There are two sorts of world that we can live in, two sorts of world that are based on very different principles. The type of world that we are generally familiar with – and would actually say is ‘the only world there is’ – is the one that is based on a concrete narrative, i.e. some kind of linear story-line. The other, unfamiliar type of world is the type in which the narrative isn’t the thing at all really – the ‘thing’ being the actual texture of what’s going on, the quality of it, whatever that might be. So if life were a tapestry we would be noticing the fineness of the fabric, rather than being completely absorbed in the images depicted on the tapestry. The difference between these two ways of apprehending the world is very great indeed – it is we might say an incommensurable difference.
We can further illustrate what we’re talking about here by thinking about two ways of writing a story. One way would be the usual ‘plot-driven’ way in which everything is about the plot as it unfolds, and where we’re hanging on each new development. In this case the ‘texture’ of the story-telling is pretty much irrelevant because all eyes are on the story-line rather than the richness or subtlety of the language being used. There is a basic proficiency in grammar and vocabulary to be sure but when it comes to it the language being used is strictly functional in nature – it just needs to be good enough to tell the story, in a ‘bare-bones’ kind of a way. This isn’t great writing of course because it never really does any more than just distract us, no matter how clever or engrossing the plot-development might be. At the end of the story we are left with nothing – it’s just like watching a Hollywood blockbuster – all we’re left with is a kind of hollowness and the need to find something to distract ourselves all over again.
Whilst in the narrative-driven story the language itself is always uninspiring and dully-generic in nature, like bricks being chucked mechanically into the walls of yet another uniform house being built in a some vast impersonal housing estate, in the second type of story the language (i.e. the words and their relationship with each other) is all important. It’s the quality of the writing that we enjoy, not the racing narrative, not the unpredictable twists and turns of the story. Whereas in Type-1 writing the quality of the language is poor, and not worth a second look, in writing of the second sort the ‘texture’ of what we’re reading is tremendously rich in its own right, no matter what the plot might or might not be. Another way of putting this is to say that Type-2 writing is poetical – the words themselves are alive, they are not mere bricks that go to make up a structure. We don’t need to be coaxed and coerced along by crude mechanical gimmicks, always looking for the next drama to unfold; it’s not the defined foreground that matters but the whole thing, foreground plus background, and this is not something that we can point at by using ‘functional’ language. Functional language can only ever point at those elements which already make sense within the framework that we are using and so it can never tell us anything new; poetical language, on the other hand, manages to point beyond the framework, which is to say, beyond the mapped-out world of positively-emphasized (or high-lighted) elements. Words are somehow being used to point beyond words; ideas are being used to point beyond ideas. This is the ‘magic’ of poetical writing…
‘Functional’ language is language that is used strictly in accordance with the rules governing sentence-construction, etc. It is language that agrees at all times with the accepted framework and so of course it can never help us escape from that framework, that closed context. Language that is based on rules is of necessity a language that is generic; it is ‘machine language’, it is language that is essentially dead. The story-line that we are being fed is meant purely literally – there is no other level of meaning and because there is no other level of meaning we are trapped in the level that we have been given! Literalism always traps – it can do nothing else.
When we are using words poetically on the other hand the ‘literal’ or ‘stated’ meaning is never the final meaning. There are no final meanings. The story doesn’t mean what it says it means, so if we read in Genesis that God rested on the seventh day, after creating the world, we take this exactly at face-value, even though this is utterly preposterous since days don’t really exist for God in the way that they do for us, since God – surely – dwells in Eternity and not in some manufactured unit-by-unit linear time-stream! In Type-1 writing the stated narrative is an end in itself; the denouement or climax is what it’s all leading up to and that denouement or climax is of course literally ‘the end’… That climax has to be pretty dramatic therefore because it has to make reading all that tedious language, to get to that point, worth it. The ending has to give us value for money, it has to repay us for all the mechanical effort that we have put into reading it. This is how concrete (Type-1) writing works, as we have said it relies on tricks and gimmicks and gizmos because it has nothing else. It always has to be scaring us or thrilling us, it always has to be whipping up some kind of tedious drama. Type-2 writing isn’t about the destination, however. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey itself, to use the familiar expression. ‘With every step I take I arrive at my destination’, says Thich Nhat Hanh, and so in another way there is no destination. The idea of a destination becomes meaningless.
What we’re talking about here isn’t to do with either good or bad literature of course but the narrative that the thinking mind is busy telling us every moment of the day. the rational-conceptual mind is constantly spinning us a story and we are pretty much compelled to buy into it. This is a story we’re stuck with, no matter how dull or repetitive it is we can’t put it down. We can’t put it down because we’re sewn into it. We’re not just ‘in’ the story, we are the story! It goes without saying (it ought to go without saying) that the thinking mind’s narrative is a purely functional one. It hooks us in and keeps us hooked by using cheap drama rather than relying on the originality or uniqueness of its story-telling ability. The rational-conceptual mind trades in language that is emphatically concrete (or generic) in nature – it can hardly do otherwise since it is essentially a machine that runs on rules. All machines have generic rather than unique output – that’s what that makes them machines! We can’t expect art from a mechanical device – that isn’t really what they’re for. A toaster toasts bread and it can generally be relied upon to do so, we don’t expect it to write sonnets. What we don’t see is that the rational-conceptual mind is just another device and that its output therefore is always going to be formulaic.
The world we generally believe in therefore is a strictly ‘functional’ one – it is the world that has been created by thought and it is on this account a world that will never transcend itself. Just as a toaster will, in its allotted lifetime, produce innumerable slices of toast for us, so too will the rational mind keep on coming out with the same old thing, over and over again, for as long as it is able. As far as toasters (or any other of our useful mechanical devices) are concerned this is exactly what we want out of them, but when we’re talking about ‘the story of our lives’, flawless mechanical repetition is a curse rather than a blessing. What happens to us then – as a result of the mechanical reliability of the thinking mind – is that our subjective reality becomes synonymous with our ‘rational output’, which is a dead, literal affair that never points beyond itself. It is a prison, in other words – the prison of purposefulness, the prison of the thinking mind.
The narrative-creating mind – the rational voice in our heads – can’t do Type-2 writing. That was never its brief. It operates on the basis of rules and rules only ever point at themselves. Rules justify themselves on the basis of themselves. A rule is always literal in other words, it only ever means what it says it means. The world of rich and subtle texture can’t be produced by thinking – it can’t be produced at all, it can only emerge spontaneously. The question is then, how do we let the Type-2 world, which is the non-generic world, emerge? There are two ways in which we could answer this question. One would be to say that when we ask ‘how’ to let the non-generic world emerge we are asking for a rule to follow, which means that the question itself is jinxed and should not be asked in the first place. We could also be softer in our approach and answer that it is all about getting better at ‘letting go’, or getting better at allowing things to happen the way they were going to happen before we took control of the process and got them to happen the way we thought that they ought to be happening instead. We could say that the spontaneous reality emerges when we learn to stop controlling so much, and take an interest in how things are in themselves rather than always being narrowly obsessed with ‘how we want them to be’. It is as simple as that…
The less attached we are to the next bit of excitement that is coming our way – be it of the agreeable or disagreeable variety – the more we are able to appreciate where we actually are, and the more we are able to appreciate where we actually are more ‘unprogrammed content’ we will start to become aware of. The less focussed on goals or outcomes we become, the bigger our world will become as a result. Or as we could also say, ‘the less fixated we are on the thinking mind’s narrow descriptions of reality, the bigger our world will become as a result’. ‘Agreeable versus disagreeable excitement’ is another way of talking about desire versus fear and so we could say that the way the thought-created world gains our attention is by pressurizing us with either promises of a good thing or threats of a bad thing. Everything is drama, therefore – everything is something to be personally involved with, personally concerned about. There’s no equanimity there, in other words and the lack of equanimity is the key to how it all works!
We can see why there is no equanimity involved – not even a tiny little trace of it – just as soon as we consider that the thinking mind operates on the basis of evaluations, or ‘judgements’. As soon as there is an evaluation then everything straightaway gets polarized into good and bad and what this means is that we are obliged to act so as to move in the direction of the good outcome and away from the one that is bad. There’s no neutrality when it comes to the mind’s evaluations – an evaluation is the very same thing as a compulsion therefore because it shows us a reality which contains within it the need to do one thing rather than the other, or see things one way rather than another. The bias is implicit in the reality that we have been provided with by the evaluating mind, the only thing being that it is now invisible as such, as is the compulsion that arises from the bias. When we buy into the conditioned reality that the thinking mind is selling us then we don’t have any choice in getting embroiled in the drama therefore because we can’t help seeing things in a biased or partisan way, which is to say, we can’t help seeing one outcome as being ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’. We’re well and truly caught therefore, and there’s no way we can escape from the pressure that thought is putting us under – no way other than hoping that the pressure will go away when we have done what the thinking process demands that we do.
Dramas (or ‘polarizations’) are the stock-in-trade of the thinking mind and what this does to us is put us under pressure. We are pressurized to focus on the story as it is told to us, straining to make sure we don’t miss anything. We’re hanging on every word, our eyes are glued to the screen. We’re sitting on the edge of the metaphorical sofa, waiting to see what the outcome of the latest twist in the plot is going to be. This power to magnetize our attention so it acts like it doesn’t seem to belong to us any more – which in Eastern metaphysics is called attachment – is what keeps us narrowly focussed on the figure (or foreground) and oblivious to all else. The foreground seems to matter more than anything else, and yet it is completely hollow, completely empty. Everything is completely empty really, as the Buddhist sutras tell us, but the thing about the figure-in-exclusion-of-the-ground is that it fraudulently claims to be saying something outside of itself, something that is objectively true about the world. Attachment means that we’re giving all our attention to the fraudulent therefore, in the fond belief that we are learning something very important, very valuable …
Once we see through the trick, the gimmick, then we never see the world in the same way again. Having seen the truth, we can never really forget it. We might still be trapped – for the most part – in the crude world of coercive images, but we have now had a glimpse through the bars of our cage and that has shown us that what we thought was ‘the world’ wasn’t any kind of a world at all, but only some cheap and tacky show that the conceptual mind was putting on for us, and what we didn’t know to be a world, or rather what we didn’t know to be anything at all because we never noticed it, turns out to be a world more astonishing than anything we could never have imagined, because we would never have imagined reality. Somehow we were content with the humdrum world of stereotyped images with which we were presented on a daily basis, and which we never saw fit to question. As C.S. Lewis says, ‘we are far too easily pleased…’
The mind-created narrative is like a cliché that has been repeated so many times, by so many millions and millions of people, that it has become quite meaningless. We think that it means something, but it doesn’t. And yet it is the only reality we know, the only reality we care about. We will only know it to be fraudulent when we come in contact with the unstated reality that emerges all by itself when we rebel from the constant pressure to attend to the state propaganda and allow ourselves to develop an interest in the ‘accidental world’, the world that was not produced by the thinking mind. When we do get to know this uncreated world then our thoughts and concepts start to lose the interest they had for us. This is like going to see a play with a dumb friend who can’t help coming out with inane comments the whole time – to begin with you are listening to your friend and laughing along with him because you are so much in the habit of doing so, but then when you actually listen to what’s going on in the play – in-between your friend’s comments – you realize that your so-called ‘friend’ is actually a total empty-headed moron and that you have been missing out on something very interesting by listening to him. In the same way then, when we see what reality is really like – outside of the mind’s commentary – then we lose our appetite for the tawdry substitute. Tasting the genuine article always cures us of our taste for poor copy, the insipid surrogate. That’s why a totalitarian state has to be totalitarian – we can’t be allowed to have any freedom because if we had any freedom we simply wouldn’t put up with it. Totalitarian governments have to bully and deceive us every step of the way because without all the draconian instruments of social control, without the surveillance and the secret police, without the scare tactics and the wall-to-wall propaganda, no one in their right mind would tolerate them remaining in power for a moment.
Ultimately, what makes the mind-created drama gripping in the way that it has to be if we are to get totally swallowed up by it is the fact that it is entirely serious. The good outcome that is about to happen really is good, just as the bad outcome that we are afraid of happening really is bad, and there are no two ways about it. There are no other ways of looking at it. This absolutely seriousness relies on one thing and one thing alone – the very real difference between the one outcome and the other, the very real nature of the projected polarity. Or we could also say that the uncompromising sense of ‘seriousness’ that we’re talking about comes about because of this thing that we could call ‘the myth of lack’ or ‘the myth of deficiency’. If there is a deficiency within us of something that we absolutely need to have, something that totally dependent upon for our well-being, then straightaway this creates the dichotomy of ‘good outcome’ versus ‘bad outcome’, or ‘success’ versus ‘failure’. If we make good whatever vital thing it is that we are deficient in then this is success and if we fail to make good what we lack then this is failure. Without the all-important lack or deficiency therefore (this sense of things not being OK unless such-and-such a condition is met) there will be no drama, there will be no serious goals to keep drawing us in.
We can relate this to the idea of a ‘holographic universe’ versus a ‘non-holographic universe’. The non-holographic universe equates to what we have been calling the Type-1 reality, which is where the textural quality of the narrative doesn’t matter so much as the plot that is unfolding. The ‘good stuff’ is in the punch line, in other words, rather than being implicit in every little bit of the story. A holographic universe, on the other hands, has this property whereby everything is already contained in everything, and so the whole idea of developments occurring that ‘everything could hang on’, and which we therefore have to be ‘seriously’ concerned / worried about becomes ridiculous. Everything become playful in a holographic universe, everything is more about being than doing – the doing can’t be as important as all that after all, since doing can never result in being. In the Type-1 reality the reason doing is as overvalent as it is because in some way we assume that it is only if we can pull the ‘successful doing’ out of the bag that we can ever obtain being. As a result of this we live in a world that is all doing and thinking and hoping and fearing and no being at all, only the promise of being that is used to goad us on and on. The Type-1 reality is the reality that we are being fed on in industrial quantities everyday; modern culture is a machine for manufacturing this type of reality – not because it benefits us, as we have said – but because it benefits the systems that are in place to regulate the reality that has been produced, and which we are so sewn into. Crude concrete story-lines that spin us on and on forever without ever giving us a break, literal narratives that separate us from who we are, crass generic narratives that go on and on forever, supposedly heading to ‘somewhere good’ are all that we are ever going to get. The contrast between the two ways of living couldn’t be greater, as we have said – either we keep on living in hope of a bigger and better climax, a bigger and better success (all of which are mere empty pain-producing phantoms with no sustenance in them) or we appreciate life for what it actually is, in all its subtlety and rich complexity, rather than for what we deludedly project on it with our frighteningly impoverished minds.
Just to summarize what we have been saying, in the Type-2 reality – which is the only reality there is – we aren’t dumbly hypnotized by the overt story-line – the ‘story-line’ is still there but because we aren’t hypnotized by it it isn’t inducing a state of unconsciousness in us. Instead of rendering us unconscious, it enriches our consciousness, just as myths, fairy-tales and poetry always enrich our consciousness. Type-2 story-telling is consciousness-expanding story telling – it’s a magical story we’re listening to not a rational one! It’s the type of story that the rational mind won’t allow to be there – or if it does, only in a thoroughly sentimentalized – and therefore utterly enervated or depotentiated – fashion. The rational mind’s take on ‘magic’ and ‘things magical’ is a horror story; it is a sickening caricature. The one thing rationality can never have sympathy with is magic – everything rational has to serve some banal literal purpose, and so what is ever going to be ‘magical’ about this? . If we use the analogy of a photograph in a glossy magazine, then looking at the images, as they are presented to us, corresponds to listening to a Type-2 narrative. But actually, if we were to take the initiative to look deep enough into the photo, we would see that each humble pixel in the image is in fact the whole universe in disguise. We don’t give the individual pixels any regard at all – we only care about the image that they are making up – and so to discover that every pixel contains infinitely more information than the image that they go to make up is a truly astonishing reversal of expectations. Each humble pixel – supposedly carrying the bare fraction of the total picture – is revealed as being the Whole of Everything. The poverty of the rational picture dissolves and reveals a doorway into Eternity; each little insignificant pixel is found to our amazement to contain within it the incomprehensible profundity of the One Undivided Truth.
These then are the two types of story that we can live by. The first type is the tautological expression of the utilitarian device of the rational-conceptual mind (which is an exercise in deception or ‘camouflaged redundancy‘) and this is only one we generally know about. The other type of story is the expression of the Ineffable Reality itself, which our rational culture systematically suppresses all knowledge of…
Author: Nick Williams
Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.