our jaw muscles would have become far too weak to chew any unprocessed food. We would have become functionally incapable of mastication! It’s not that there is any shortage of food – the table in front of us is heaped with it – it’s just that we can’t eat it. We’d choke if we tried…

 

In this analogy, ‘the food on the table’ corresponds to reality (or ‘genuine being’), and the sustenance that lies within it. Genuine being is however unknown to us and as well as being unknown to us it is something we seriously don’t want to have to meet; we are averse to ever coming across it because it completely fails to facilitate us. More accurately, it completely fails to facilitate our ‘idea of ourselves’, i.e. – who we think we are. More accurately still, reality will facilitate our idea of ourselves (just as it will facilitate any of our ideas, any of our thoughts) but what it won’t do is facilitate our unquestioning belief in this idea. We have to do that bit ourselves! Reality can float any number of ideas or concepts, just as the sea can facilitate any number of waves, but it doesn’t insist that we take them seriously – it is us who insists upon that. Truth is not in the business of ‘facilitating illusions’ after all! Far from facilitating them, it ruthlessly undermines them. And in the same way, far from supporting our ideas and concepts, the truth fatally undermines them…

 

Oddly enough, therefore, genuine being is actually destructive to us. ‘He who is near to me is near to the fire’, warns Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Reality is destructive to us because it doesn’t support the illusions that we have about ourselves – it’s a food that is too rich for our blood! The only type of sustenance we can take is something that we might call ‘pre-digested being’, which is actually non-being in disguise. The conceptual self can only have conceptual being, in other words, and so to state that we, in our normal everyday mode of existence, cannot ‘be’ makes perfect sense. In the conditioned modality of existence, we cannot be, and what’s more, we cannot have anything to do with being. Our being is illusory and so too are our purposeful actions (naturally they are since they are ‘actions that stem from an illusory sense of self’). Our purposeful behavioural output – to a large extent – is actually our (covert) attempt to stabilize and promote our illusory sense of self and so it can’t be any more real than that mind-created self is.

 

The ongoing endeavour to maintain, stabilize and promote the mind-created self – no matter how apparently successful it might be – is always going to be fundamentally irresolvably glitched and what we call ‘neurotic suffering’ is how this irreducible glitch manifests itself. And yet as unwelcome as neurotic suffering might be (and there is no visitor more unwelcome at our door), it betokens a freedom far beyond anything we could ever have imagined…