Conscious And Unconscious Suffering

Our consciousness is controlled by compulsive external determinants which compel us to react to them on a full-time basis. When our consciousness is controlled in this way then reacting is all that we knowreacting is then the beginning and the end and we can never go beyond it. We can’t see beyond reacting and we don’t even understand that there is anything beyond it.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that our consciousness is controlled every inch of the way by the thinking mind and that when we are controlled every inch of the way by the thinking mind then we are completely lacking in freedom. Freedom is the one thing we can never have when we are under the Dominion of Thought – we don’t even know what freedom means, even if we do talk about it all of the time. Thought – we might say – is the utter absence of freedom disguised as ‘freedom’.

 

We don’t know that we are being controlled because – generally speaking – we think that we are the thinking mind. This is why the prison is invisible to us, this is why we don’t understand what it means to be ‘controlled without knowing that we are being controlled’; it’s a simple enough idea, but we just don’t get it (or if we do get it, we certainly don’t get it in relation to ourselves).

 

The problem is that we assume that these compulsive external determinants are us and just as long as we keep on thinking this then will never see that we are being controlled. Everything seems hunky-dory then, we have no cause to suspect that anything is amiss. ‘Why then would we want to know?’ we might ask at this point, ‘maybe we might even be better off continuing in this way, particularly if it seems that there aren’t any real problems arising as a result?’

 

There is a problem with the setup as it stands however, it’s just that we don’t see it – we don’t see that we are being controlled by external determinants that are not ‘anything to do with us’, and neither do we have any awareness of how this invisible lack of freedom might be backfiring on this. Our unawareness of the true nature of our predicament doesn’t mean that we are immune to its consequences however – we incur suffering as a result of being in this ‘enslaved’ state and although we aren’t generally in touch with the precise nature of this suffering it is there all the same, waiting for its chance to unfold and ‘show itself’ to us, which it will  do sooner or later.

 

The question ‘Maybe we would be better off not knowing that we are being controlled?’ is an ironic one, really. How could we lose our freedom (which is the most essential thing we have) and yet expect not to suffer in some way as a result of this? Freedom goes deep – it goes deeper than we might imagine it to. Without freedom we cannot ‘be’, without freedom we are not ‘free to be’, and so we simply don’t get to be! It’s not just that our true nature cannot thrive in the absence of freedom; it is necessarily excluded! Freedom – we might say – is who we are.

 

When there is no freedom there can be no ‘unconditional being’ and unconditional being is the only type of being there is! If there’s no freedom then we can only exist in the way that the All-Determining System of Thought says we can, and this type of ‘obedient or compliant existence’ has nothing to do with who we really are. Conditioned existence has nothing to do with who we really are; control always annihilates ‘being’. Control only allows what has been chosen or selected to exist (i.e. it only allows what has been said by the system to be ‘lawful’) and whatever is said or asserted is not us. We are what has not been said, and cannot be said. Whatever is ‘said or asserted’ is the System of Positive Knowledge, and the System of Positive Knowledge will not ever permit us ‘unconditional existence’. It can never grant us that…

 

This brings us to the point where we might want to ask ‘What are the signs and symptoms of having no freedom and yet not knowing it?’ How, in other words, does this odd state of affairs actually manifest itself in reality? Given that our lack of freedom is invisible to us (since if we don’t know that there is such a thing then we won’t miss it) how can we become aware of it? We can best characterise the process that is taking place (in the background, so to speak) by saying that it involves a progressive narrowing of our world along with a progressive inability to be aware of this narrowing (we can’t be directly aware of it since the ‘narrowing down’ is precisely what defines our capacity to know or perceive anything in the first place). Because this ‘narrowing’ is the same thing as ‘the denying of who we really are’ it will inevitably become manifest sooner or later however – it will become manifest to us as a type of spiritual ennui, in terms (we might say) of a ‘semi-repressed sense of all pervading meaninglessness’.

 

In the Purposeful Realm (which is the world we live our lives in when we are being unknowingly controlled by the aforementioned ‘compulsive external determinants’) the pain of meaninglessness ‘loads onto us’ without us being able to see the pressure that we’re under for what it is. We are being ‘choked out’ as regards our ‘sense of meaning’ but we’re not directly facing this pain. The pain or suffering does not show itself where it is (i.e. right in the core of us) but rather it is displaced onto the external world where it appears as ‘drama’. The more ‘choked out’ we are with regard to meaning or spaciousness in our ‘inner world’ the more drama there will be in our external lives therefore. This drama may manifest in terms of our social interactions or in terms of what is going on in our lives, or it may go no further than our own thinking – we will in this case be plagued by the curse of ‘overdramatic thinking’ (or ‘neuroticism’).

 

 

The pain we’re talking about here (the pain of meaninglessness or ennui) manifests as ‘lack of peace’ in other words, and the curious thing about this ‘lack of peace’ is that it’s not necessarily experienced by us as suffering – although of course it can be. Lack of space in the interior world always manifests as increased activity in the Exterior or Purposeful Realm. Oddly however, we experience this ‘lack of peace’ as something potentially worthwhile, as something that is potentially fruitful, and for this reason we automatically ignore the downside of it all. ‘Drama’ – in the sense that we’re talking about here – means two things: it means ‘us getting our own way’ and being validated as a result. And, naturally enough, it also involves us not getting our own way and feeling painfully devalidated instead. Because we’re looking at everything with ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ however we don’t see the ensuing drama as containing ‘equal amounts of validation and devalidation’, as all dramas do. We’re blind to that fact – we need to be blind to that fact if we are to carry on playing the game!

 

This doesn’t mean that we can’t ever do anything if we’re not ‘unfree on the inside’ – it doesn’t mean that we have to be helpless and passive and just ‘go with the flow’. Action isn’t the same as drama – drama is where we do what we do in order to obtain validation and avoid de-validation, whereas action is where we simply act, without any thought of validation or de-validation. There is no drama involved when there’s no ‘striving for personal gain’ – there’s no displaced excitement either, either of the euphoric or the dysphoric variety. Freedom is not a passive state but the only truly empowered one; peace is not ‘a repressed state of being’ but rather the origin of all effective action. In drama everything is about how the action in question is impacting on me; it’s not really about what is done or not done, what is said or not said. It’s all about the ego being either pleased or displeased, whereas action really is about what it says it is about. Action is sincere, in other words. Anything we do for dramatic effect can never be properly effective – it’s not meant to be either, it’s meant to be perceived as being effective, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. It’s pure theatre.

 

People quite regularly say, in discussions on medication, that they wouldn’t want to lose their ‘reactivity’, which we often perceived as being the thing that puts the ‘Zing’ into our actions. We tend to imagine that life will be flat and boring without our reactivity, which is the same thing as thinking that life would be flat and boring without all of our constant dramas! Actually, however, it is our reactivity that is ‘boring’ – what could be more tedious than being 100% engaged in ongoing empty drama, after all? Drama is exhausting and devoid of interest both at the same time! Not only is reactivity/drama ‘boring’, it is a – much more to the point – pure undiluted suffering. Drama is suffering but we just can’t see it as such. We can’t see it as such because we are hoping to get some good out of it (just as an old-time panhandler might hope to get a few big nuggets of gold at the bottom of his sifting pan one day). There is no good to come out of what we’re doing however, no matter how long we stick at the panhandling. Where drama is concerned we are always going to come out empty-handed!

 

To get actual meaning in our lives we have to go beyond reactivity and reacting, we need to go beyond  ‘being controlled by compulsive external factors without knowing that we are’. In the simplest possible terms, finding the meaning in our lives involves reconnecting with our actual sincerity, which is precisely what we lose when we allow ourselves to be controlled without realising that we are being controlled. Reconnecting with our sincerity does not of course mean that life gets any easier; the reverse of this  is true – everything gets a lot harder straightaway! When it does mean however is that no matter how difficult the situation we find ourselves in, we never lose our connection with actual meaning. There is absolutely zero meaning in ‘unconscious suffering’ (which is when we are being ‘preoccupied by the ongoing drama’, or – as we could also say – when we are ‘being controlled without knowing that we are being controlled’) but the gift in consciousness suffering is that the meaning immediately comes back to our lives…

 

 

 

Image: taken from consciousreminder.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is a ‘counterintuitive’ kind of thing, which is to say, it isn’t at all what we think it is. Mental health definitely isn’t ‘what we think it is’ because anything we think is bound to be ‘just another idea’ and mental health (or well-being) is not an idea! The intellectual approach to ‘wellness’ is always going to miss the point; it’s always going to be looking in the wrong direction.

 

This isn’t the easiest point to make because we always assume that our thoughts correspond to something real, which of course validates them and gives us reason to ‘take them seriously’. We can’t legitimately assume this in the case of mental health however. We can’t assume that our idea of mental health has any correspondence with the actual thing itself because mental health can be best described as ‘that state in which we are not being controlled or regulated by our own thoughts.’ This is a ‘negative definition’ – it’s not saying what the state of wellness or well-being is, it’s saying what it absolutely isn’t.

 

This is a somewhat subtle idea – it’s a ‘subtle’ idea because if we don’t know that we are being controlled (or determined) by our thoughts in the first place then of course we aren’t going to see mental health in the way that we have just described. We’re not going to see it as the state of being free from the controlling influence of our thoughts. The truth is however – as quantum physicist David Bohm says in his book Thought as a System – that thought controls everything about us –

But you don’t decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us.

We have unwittingly given thought the job of ‘telling us what is real and what is not real’ and so of course it’s going to ‘control everything about us’! How could it not? What freedom do we have left to us then? When an agency exists which tells us what is real or not, then this is the ultimate form of control…

 

The state of being in which we ‘automatically believe everything our thoughts tell us’ isn’t a healthy state at all, and yet this is the situation almost all of us are in. We would see that this is our situation straightaway if we actually took the trouble to look into it – our strings are being jerked this way and that by thought every minute (if not every second) of the day! ‘Don’t believe everything you think!’, as the internet meme says. But unless we have at least a bit of insight into the relationship between ourselves and our thoughts we won’t understand this at all. Our default setting – as we have said – is to automatically believe everything we think! When it comes down to it, we believe (or assume) that we actually are our thoughts, as Eckhart Tolle says. We don’t ‘separate ourselves from our thinking’ at all! Our thinking is at the very core of us, and it doesn’t actually belong in this position.

 

Our ‘relationship’ with the thinking mind is quite simply therefore that ‘it controls us’. The relationship here is that of the slave to the master and we are the slaves! We are all enslaved by the rational mind and yet no one you meet will believe this. There are times however when the truth of this statement becomes starkly obvious to anybody – when we are suffering from OCD for example this becomes very clear indeed. In this case whatever the thinking mind tells us to do we do, no matter how nonsensical or painfully time-consuming this is. We just can’t disobey it, as anyone who has ever suffered from OCD will be happy to tell you! The thinking mind is – at root – a machine and when it controls us we become a machine as well. This is probably most clear in the case of obsessive compulsive disorder, but it is also more or less obvious in all the neurotic conditions. Neurosis is the pain of being a machine.

 

It goes without saying that it’s not a good thing to be ruled by the machine which is the thinking mind and – as a consequence – become rigid and mechanical ourselves. It doesn’t feel good to be at a machine! It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, by any means. The more rigid and mechanical we become in our interactions with the world the more suffering we incur, and there is no limit to how much suffering we can incur. Neurotic suffering goes on and on forever and as long as we are identified with thought this is all we have to look forward to, so to speak. If we want to know what’s on the menu, it’s neurotic suffering…

 

Saying all this does throw light on what mental health is however. If the situation where thought is the master and I am the slave is mentally unhealthy (because it constantly pits me against myself and – as a consequence – generates unending unnecessary suffering) then the situation where the thinking mind doesn’t control or define my reality must be the mentally healthy situation. I’m not going to be put into a narrow little box the whole time then; I’m not going to be ‘suffering for its benefit’. The thinking mind is a tool, after all, and a tool is only useful when it is being used wisely. In the meditation traditions it is often said that thought is like fire in this respect – it makes a very good servant but an appallingly bad master! When the fire stays where we want it stay (in the fireplace or stove, for example) then it is of great use to us; when however it jumps out of the fireplace and takes root in the house we’re living in, in the curtains or in the furniture in the living room, then it becomes the most terrible tyrant imaginable. It’s not going to give us a break.

 

The same is manifestly true of thinking – when we have a problem that needs to be solved then thinking is the right man for the job, but when the thinking gets out of hand and starts telling us who we are and what we should be doing in the world and ‘what life is all about’ then it has become the very opposite of useful! What sort of situation is it anyway when the tool starts defining and controlling the so-called ‘user of the tool’ and creating all the parameters of his or her existence? This is called ‘being a prisoner of one’s own device,’ or ‘being hoisted by one’s own petard’. This situation might also be spoken of in terms of ‘booking into the Hotel California’, which – as we all know – is something that is very easy to do but very far from easy to undo…

 

Mental health – we might therefore say – is when we do begin to separate ourselves from our thoughts. It is the situation where we aren’t being constantly defined by the operational limitations of the mechanism of thought. We don’t have to ‘get rid’ of our unwanted thoughts or attempt to ‘control’ them or anything like that; there’s no ‘control’ involved, only awareness, which is incomparably more powerful. Only thought controls; only thought wants to control! What else does ‘control’ mean other than trying to get ourselves and the world to accord with our ideas, our mental pictures of ‘how things should be’? Through awareness we see that we are not our thinking (we see that ‘we are not our mind,’ as Eckhart Tolle puts it) and the separation then takes place all by itself. Thought doesn’t have to make it happen – thought CAN’T make it happen. Thought CAN’T free us from itself! ‘To see illusion is to depart from it,’ says the Buddha in The Sutra Of Complete Enlightenment.

 

The big problem that we have in understanding mental health – both collectively and individually – is that we think it is something that can be achieved via exercising the thinking mind, as if there is some kind of clever trick that thought can pull off for us. We’re asking our jailor for help in getting out of the prison! We want to hand over even more responsibility to the runaway train of the rational mind. “Please Mr Thought,’ we’re asking, “can you wave your magic wand over us and free us from the terrible affliction of our neurosis?” This belief, needless to say, simply exacerbates and prolongs our suffering – the runaway thinking mind is the cause of our troubles, not the cure! Putting on our white coats and becoming all ‘professional’ and ‘clinical’ about neurotic suffering, and attempting to treat it within the sterile confines of a psychiatric hospital, as if it were something we can ‘cut out’ of ourselves using the sharp instrument of rationality, is a prime manifestation of the underlying glitch, not the solution to it…

 

 

 

The Two Paradigms

Two paradigms exist in mental health, whether this is acknowledged or not. One is the positive paradigm, which is all about ‘structure-maintenance’ and ‘structure-consolidation’, whilst the other is the negative paradigm, which we may explain by saying that it is all about ‘structure-transcendence’. ‘Structure-transcendence’ – obviously enough – means going beyond the structures or systems that we have grown dependent upon, and which therefore define us.

 

If you were talk to anyone in the field of mental health then the chances are almost one hundred percent that they will understand ‘good mental health’ to be synonymous with ‘maintaining and consolidating the structure known as the rational ego’. Everyone understands mental health this way – this is the only way of understanding it that we have, collectively speaking. We have this basic attitude in life, this basic set of values, and we apply to everything; it’s a basic fundamental orientation so of course we apply it to every situation. To not do so would simply never occur to us! The more pressure we’re under the more we draw upon (and rely upon) our basic orientation, naturally…

 

There are times however when we are forced by circumstances or by extreme experiences to go beyond this basic orientation, and then (as far as the people around us are concerned) it’s as if we are speaking a foreign language! It’s as if we have lost our grip on reality and have started raving – we’re saying things that don’t make any sense at all. When we adhere to the ‘equilibrium’ (or ‘structure-based’) view of mental health then everything of course comes down to skills. Regaining our mental health is seen to be something that comes about as a result of us and learning, and then putting into practice, specially prescribed skills. When we are trying to restore an equilibrium value then this absolutely is a matter of using skills (or of ‘being skilled at utilising methods or strategies’) – there is no question about this. Structure-maintenance translates into control.

 

When we talking about structure-transcendence however then control isn’t going to have any part to play – the whole point of control is to bring things back to normative values, not free us from the gravitational pull of these values. It’s not just that this is what control does, it’s what control is! Control is a matter of ‘bringing things back to normative values’, control equals ‘returning the system to designated its designated equilibrium values’. If mental health were all about optimisation with regard to a particular way of being in the world, a particular way of interacting with the world, then skills and strategies would rule the day, but things are not this simple. Our mental health isn’t by any means a measure of how assiduously we stick to ‘the known’; on the contrary, mental health can be seen as a ‘reaching out to the unknown’, a movement out of equilibrium!

 

No obscure arguments or philosophies are needed to backup this observation – how can ‘staying the same’ be the healthy way to be? If you were to find yourself exactly the same person 10 years on, 20 years on, 30 years on, so that you are expressing the very same opinions, keeping the very same routines, getting involved in the very same discussions, the very same dramas as you always did, would you consider this healthy? Is ‘structure optimisation’ really the healthy option, or is it ‘healthy’ to change? Which feels better? Are we even truly alive if we don’t ever change?

 

Similarly, someone who never thinks or looks ‘outside the box’ can hardly be regarded as being particularly mentally healthy – if I’m concrete in my approach to life and always stick to the known, the tried and trusted strategies, the conventional way of doing things, and censure anyone who doesn’t do as I do, then this means that I am being governed by fear. This is a common enough modality of existence that we talking about here to be sure (the commonest, in fact!) but that doesn’t make it into a healthy way to be. It’s ‘normal’ but it’s not good! Acting on fear causes us to contract and react violently against anything that contradicts our closed way of life; if fear were not governing our lives then things wouldn’t be the same at all – we would be completely different in our attitude in this case. We would be open rather than closed, and this makes all the difference in the world.

 

It’s not overstating matters to say that almost all of our troubles are caused by this tendency of ours to ‘close-down’, or ‘shut ourselves off’ as a result of running from fear. The denial of fear always shows itself in the form of aggression; the attempt to escape fear breeds violence and intolerance, both directed towards others and ourselves and this violence / judgementalism justifies itself in the name of the ideal that is being promoted, it is seen as a ‘means to an end’ and this end is held to be so important as to make all possible means, however extreme, acceptable. When we are ‘governed by fear’ then we are uphold one specific way of doing things, one specific way of seeing the world, as being supremely important, as invalidating all others, and the reason for this is because this ‘idealised’ pattern of doing things is seen as our way of escaping the fear that drives us – our only way of escaping the fear that drives us.

 

It’s not that we are aware of this of course; we’re not aware that we are being governed by fear and so naturally we don’t see what we’re doing as ‘trying to escape fear’. We don’t see that our violence and intolerance towards ‘all other ways’ is a result of our belief that the way of seeing the world we are adhering to represents some sort of ‘magic formula’ that will save us from the nameless threat that is lurking in our unconscious. We are driven by these forces, these beliefs, and that means that we are in no way aware of them. Fear becomes the very basis of our world and so it is not something that we can see; it gives rise to a particularly aggressive and insensitive way of relating to the world, but – as we have just said – we see our behaviour as being necessitated by some great good that is either to be achieved, or upheld. If someone were to come up to us and put forward the suggestion that our way of seeing things is as precious to us as it evidently is because it ‘unconsciously represents’ a solution to the fear that is gripping us then we simply wouldn’t understand what they were talking about. We undoubtedly take against them for what they are saying – our precious ‘ideal’ (whatever might happen to be) is being disrespected, after all. ‘If you aren’t for us, then you must be against us’, the logic of fear says.

 

The question then arises (if we are talking about this thing called ‘mental health’) as to what the consequences might be for us living in this rigid conservative modality. If this concrete mode of existence isn’t healthy (as clearly it isn’t!) then how does this ‘lack of health’ manifest itself? Very simply put – and this is a very straightforward matter to talk about – being ‘shut down’ in the defensive/aggressive mode means that we will suffer, it means that we will feel bad. This is the inevitable consequence of being ‘shut-down’. We then either displace this pain onto others, and become even more aggressive than we were before, or we blame ourselves for it and become even more self-critical, even more controlling and punishing of ourselves. Whether we are harsh (if not to say positively hateful) to others, or to ourselves makes no difference; either way we have become ‘our own enemy’ – in the first case we afflict ourselves collectively whilst in the second case we afflict ourselves ‘personally’. Quite aside from the original suffering, we now have the extra suffering of our reaction to the original pain to contend with, and this is a spiral of thinking and behaving that feeds on itself and – with grim inevitability – becomes ever more toxic, ever more destructive.

 

What we are saying here therefore is that it is ‘structure-maintenance’ and ‘structure-consolidation’ that lies at the very root of our troubles. It is not going to be any kind of a ‘remedy’, therefore. We are holding on ever-tighter to our ‘pattern of being in the world’ (which is a pattern of ‘reacting’) and this is making things worse not better. Contrary to our unconscious assumption, maintaining and consolidating our pattern of doing things (which essentially equals our identity) is not the solution to our suffering, but the root cause of it. The only helpful process as far as neurosis is concerned therefore is the process of self-transcendence (or ‘reaching out to the unknown’) which – as we have already said – is not something that we can have a strategy or method for. There are no methods for self-transcendence, there is no strategy for ‘reaching out to the unknown’.

 

There is no strategy for reaching out to the unknown because this is something that has to ‘happen all by itself’. It can’t be forced – ‘reaching out’ can neither be ‘forced’ nor ‘prescribed’, obviously. It happens when it is ready to happen, just as forgiveness comes ‘when it is ready to come and not before’. There is a whole side to life that is like this and – as a culture – we are hugely dismissive of this aspect of life. We are only interested in that aspect of ourselves that can be managed, that can be controlled or forced. We dismissive of ourselves therefore because this act of ‘reaching out’ is who we really are, not the ‘holding on’. The fear isn’t us – the fear is the denial of us! In ‘holding on’ we go against our true nature, and that is why it causes us to suffer. When we react to fear we go against our true nature and start trying to secure things for ourselves, ensure things for ourselves, and generally ‘keep things the same’. We start trying to ‘take charge of the process ourselves’, in other words, and this is invariable bad news. This is how we try to ‘help ourselves out’, but it is no help at all. Our way of trying to help ourselves becomes our greatest affliction, and this is neurosis.

 

There is no strategy for ‘reaching out’, there is no method for ‘self-transcendence’, but there is such a thing as a supportive atmosphere within which this ‘movement’ can take place when it is ready to do so. Instead of being all businesslike and clinically efficient (and apparently ‘all-knowing’ as a result of our extensive education) what really does help in the field of mental health is simply to become more sensitive, more open-minded, and less controlling. Or as we could also say, what really helps is to become stronger and braver ourselves!

 

We don’t need a fancy, high-powered technical language to talk about the journey that takes us towards a deeper state of mental health; this isn’t a ‘technical’ business, it’s an opening-up business and there are no labels, or no instructions for ‘opening up’! Life doesn’t come with an operating manual, after all…

 

 

Image: Tick tock Traveler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Thought Our Master

When we fall into the Realm of Form (or ‘the Realm of Definite Things’) we fall into a world of neurotic suffering – we fall into a world of neurotic suffering because everything becomes about maintaining and preserving boundaries, and yet the boundaries we feel we have to maintain and preserve aren’t actually real. They’re just a projection of the thinking mind – that’s what the TM does, it projects boundaries! To be completely preoccupied with the need to protect boundaries that aren’t real is the very essence of neurosis.

 

This combination of the two things – [1] the experienced need to maintain certain boundaries no matter what and [2] their actual nonexistence – is what produces neurotic suffering, and this suffering can never cease until we see through the illusionary boundaries that we are so very concerned with, and no longer experience the absolute need to hang onto them at whatever cost.

 

Boundaries are produced by the thinking mind, as we have just said, and the thinking mind acts as our ‘infallible guide all things’. It’s ‘infallible’ because we cannot doubt it. The thinking mind is infallible within its own remit, within the terms of the game it is playing, but outside of this remit, outside of this game, it has nothing to say. The problem is that the thinking mind has no way of knowing that there is any world outside of ‘the world of boundaries’ that it itself has made, and because we are dependent upon it as we are, the ‘ignorance’ of the thinking mind is also our ignorance.

 

Our ‘problem,’ therefore, is that we can’t see beyond the everyday thinking mind; we can’t see beyond the thinking mind because the thinking mind is functionally incapable of knowing about any other sort of reality other than the one it itself assumes, and we don’t know anything about reality other than the one that the thinking mind tells us about it. To say therefore that it is important to understand this point, to have this awareness about the limitation of thought and how thought works, is putting it mildly! Everything hangs on this. There are two sorts of life we could lead, depending upon whether we see that ‘we don’t know anything other than what thought shows us’, or whether we don’t see it. We can consider both of these possibilities in turn.

 

The second possibility is the easiest to describe – when we don’t have this awareness that ‘we don’t know any world other than the world that thought shows us’ then we will of course live entirely within the world that thought makes. That’s the only place we can live, obviously! This world corresponds to ‘the Realm of Form’ (or ‘the Realm of Definite Things’) that we started off talking about’; it is as we have said a world that is made up entirely of boundaries. Our total preoccupation is with what lies within the mind-created boundaries (i.e. with what thought says is real); as far as anything else goes, we couldn’t care less – we ‘don’t care and we don’t care that we don’t care’. We’re ‘not interested and we’re not interested in the fact that we’re not interested’. Another way of talking about this is to say that the world thought creates for us is always a concrete (or ‘literal’) one.

 

It’s rare to experience the world in a completely literal way – our awareness is never (or almost never) contained wholly within the thinking mind’s compartments; there’s always a bit of’ undefined (or ‘unformatted’) consciousness leftover to ‘humanise’ us. This unformatted consciousness allows us to live in a somewhat ‘softened’ world, a world with a bit of actual depth to it. It is this ‘depth’ or ‘non-literality’ that makes the world liveable – otherwise it’s very hard, very unforgiving, and that makes us hard and unforgiving too. We reflect the environment that we perceive, and this environment reflects our way of seeing it. The world is seen to be made up of ‘definite things’ and thus we are a ‘definite thing’ too, just like everything else. We’re a ‘thing in a world of things’, as Colin Wilson puts it…

 

How concrete or defined the world we relate to is varies according to our emotional state, or – as we could also say – it varies according to how dominated we are by the greed or fear. When we free from the ‘decomplexifying emotions,’ free (to some extent) from attachment of one form or another then we soften, we naturally become marvellously conscious, rather than appallingly ‘thing-like’ or ‘machine-like’. There is no need to speculate or argue about which of these two options feels better or ‘more wholesome’! Is it better to feel like a human being, or some kind of highly strung, utterly humourless ‘reaction machine’, careering blindly from one collision to another? This is clearly one of those questions that answers itself!

 

Thinking about things in this way allows us to get a better feel for what it would be like to live in ‘the literal–concrete world’. A completely concrete world is a world without any space in it – ‘reactions’ happen in it (like billiard balls colliding on a billiard table) but there no possibility of actually being there is present in any genuine way. ‘Automatically reacting’ is not the same as ‘being present’! The thing about’ literal signifiers’ (which is what the concrete world is made up of) is that every signifier we come across is like an arrow that points somewhere else – ‘the buck doesn’t actually stop anywhere’, in other words. The reason for this is what we might call the inherent poverty of all literal meanings – once we ‘get’ the literal meaning in question then we have to move on to something else. We have to move onto something else because there is nothing else there to get. The whole point of literal meaning is that there is ‘nothing else there to get’!

 

The real world isn’t like this however – the real world isn’t like this because it isn’t made up of literal meanings! The real world has got actual ‘content’ to it (which is why we call it ‘real world’). Content is never concrete – ‘concrete’ means that everything we come across comes neatly wrapped up in regular size parcels; reality itself doesn’t actually come in parcels however. There is no one there in the sorting office, wrapping stuff up, allotting meanings ‘according to the book’. There’s no bureaucracy in reality, no ‘organiser’. A good way to explain this is in terms of the ‘holographic principle’, which Anaxagoras talked about over 2500 years ago when he said that ‘there is a little bit of everything in everything’. There isn’t ‘a little bit of everything in everything’ when everything has been all neatly packaged up by the thinking mind – there’s no ‘holographic principle’ at work in the sterile categories of the thinking mind – that would totally defeat the entire object of the exercise, after all.

 

When we ‘organise things’ then the whole point is that there isn’t ‘a little bit of everything and everything – we are of course moving in exactly the opposite direction from this. But at the same time the fact that there isn’t any HP at work also means that there is no reality in our mental categories either – that’s how reality gets to be reality after all, by the holographic principle. Reality (we could say) gets to be reality by being ‘undivided’, by ‘not excluding’ anything, by not ‘following rules’. As soon as we start dividing things up, excluding things, following rules, then we depart from reality. We depart from reality and become impoverished, even though we won’t know it because we will be far too bamboozled by all the literal meanings flying around. We will be far too busy bouncing off the walls of our concrete world, in other words…

 

The inherent poverty of content of the rational-conceptual mind means that we can never actually be present – we can never actually be present because there’s nothing there to be present with! Things are different in the real (i.e. ‘non-abstract’) world; things are different because there is content. Content means that things aren’t ‘what they appear to be’ (which is one of Heraclitus’s principles.) Things don’t just stay as ‘what they appear to be’ (or ‘what they are nominally defined as being’) – there just isn’t that type of ‘static organisation’ to the real world. There isn’t any rational mind behind it all; there is no ‘overarching bureaucracy’! The lack of bureaucracy means ‘no impoverishment’, it means that we’re not forever living in a film set made up entirely of glossy façades; as we have said, there is actual real honest-to-goodness substance to the world.

 

We can be present in the real world because there is something to be present with, therefore. But it’s not just that we can be present in the real world (because there is actual content in it), there’s also actual content in us! We’re real too. It’s not just the case that the world around us isn’t made up of mere two-dimensional ‘conceptual furniture’, neither are we. There is a possibility being present ‘as we really are’, rather than being present in a purely abstract or nominal sense, rather than being present as mere ‘things’ in the thing-like universe. When we are mere ‘things in the thing-like universe’ then we are (as we have said) forever bouncing from one literal meaning to another. It’s rather like being a ball in an old-fashioned pinball machine being batted crazily from one place to another, with our eye always on the big jackpot, only the thing about the concrete world (unlike the real pinball game) is that they never actually is going to be a jackpot. How could there be a jackpot when literal meanings are by their very nature inherently impoverished? What exactly do we expect that the literal realm is going to provide us with, other than yet more empty promises and threats?

 

This is the key thing to understand about the literal world – when you’re in it there’s nowhere to go, and yet at the same time everything in this world is about going there! We have to do it, and yet we CAN’T do it! This is simply ‘pointless pressure’ therefore, and this gives us another way of looking at ‘life in the literal world’ – we can say that life in the literal world always involves being under the pressure to do something that just can’t be done. It’s a ‘double-bind’ in other words. A good way to explain what this ‘impossible thing’ is that we’re trying to do is to say that ‘we’re trying to find reality in a place where there isn’t any’. Reality can’t be found in the non-holographic universe – we are under the illusion (and it’s an extremely compelling illusion) that by breaking everything up into categories (or compartments) we can eventually find the ultimate prize, which is ‘reality’. It will be lurking there one of our compartments, so to speak! This is of course just another way of saying that we believe that the ‘infallible guide’ which is the thinking mind will one day ‘bring us to the Promised Land’. We are working away, working away, working away, with feverish industry and fanatical determination, towards this end.

 

Reductive analysis won’t bring us to reality however, only synthesis can do this and synthesis isn’t under the remit of the rational intellect! The thinking mind can take things apart, but it can’t put them back together again. Reality is of course already there; it was already there before we start trying to find it, before we started trying to ‘isolate’ it. Reality is in the Undivided world, the Uncategorised world, and that’s the world that is around us all the time, before we start trying to exploit it, or ‘mine it for goodies’. As Gottfried Leibniz (1670) says –

Reality cannot be found except in One single source, because of the interconnection of all things with one another.

In this, the ‘non-conceptual world’, everything already contains everything else, just as Anaxagoras says. Everything – and everyone – reveals itself or themselves to be ‘the Whole’, when we pay enough attention. Why then would we have to go devoting our lives looking for ‘the special thing’, and walking all over everyone else as we do so? Why the rabid competitiveness? Why then are we so keen to hand over responsibility for our lives to the machine which is the ‘thinking mind’, and make it our master in all things?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living In The World Of Foregone Conclusions

Living in the world of our thoughts is a drag, as Alan Watts would say. What could be more dispiriting than always staying within the remit of our tired old thoughts, which are – when it comes down to it – nothing more than a bunch of recycled, tawdry old memes? Our conventional way of looking at things tells us that everything that everything good is to be found here, within this ‘realm of the known’; it tells us – more implicitly than explicitly, of course – that all possibilities are to be found here. And yet there are no possibilities here, not really – only the endless rehashing of the same old categories, which will never get us anywhere…

 

The world of our thoughts is ‘the world of foregone conclusions’, when it comes down to it – every thought, every idea every concept, is ‘a foregone conclusion’. It’s a cliché – it has nothing new to bring to the table!  All of our mental constructs are clichés in this way; all of our mental constructs are ‘foregone conclusions’. As Krishnamurti says ‘thought is always old’. What could be more fundamentally dispiriting than always going around on the same old tracks therefore, whilst trying to make out to ourselves that actually we’re headed for some grand destination? Of all the malicious tricks we could play on ourselves, wouldn’t this be the worst? And yet this is what we do just about every day of our lives – we go around in circles and tell ourselves that we’re going somewhere.

 

We tell ourselves that we’re ‘getting somewhere when we work towards a ‘foregone conclusion’ (or ‘known outcome’) and so does society as a whole. Conventional wisdom tells us that working towards a foregone conclusion is the best way to do things (if not the only way to do things); conventional wisdom tells us that we should always be working towards a goal, towards a known or defined outcome –that’s called ‘being in control’ and being in control of our lives is what it’s all about, or so we are led to believe. Being in control is good, just as being out-of-control is bad, but what we don’t see (and don’t show any sign of seeing) is that being in control all the time means never leaving the world of foregone conclusions…

 

We’re led to believe that the right way to live life is always to be working towards a known outcome (to be ‘always in control’) but being in control of what is happening (or of where we are going) isn’t what life is about at all – that’s something else we are talking about here, not life! We’re talking about some sham version of life, some sad mockery of life, not the actual thing itself. The actual thing isn’t ‘a drag’, isn’t a dull and wearisome matter of ‘working towards a known outcome as if we were actually interested in that. Quite frankly, that’s an appalling thing to have to do; it is – if we were to be honest – a form of torture that we are subjecting ourselves to. It is however a form of torture that we are, both on the collective and the personal level, constantly validating for ourselves.

 

Psychologically speaking, working to a foregone conclusion (or ‘known outcome’) is a form of living that is not living – it is in fact not so much ‘life’ as ‘the avoidance of life disguised as life’. Working towards goals the whole time is an avoidance of life because life is not a foregone conclusion! Life is not about ‘working towards a goal’, no matter what we might have been told, and no matter how many times we might have been told it. Life has absolutely nothing to do with our goals, as we would surely realize if we were ever to reflect on the matter. My goals are my own affair, they are important only inasmuch as I say they are, and I would be foolish in the extreme to think otherwise. Goals are not life and life is not a goal.

 

Intuitively, we all know this – we all know deep down that life is a mystery and that living life is to embrace this mystery on its own terms rather than putting it into neat little boxes of our own design. ‘Life is a movement towards an unknown goal’, says Jung, and not a movement to a goal that we ourselves have made up! When we move towards a defined goal or predetermined outcome then this equals ‘running away from life’; being always orientated towards goals equals ‘running away from life’ because we are thereby avoiding all uncertainty, all ‘risk’, and life is nothing else but uncertainty, nothing else but ‘risk’. All psychotherapists know this – all psychotherapists know that if you put all the emphasis on avoiding risk (which is the ‘sensible’ thing to do) then you will avoid life too. As Jesus says in John 12:25, ‘He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.’ [King James Bible]

 

So – just to repeat the point – the movement towards a known outcome isn’t life but the avoidance of life, and yet this is what our collective ‘wisdom’ tells us we should be doing. The template has been laid down in front of us and all the sign-posts have been put in place and nothing is left for us but to adhere as best we can to this template. The route-directions have been etched into our minds via the process of socialization and the only job remaining for us is to follow the route that has been mapped out for us. The behavioural reinforcement involved here is immense and it would be foolish of us to try to pretend otherwise – the more slavishly we conform to the template, the closer we follow laid-out route the more ‘success’ we stand to gain. The more we diverge (or deviate) on the other hand, the more certain is our ‘failure’ (within the terms of the game that has been thrust upon us). The more successful we are the more social reinforcement we receive (needless to say!) whilst the less successful we are, the more negative reinforcement (or negative kudos) we will incur. This is how society works, as we all know.

 

Who could possibly be brave enough to stand up against this type of pressure? What would it take for us not to fall in line with everyone else, and strike our own path, in flagrant contradiction of everything we have been taught? What would it take for us to let go of this business of working our way towards the foregone conclusion which – as we all know very well on some level – is terribly, terribly uninteresting? The ‘factor’ that would inspire us to ignore the game rules (and give up all the ‘safety behaviour’ that goes with them) is itself profoundly mysterious and not therefore amenable to logical analysis, whilst the factor promoting conformity is as plain as the nose on your face! We don’t need a PhD in psychology to understand what type of a process is involved here – we see it at work in every school playground…

 

There is a strong tendency at work for human culture to become more homogenous or less diverse and to a very large extent we can attribute this to advances made in the technology of communication; we are all much more ‘hooked up’ in this information age of ours and whilst there are obviously advantages to this there are also significant disadvantages – disadvantages that are for the most part much visible. The disadvantages of being in ‘lock-step’ with millions and millions of other human beings is that the behavioural reinforcement factor that we have just been talking about has now arguably become more powerful than at any other point in our history. This ‘conformity to the mental and behavioural template’ is at this stage – without any doubt at all! – the Number One threat to mental health that we face in our lives. It is ‘the Number One Threat to mental health’ because it reinforces to an extraordinary degree the tendency we already have which is the tendency to avoid the intrinsic uncertainty of life by following pre-established patterns of living life.

 

We need only look around us to see this – we live in a world that is governed by hypnotic images, images whose purpose is to tell us that our happiness and fulfilment are to be found ‘on the outside of us’, in the collectively-generated consensual hallucination that Jean Baudrillard calls ‘the realm of the hyperreal’. Hyperreality is by its very nature immensely hypnotic, overwhelmingly hypnotic – it is a drug like no other and we are pretty much all addicts!  We’re addicted to seeking life on the outside of ourselves in the realm of the hyperreal, in what we could call the ‘Image World’. We are – we might say – all addicted to looking for happiness and fulfilment on the outside of ourselves in this collectively-validated version of life where everything is all about ‘moving successfully towards socially-sanctioned goals. These goals contain – we imagine – the possibility of our happiness, the actualization of our very personal dreams (which is to say, the expression of our true uncompromised individuality).

 

This is the most ridiculous joke of all time however, if only we could see it! It’s a ridiculous joke because these ‘dreams’ were implanted in us in the first place and have therefore nothing whatsoever to do with our ‘true individuality’; actualizing them only increases the insidious control of the system that is regulating and defining our consciousness. Seeking the goals we have been told to seek empowers the system and disembowels us; the consensus world (which is unreal) becomes all-powerful whilst we (who are real) lose every last little bit of our power or autonomy. The game we are playing is based on the denial of who we really are and yet we are led to believe that we are ‘celebrating our individuality’! ‘Go on, you’re worth it!’, says the ad on TV…

 

There’s no fulfilment, no happiness to be had in this ‘world that exists outside of us’. It should actually be necessary to say this – of course there’s no fulfilment or happiness in the world that exists outside of ourselves! Whose fulfilment or happiness would it be, anyway? Certainly not ours! It’s fulfilment / happiness that belongs to the world of images and the world of images isn’t real. The world of images isn’t real and if it isn’t real then there can’t be any happiness in it! There’s no one in this world that exists outside of us (obviously enough!) and because there’s no one in it there can’t be any fulfilment or happiness. Happiness and fulfilment have to belong to a real person – they can’t belong to an image in image world, they can’t belong to an act we’re putting on!

 

The Image World – which is the world that we have collectively agreed upon – is made up of ‘known outcomes’ or ‘foregone conclusions’. That’s all that’s in it. The consensus hyperreality world itself is a ‘foregone conclusion’ – it’s a foregone conclusion that nothing real is ever going to happen here. It’s a foregone conclusion that our search for happiness and fulfilment in the world of images is going to fail. Saying that nothing real is ever going to happen in the image world (which we do not of course see as ‘the image world’ but rather as the one and only true world) is equivalent to what Buddhist teachers such as Milarepa have said about the ‘barrenness of samsara’ (samsara being the deceptive world of appearances). Samsara or the world of appearances is the most barren of all environments, for reasons we have already gone into. No desert is as sterile as this! And yet we perceive it to be positively bubbling over with the most enticing of possibilities. We avoid seeing the terrible barrenness of the Image World and instead fixate our narrow attention on our games of loss and gain, saying that ‘such and such an outcome’ is supremely important and then feeling either good or bad depending up how skilful our controlling is!

 

But no matter how much effort we put into the task of ‘denying the barrenness of samsara’ (or denying the futility of the game we are playing’) this barrenness (or sense of futility) will always show themselves at some point and when they do they will show themselves in the form of a particularly bleak for of suffering – a form of suffering so bleak in fact that we will think of it as a curse, or – in a more medical idiom – as a pathology or sickness. But this supercharged suffering isn’t a curse, or a ‘sickness’ – it’s actually the awareness of the barrenness of the Image World (which is an awareness we have worked so hard to avoid) that we have thrown away with such force (and then forgotten about) coming back at us like a deadly boomerang of pain.

 

‘Avoidance’ doesn’t just mean running away from things, it also means running towards them! When we run full-tilt towards our goals, towards our desired outcomes (or ‘dreams’) then we are avoiding life; we are avoiding life because life – as we have said – isn’t a goal or a desired outcome or a ‘dream’. Or to put this another way, when we run full-force at this thing we call ‘winning’ we’re creating a boomerang; we don’t know that we’re creating a boomerang, for sure, but our ignorance of what we’re doing won’t stop it coming back and hitting us in the head! Both ‘running away from negative certainty’ and ‘running towards the positive variety’ equal ‘the game’ and the game equals evading every last trace of awareness of the Great Mystery that is life…

 

Art: Eduardo Martinez. Taken from creativeboom.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…