The Inescapable Suffering Of The Conditioned Identity [Part 1]

Our woes originate in the fact that the generic or conditioned identity is an impoverished state of being. Living on the basis of this identity is never going to be much fun – as we can plainly see when we look at things this way. It might seem to us that we are having fun – from time to time – but this is only because we are buying into the deluded perception that we are shortly to become less impoverished and this is cause for great jubilation, naturally enough. This can never actually happen however, conditioned identity – by its very nature – can never not be impoverished and so any pleasure that we might have felt when it seemed that we were getting someone is always going to be counterbalanced by the pain and disappointment that we feel when we discover that this happy eventuality isn’t going to happen after all.

It’s far, far worse to be impoverished in ourselves (so that who we are is the impoverishment, as Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas) then it is to be living in an impoverished environment – this constitutes a very particular type of predicament however because if my identity is impoverished (which is to say, hugely restrictive in terms of the possibilities that are open to us) then we going to have no direct no way of knowing this; we can only know that if we have something else to compare our situation with and we don’t. We can think of this in terms of perspective – if I happen to have very little perspective then I also have no way of knowing that I have very little perspective. And yet at the same time there is no getting away from the suffering that is inherent in our impoverishment, invisible though it might be to us. The cause of the suffering may be unknown to us, but the suffering itself is not – we get to know it very well…

All of this is very well of course but how do we know that the generic or conditioned identity is so very impoverished? How can we justify such a sweeping statement? And what exactly do we mean by ‘the generic or conditioned identity’ anyway? There is after all no point in going on at length about the consequences of having an extremely limited or constrained identity if it hasn’t anyway been established that this is or could be the case. This turns out to be thorny subject to get to grips with and that is because our subjective perception of ourselves (or of others for that matter) is not of ‘extremely limited beings’. We don’t perceive ourselves like this because we don’t see what we ‘lack’. Moreover, it is of course true that this idea is highly objectionable to us, if not to say downright offensive. We are happier saying how great we human beings are and what wonderful things we have achieved. We are much happier talking ourselves up than we are in saying how limited we are, in other words!

It is not however disrespectful to humanity to say that our ordinary situation in life is extraordinarily restricted and – when it comes down to it – entirely unworthy of us. It is actually far more respectful to say this than it is to say that the way we currently is the only way we could be, and that this is our true, undistorted nature. In the first case we are reminded not to get to get complacent and as a result enter into some sort of sentimental love affair with ‘the idea that we have of ourselves’ (which is clearly a healthy thing) whilst in the second case we have been given a totally false sense of security which – far from benefiting us – prevents us from becoming what nature secretly intends us to become, so to speak. In his Guide to the Perplexed E.F. Schumacher makes this point by saying that we have celebrating acorns as ‘an end in themselves’, so to speak, rather than seeing them as a kind of vehicle that leads to something inconceivably greater – the tree itself:

Our ordinary mind always tried to persuade us that we are nothing but acorns and that our greatest happiness will be to become bigger, fatter, shinier acorns; but this is of interest only to pigs. Our faith gives us knowledge of something better: that we can become oak trees.

If I was informed that I was a very, very limited kind of a creature then this could of course be taken as a terrible putdown that should not be tolerated even for a moment, but this is of course plainly ridiculous – this is actually the most valuable information that I could ever receive! To learn this is to have my horizons opened wider beyond anything I could ever have imagined possible. I am however very likely to resist this ‘widening of my horizons’ and stick fast to the small (or restricted) world that I know. By celebrating (or validating) who we think we are, we effectively deny who we really are and this is exactly what ‘the collective of us’ – more known commonly as society – always does. This is not a particularly familiar idea it is true, but ‘the collective of us’ is in this way the implacable enemy of every single individual making up that collective. Society – which presents itself as our friend, our ally, our ‘life-support system’ – is actually our greatest enemy, as Carl Jung pointed out eighty years ago or so.

This gives us a very good way of talking about the generic or conditioned identity therefore – we can say that what we are looking at here is a kind of ‘social fiction’ that we are required to identify with if we are to be taken seriously (or even acknowledged at all) by all the people around us, and by the social system as a whole. In a way, this is like having a Social Security number or something like that – if we don’t have a Social Security number then the system literally has no way of recognising us, as far as it is concerned we simply don’t exist. In another way what we’re talking about here isn’t like a Social Security number because it is who we actually experience ourselves as being! We obediently experience ourselves as being ‘who we are told we are’. This is similar to identifying ourselves with our social role, which is something that Jung talks about, but there is more to it than just this because the collectively constructed template (or image) of ‘what it means to be human being’ covers everything, not just what we do or how we behave in certain specific social situations. It covers every single aspect of us, such that if we ever started to become aware of an aspect of ourselves that was not congruent with ‘the socially approved image of what it means to be human being’ then we would experience this as being weird or strange and we would be very likely to be majorly worried about what was happening to us.

It might sound rather absurd to suggest that he could be so socially conditioned to such an extreme degree but if we think this then that is because we have underestimated the power of the consensus reality! When something out of the ordinary happens to us then what we generally do is to tell our ‘friendship group’ about it, or anyone else who can be persuaded to listen to us. If however something happens to me that is so ‘out of the ordinary’ that no one I meet has had any experience with it, nor knows anyone else who has, then obviously I can’t share it – I can try to tell people about it but that just won’t work in this case. The question is therefore, if something happens to me but I can’t tell anyone about it then is what happened actually real? Our inclination is to say yes it is!’ When this sort of thing happens to us (and particularly when it happens consistently enough) we always find that we start doubting ourselves, wondering if perhaps there might be something wrong with us. We might doubt our sanity. Consensus reality isn’t just something that is ‘convenient for communication’ therefore, it defines reality for us. The real purpose of the consensus reality is to define reality. It might have started out as ‘a convenience’ but it has ended up very much more than this. It has ended up being a world. ‘We all say it so it must be true,’ says a spokesman for the Monkey People in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

It is a matter of common experience that if we go up against someone in a debate who happens to be considerably more confident in themselves than we are then we will start to feel that they are right, not because of the sense or otherwise of their arguments but purely as a result of the force of their confidence (which in turn might be said to be a function of their ability to ‘not question themselves’). If this is true in a one-to-one situation (as it obviously is) then how much more true must it be when we are going up against the consensus reality, which is constituted of millions of people all joined up together in one tremendous ‘power block’? The consensus reality never questions itself – it is actually functionally incapable of doing so – and so its power is absolutely immense. The ‘false logic of the monkey people’ rules supreme and it always has done. The coercive power of the ‘collective reality tunnel’ – to use Robert Anton Wilson’s phrase – determines what is real for us and what is not and what it ‘allows as being real’ (what we are actually allowed to talk about or think about) is very, very narrow indeed and, as we have said, ‘narrow’ is just another way saying ‘impoverished’. It isn’t just our picture of what reality (supposedly) is that is extraordinarily impoverished either; it is our conditioned understanding of who or what we are.

The Negative Psychology Of Everyday Life

When we lose ourselves, and don’t know that we have lost ourselves, what happens next? What’s the story then? How does this peculiar situation work itself out? The awareness isn’t there, so we can’t find out what happens through ‘direct appreciation’ of the fact, so to speak, and yet we will still find out one way or another, sooner or later.


How could we lose something as big as ‘who we are’ and not miss it? One point that comes up in relation to this question (the first point, perhaps) is that we don’t miss it at all and that this is something which is empirically verifiable with the greatest of ease. All we need to do is take a look around us, or think about all the people we know, and ask ourselves whether they seem to be aware of ‘missing something very important’. Quite the opposite is usually true of course – we go around thinking that ‘we’re all here’, we go around acting as if our assuming basis is ‘the only true and correct one’. We take this very for granted, and our unconsciousness with regard to this assumption is what gives us our (apparent) ‘confidence’ in everyday life!


We could say that this is a statement of the basic human predicament: there is something very peculiar going on, but we can’t for the life of us spot it! We are not here at all, and yet we are absolutely convinced that we are. Because there are so very many people all feeling that they are fully and properly themselves (rather than being merely ‘tokenistically themselves’) this creates a type of ‘illusion field’ that is very hard to break out of, or see out of. We can’t believe that there is something crucially important missing from our lives because everyone else is acting as if everything is perfectly OK and ‘as it should be’; we can’t believe that we are suffering from an absence of our genuine being (which is a kind of ‘negative elephant in the living room’) because no one ever talks about it.


This ‘illusion field’ makes it extremely unlikely that anyone is ever going to trust themselves if they do start to get the uncomfortable feeling that there is more to them, or more to life, than everyone says there is (or that ‘there is more to being a human being than society tells us that there is.’) This awareness – we might guess – probably happens to people often enough and there are two ways things can go when it does – either we will go around telling everyone about it (in which case we will quite possibly get diagnosed as being classically psychotic and delusional) or we will have the presence of mind not to inform the world and his uncle about what we have just discovered and ‘keep the news to ourselves.’ We will in this case be able to get on our lives without either being diagnosed as having a mental illness, or in any other way being judged as peculiar or abnormal. The biggest possibility of all however is that we will simply just go along with the very limited expectation of what it means to be a human being that we have been provided with. Any awareness that is contrary to this expectation will simply be disregarded as not making any sense, as not being commensurate with the all-important ‘consensus viewpoint’.


So – just to recapitulate – we lose ourselves completely and we have no way of recognising that there is anything missing. This is the basic statement of the human predicament. We have fallen into ‘a dark pool of forgetting’, and as far as we’re concerned there is nothing to have forgotten. There is nothing to have forgotten and so we get on with your business of doing whatever it is that we imagine we have to get on with. We get on with the type of life that we would be obliged to get on with if there were no more to us than just what the collective mind defines us as being, or what our own ‘operating system’ (i.e. the OS of the rational/conceptual mind) tells us we are. The awareness of ‘being present as we truly are’ (for want of any better way of putting it) is gone, and instead we have a sense of ourselves that – very oddly – comes from outside of ourselves via some kind of an ‘external all-determining authority’, whether that external authority be ‘the thinking mind’, or ‘the collective/generic mind which we are all a part of’.


We could call the ‘amnesiac’ version of ourselves (the version that’s forgotten who it really is) ‘the mundane self, ‘the everyday self’, and we could ask the question again: what ways does the everyday self have of practically encountering or coming across ‘the lack which is itself’? One (perhaps surprising) way to try to answer this question would be to say that the everyday self encounters the ‘limitation-of-being which it suffers from without knowing that it is suffering from anything’ when it experiences irritation, frustration or annoyance. There is a whole range of situations which routinely cause us to ‘lose our sense of humour’ in this banal and ridiculous way. We’re looking for things to be a certain way and things just aren’t that way, and – what’s more – we don’t have any tolerance for things being any other way than the way we want them to be. Who doesn’t know what this feels like? How many times a day does this happen?


What we’re talking about here may seem to be very commonplace and therefore not very illuminating for the purposes of furthering any argument that we might be making, but the ‘obviousness’ of the example that we are using blinds us to what its true significance. The point we’re making can be expressed very clearly and concisely – who we really are isn’t petty-minded, judgemental and intolerant like this! We’re operating ‘below ourselves’, in other words; who we really are isn’t in the least bit upset by things (or other people) ‘not being the way we absurdly think they should be’. This is like a litmus test therefore – if we find ourselves to be irritable, petty minded and judgemental about all sorts of nonsense then that shows us beyond any shadow of a doubt that we are ‘not ourselves’; it shows that we have mistakenly identified ourselves with some paltry illusion of ‘who we really are’.


P.D. Ouspensky says somewhere that the false self is an engine for producing negative emotions – it generates negativity of one sort or another on an ongoing basis, just as a badly tuned car engine produces black choking smoke. The reason for this (we might add) is that the ‘false self’ has absolutely no strength or flexibility to it. How can a false construct (or paltry semblance) of ourselves have any genuine strength or flexibility, after all? All it can do when it’s under pressure is to produce a terrible grating noise; all it can do when under stress is to emit toxic negativity, and thereby most regrettably pollute the environment around it. What’s more (needless to say!) the false self is almost always going to be under pressure of one sort or another, this being the nature of the world we live in. Things never work out as we would like them to. There will of course be times when everything is ‘going to plan’ and then the false self will be content, and not be bitching or complaining or sulking or creating bad feeling one way or another, but experience shows that these ‘periods of placidity’ are never going to last very long…


Carl Jung says something similar when he states that the big danger (or perhaps even the biggest danger) we face in life is when the mask (or persona) that we wear in order to fit the assumptions and expectations of society grows onto us and becomes part of us – a part that we can no longer remove. We no longer even want to remove the mask because we are falling under its hypnotic power and we think that it is who we are. We have become ‘possessed by the persona‘, and it lives our life for us; it lives life on our behalf, so to speak. Now it goes without saying that this mask, this persona, doesn’t have any genuine human qualities. It can mimic them, it can ‘ape’ then, but it can’t actually manifest them. The ‘mask-which-we-take-to-be-ourselves’ cannot be sincere about anything either – how can it ever be ‘sincere’ when it is not a real thing, when it’s not really us? A mask is by definition insincere. In addition to its lack of genuine human qualities’ (which we can hardly blame it for since these are not in its nature) the mask also has the propensity to generate what is generally referred to as ‘negative emotional states’, which all come down to the ‘passing on’ or ‘reallocation’ of mental pain. The mask has to pass on (or displace) mental pain since it has zero capacity within itself to bear that pain; it lacks this capacity because it isn’t a ‘real thing’, because it’s only a gimmick, a show that we putting on.


What we have here is therefore a very straightforward way of detecting the absence of our true, ‘uncontrived’ nature – when we react to difficult situations by ‘going into a sulk’ or ‘getting nasty’ or ‘cutting up rough’, etc, then we know that we aren’t living life ‘as we essentially are’ but rather we’re living life ‘as the persona’, ‘as the mask’, ‘as the artificial construct’. Furthermore, when we find ourselves acting violently or aggressively or in a controlling fashion, we can say the same thing – ‘something inside us’ is living a life for us, on our behalf. The mechanical/artificial version of us can only do two things after all – it can either control successfully and be euphoric, or it can be unsuccessful in its controlling and ‘cut up rough’ (i.e. ‘become dysphoric’). Ultimately, both euphoria and dysphoria are ‘toxic states’ since both derive from ‘the false version of ourselves’. Nothing good comes about as a result of putting the false self in charge of everything – everything is bound to go to wrack and ruin. If the false self is in a good mood this is not a good thing!


This is, then, the ‘litmus test’ any of us can apply to see whether we have ‘lost ourselves without knowing that we have’. When everything is going smoothly and ‘all is to our liking’ then we will be apparently sweet and good-natured, but when things are no longer going our way then we will immediately ‘show our true colours’, so to speak, and become sour instead of sweet, unpleasant instead of pleasant; we will start passing on pain to other people in order to make them feel bad instead of us, in other words. Either this, or we will ‘internally redirect’ the pain and blame/punish ourselves instead, which is the other ‘mechanical option’ that we have. Either way, we’re not ‘peacefully allowing to pain to be there’ but rather we’re recriminating about it – either we are targeting ourselves or others in a thoroughly non-compassionate (if not wilfully malicious) way.


This is of course the basic stuff of everyday life. It’s all part of the terrain, it’s all part and parcel of being a human being. Through being self-aware and taking ‘responsibility for ourselves’ (as we say) we journey in the direction of becoming more truly human, and ‘less of a machine in human guise’. If we don’t cultivate self-awareness, and we don’t take any responsibility for our ‘manifestations of toxicity’ then we journey in the opposite direction. This dual possibility’ is – we might say – what life is all about: either we become less mechanical, or more mechanical in our nature. It’s got to go either one way or the other! If we work consciously with our ‘toxic manifestations’ then they are of great help to us because they point to the absence of our true nature and if on the other hand we make excuses for them (or don’t pay any heed to them at all) then these manifestations send us down ‘the bad road’ – the road that ends up in a situation of very great suffering. Everything depends upon whether we ‘ignore the warning signs’, or ‘don’t ignore them’; the direction we are travelling depends on whether we live consciously or unconsciously, in other words.


What we have so far said represents a very straightforward approach to the psychology of everyday life therefore, the only thing being that it’s a negative approach rather than a positive one – it’s negative because rather than attempting to describe or say something about who we are (our ‘true nature’) it’s a description of all the things that come to pass when we are not who we are (or when we forget who we are). Instead of proceeding naïvely, as we do in ‘positive psychology’, and attempting to say something meaningful about our true nature (which we absolutely have no clue about anyway) negative psychology operates purely by looking at what we might call the symptoms of our absence, or the symptoms of our self-forgetting, (which is of course the usual situation). More than ‘the usual situation’, it’s the only situation we know about. We don’t live in a world populated by conscious human beings, after all!


Positive psychology is bound to be dismally unfruitful given that it’s based on the description of an idea of our self which has nothing to do with our true nature, but which is merely the mechanical construct that we have mistakenly identified with. It is accurate in one sense however; it’s accurate because the false mechanical semblance of ourselves is the basis upon which we actually operate. It is ‘useless knowledge’ all the same because no matter how well we describe ‘the false mechanical self’ it’s not really going do us any good. It’s a tremendously ‘arid’ knowledge for one thing, and for another thing the better we get at optimising ‘the performance of the false self’ the worst were actually making our situation! Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, we are bound to say that investing all our efforts in furthering positive psychology is something of a grotesque mistake therefore. All we really need to know about the mask is that it is a mask – we’re never going to make it into anything else, no matter how assiduously we work at it…





The Finger-Trap

The world we see all around us has been put together by economic forces: just about everything we see in the socially-created world is because of economic forces. If it isn’t there to make money then what’s the point of it? We could of course agree with the above statement happily enough and yet at the same time not consider it a matter of any great importance. We may not see any problem with this at all; we are after all so very used to this way of life that we can’t see the world existing in any other way. Economics has been ‘God’ for a very long time now. Money has made the world go round for a very long time now…


And yet what is meant by this thing we call ‘economics’? When we look into it we can see straightaway that it is nothing more than ‘a system that is based on the manipulation of resources for personal gain’. No one can argue with this – that’s what capitalism is all about, after all! At the very root of economic theory is the tried-and-trusted idea that the motivation to personally benefit ourselves is the strongest and most reliable motivational force there is, which – goes the argument – makes it the ideal psychological drive to tie everything to. Whether this is really true or not is highly dubious however – if our motivation isn’t particularly wholesome, then neither will the outcome be! This goes beyond ethics and morality – it is starting to be accepted in the mainstream scientific world that what fulfils us the most – i.e. what is ‘healthiest’  for us – is not to live on the basis of narrow self-interest but on the basis of compassion and empathy, which doesn’t serve the interest of our way of life. Again, this isn’t anything to do with morality or ethics, it just seems to be the way that we are built. Now it isn’t of course exactly ‘breaking news’ as far as the great religions of the world are concerned, but it’s only very recently that a study of the anatomy of the brain shows that when the area of the brain known colloquially as in the centre – otherwise referred to as the medial prefrontal cortex.


According to Rebecca Gladding in This is your brain on meditation, it is also called ‘the self-referencing centre’ because it is the part of the brain are used to process information related to us. When the ‘me-centre’ is linked to strongly with other centres, such as the reactivity-producing amygdala, then this is bad news, according to Rebecca Gladding; it’s bad news because we’re always going to be taking things personally and ‘over-reacting’ accordingly. In general, it is clear that when relate to the world (and other people) in a ‘me-centred way’ (i.e. a way that is ‘all about us’) then we won’t have a very good time. We aren’t going to get on particularly well with other people either, obviously enough! This is a modality of functioning (or a ‘modality of being in the world’) that shouldn’t be overly encouraged or promoted, therefore! It certainly shouldn’t be made ‘top dog’…


Very obviously, if we are always operating on the basis of self-interest then we aren’t going to feel very fulfilled in themselves; if it were true that self-interest were a ‘healthy motivation’ then the richest people in the world would also be the happiest people and this just isn’t so! We don’t actually need to be experts on neuro-anatomy to see this – it’s as obvious as a nose on your face! How could we not see it? This is the most basic lesson in life there is; we learn it in pre-school and kindergarten – it’s the lesson called ‘learning to share our toys with the other kids’. If we never do learn to share our toys (or, even worse, if we learn to do the opposite and steal all the other kids’ toys so that we have all the toys ourselves) then this is not a very good prediction for us having a happy life! No one is going to be stupid enough to argue with this – how can I be incorrigibly self-centred and yet also be a happy person? There isn’t a person in the world who would go along with this, if they were to actually sit down and think about it!


This – as we keep saying – is just common sense – if we think that the world revolves around us then we are in for a rude awakening. If we think that life is all about ‘us securing our narrow advantage’ then we going to have a thoroughly miserable existence. And yet the message we receive every single day from this commercially-orientated world of ours is that the world ought to revolve around us and our wins; the message is that life absolutely is all about securing our own personal advantage. No one can deny this that this is the case – that’s how the consumerist paradigm works, after all – it works by having consumers being highly motivated to play the game that they’re supposed to be playing, and consume! Money is what makes the world go round, after all, as the song says.



Again, this is most emphatically not a contentious issue – we all know very well that consumerism works by getting people to operate on the basis of personal gain, and putting this uninspiring motivation on a pedestal. Such words as ‘successful’ and ‘winner’ say it all – we can only think well of ourselves when we are visibly better than those around us at obtaining personal gain. This is the measure of us as human beings, this is what determines our worth or lack of it. It sounds like we’re going over old ground here but the simple point that we’re making is this – the inbuilt structure of the world (or system) that we live in guides very strongly in the direction of operating on the basis of personal advantage in everything we do, whilst our actual mental health and well-being lie in exactly the opposite direction.


The way that the current set-up works is for each and every one of us to be acting and thinking as entirely ‘self-interested beings’. This is beyond any doubt, this is a ‘given’. We can very easily understand why it is that we are being constantly ‘tilted’ in this direction; why it is that we are being ‘formatted by society to be narcissists’. That’s what is required by ‘the current set-up’. There’s nothing else our particular society can do; that’s the world we have elected – however unwittingly – to go down. That’s the nature of the game that we are playing. Pragmatically speaking, all we can do is ‘go along with it’ – the argument is ‘irresistible’, so to speak. And yet at the same time, when we do ‘go along with it’ this is to the very great detriment of our mental health!


Our response to this dilemma (and ‘dilemma’ is putting it mildly) is to ignore it, is to pretend that it doesn’t exist. We never really talk about it, either on the grass-roots level or – unsurprisingly – on the level of public policy. We do hear regular items about how immersion in social media is destroying our ‘resilience’ and turning us all into ‘snowflakes’, etc. etc. , or how sad it is that no one talks to strangers on the bus anymore because we are all too busy looking at our mobile phones. These are all well-known and deeply comfortable topics – they’re comfortable because they are of a manageable size, they are ‘discrete’ and therefore non-threatening issues, but it’s not mobile phones or social media that’s the real problem here but our whole way of life. The set-up that we are caught up in creates mental suffering for us and prevents us from ever expressing (or knowing) our true potential. The system we are part of is, by its very nature, hostile to our mental health, inimical to our true well-being. We just don’t like to see this.


No one can say that this is something that we sometimes discuss, either in private or in public. It isn’t. We daily hear leaders of state pontificating about this and that, discussing this weighty matter or that weighty matter, and it all sounds very serious, but at no time does anyone ever point out the fact that the commercially-orientated way of life which we have opted for (the way of life which in which our primary role is that of a consumer) is fundamentally inimical to our true well-being, that it stunts and distort us and prevents us from ‘being what we could be’. No one ever points out that it is impossible to be in this system and yet at the same time grow as the individuals we truly are. And if we refuse to acknowledge this biggest issue of all, the real elephant in the living room, then how can we possibly make out that we are being ‘serious’ or ‘responsible’ about anything? We might as well dress up as clowns and go to work in the circus – that at least would be an honest profession,, that course of action would at least would have some integrity.


This is an extraordinary challenge – we live in a world that is fundamentally hostile to ‘who we really are’ and yet always almost always refuse to see it. This certainly isn’t a situation that we can afford to get too complacent about. The world we live in is a world that conditions us to look outside of ourselves for everything that is good, everything that is worthwhile. This has two linked consequences – [1] is that we automatically identify with a contained or isolated sense of self, a tightly-wrapped sense of identity, and [2] is that we are very strongly motivated to act so as to obtain and secure all these ‘good things’, and this misguided motivation is what powers the commercially-orientated way of life and keeps it going. This system we are part of has one agenda and only one agenda and that is to maintain itself or perpetuate itself, and the only way it can do this is to keep us locked firmly into the position of the need-driven and tightly-defined self that always has to be looking out for its own interests.


We all know this well enough on one level, it’s just that we can’t afford to focus on it. It’s not pragmatically useful (on the short-term) to focus on it. All the pressure is on us to succeed within the terms of the gain that we have been inducted into from an early age. We have invested so very much in this game that it no longer seems like a game – it’s not a game to us, it’s everything. It’s all we know). We have waded through blood so much that going back is as painful as going forward, as Shakespeare says in Macbeth. We are locked into the contradictory position of ‘looking for our freedom on the outside’ and the more we do this the more unfree we become in real terms. This is a classic example of a ‘Chinese finger trap,’ as Alan Watts points out somewhere – the more we try to free ourselves the more trapped we become! Society happily provides us with limitless ways and means of trying to free ourselves, all of which embroil us all the more in the mess, but no way of actually recognizing our the true nature of our predicament. Freedom is there, but it’s not to be found on the outside…






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!