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It Begins With a Blessing…

Life always comes as a blessing, until we turn it into a game – which is what we always do with it! Then it stops being a blessing and becomes something else…

 

 

 

A game is when we pick some goal at random, and then struggle to achieve it. A game is an exercise in personal will, therefore – we take a whim, and then we stubbornly insist on seeing it through! We won’t be budged, we won’t be put off. We take up a stance and that is the end of the matter, we adopt a position and then we stick to it. We lose all flexibility – we get all serious about it. We have set our heart on the prize and that is that. Nothing else matters.

 

 

 

When we are able to exert our will in this matter – no matter what forces might be acting against us – then we have won the game and winning at the game feels good. Vindication of our personal will feels good! If on the other hand we aren’t able to successfully exercise our will then we get upset, or we get angry. Failure to obtain vindication of our personal will feels bad – it de-validates us both in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. Personal will might be petty (or arbitrary) in its origin, but we immediately invest ourselves in it, so that it becomes a matter of pride. By our investment in our goal (by the fact that we take it so seriously) we attempt to compensate for the pettiness of the motivation that lay behind it! The more gratuitous the whim, the more rigidly and emphatically we try to enforce it. The exercise of personal will is therefore a theatrical performance by which we get to take ourselves seriously. This is how we get to be ‘somebody’; this is how we get to feel that we actually count for something. This is how we get to feel that we actually exist…

 

 

 

When we get caught up in exercising our personal will life no longer comes as a blessing. Its character is changed entirely. We however don’t notice this because our attention is firmly fixated on the good feeling that we anticipate obtaining when we manage to ‘get our own way’, when we succeed in the enactment of our personal will. For us, this intensely rewarding feeling of personal validation (or ‘vindication’) is the blessing we want – this is the only ‘blessing’ we know or care about.

 

 

 

But the rewarding feeling we get when we successfully enact our personal will is not a blessing at all, for all that we run after it so determinedly. It’s not any sort of a blessing at all – in fact it’s a form of suffering! It is suffering in disguise. The rewarding feeling of being able to successfully enact our personal will is not a blessing because there is no peace in it, and without peace there can be no blessing. The blessing is in the peace – it can’t be anywhere else!

 

 

 

There is no peace in the good feeling that comes with fulfilling personal will because it is essentially precariousit can only be obtained by controlling and it can only be held onto by controlling. If we relax our control then it’s going to slip away from us! Because the good feeling comes from ‘successful controlling’ we can’t afford to stop controlling. If we stop controlling we lose the prize and then that is the end of the rewarding, euphoric feeling of self-validation. Instead of the elation of self-validation, we then get to be on the receiving end of the pain of feeling like a loser, the pain of being de-validated instead of validated. The good feeling of being personally validated or vindicated by being a successful controller (a ‘successful game player’) has therefore no peace in it – not at any point in the proceedings. We have to keep on struggling, keep on fighting, keep on holding on tight to what we have gained.

 

 

 

And even if we never do go off duty, even if we do keep on controlling the whole time to prevent the prize from slipping away from our grasp, we’re still going to lose it, we’re still going suffer the pain of not being able to successfully enact our will. This is another reason why the good feeling that we never look beyond is not a blessing – not only is there no peace in it but there is also the matter of the inevitable reversal to be considered. In other words the validating glow of being a successful controller is absolutely bound to go sour on us at some point!  It’s a good feeling that’s waiting to turn into a bad feeling later on, which means that it only has the appearance (for an all-too-brief period of time) of ‘being a blessing’. It’s going to turn around on us. It’s a duplex blessing and a ‘duplex blessing’ is really just a cheat, just a counterfeit. It’s a spinning coin…

 

 

 

The reason that the good feeling which we get from successfully enacting our personal will (the euphoric hit that we chase so determinedly) isn’t a blessing is because it is so very ‘personalized’ – so exclusively personalized, in fact. Personal validation is – very obviously – all about me!  The good feeling that I get when things work out the way I want them to (which means that I am either a successful controller or else just very lucky!) is of course all about me – its inseparable from me, meaningless without me, non-existent without me. So when I enthuse about this good feeling (the good feeling that comes from winning out against all the odds) what I am really enthusing about is myself. When I go on about how great, how marvellous, how fantastic this good feeling is (which we do a lot in this society) what I am really talking about is myself. I am chasing my own self-satisfaction, my own self-gratification the whole time, and this obsession is validated by society. The ‘ultimate good’ – in our philosophy – is the validation of the self through winning. When we hear people talking about how great, how marvellous, how splendid it is to be ‘successful’ what they are really talking about is the validation of the self. And if the validation (or vindication) of the self is the most important thing then this of course means that the self is the most important thing.

 

 

 

We might of course start to wonder at this point in the discussion what is so very wrong with this. Why shouldn’t I seek to validate myself by striving to obtain my goals? Aren’t I worth it? Don’t I deserve it? Shouldn’t I take myself seriously by striving to realize my dreams, my goals, my ambitions? Am I supposed to deny myself instead? The point that we are making here however is simply that the rewarding feeling that comes with the successful enactment of the personal will is not a blessing, not by a long chalk. It’s an apparent blessing, it’s the misleading appearance of a blessing. And if it is not a blessing – if it is in fact only the superficial ‘appearance of a blessing’ – then why would we spend all our time chasing it? If what I am chasing is in fact only ‘suffering in disguise’ then what am I really denying myself? What am I relinquishing?

 

 

 

The feeling of self-validation or self-gratification is not a blessing because, as we have said, there is no peace in it. There is no end to the need which the self has for validation, validation and yet more validation and so of course there is no peace in it. It is just constant striving, constant chasing, punctuated from time to time by flashes of euphoric satisfaction when we score. It is also punctuated with moments of the blackest despair and defeat. Not to mention bucket-loads of weariness, stress and anxiety. And all the time there is this underlying feeling that we are simply running around and around on a wheel – running for the sake of running, chasing for the sake of chasing, controlling for the sake of controlling. With no chance of ever being released from the wheel no matter what rose-tinted fantasies we might be entertaining ourselves with as we run, as we keep on straining and stretching to get our hands on what always seems to be ‘just around the corner’…

 

 

 

Where is the blessing in all this? We might be convinced that there is going to be a blessing in it when we finally win, when we finally score, but this perception is very thoroughly deluded, to put it mildly. In order to enjoy the euphoric pleasure that comes with the successful enactment of personal will it is necessary (it is absolutely essential) that we narrow down our interest in the world to a tremendous extent. This is how the game works. All my eggs are in the one basket, and it is a very narrow basket. All my interest, all my attention, all my concern is fixated upon the goal that I am pursuing – the ‘goal’ meaning ‘what I want to happen’. Fixating all my interest on the designated goal of ‘what I want to happen’ is the very same thing as me fixating my attention on myself! The two fixations are the same thing – they cannot be separated. But to be so narrowly fixated on myself (such that I really have no interest at all on anything that doesn’t have a bearing on me, doesn’t have a relevance to the game I am playing) entails a huge impoverishment of reality. It entails an absolutely tremendous degradation (or ‘over-simplification’) of what it means to ‘be in the world’. Actually, the world doesn’t come into it – there is only me chasing my goals, which are extensions of myself. I am not ‘interested in the world’ so much as I am ‘interested in escaping from the world’.

 

 

 

Whenever I enact my personal will this is inevitably going to be a tautological (or empty) exercise – the outcome I have set out to achieve only matters to me because I have said that it shall matter, which means that it doesn’t really matter at all. It’s a game that I am playing! It’s not really meaningful, but I’m pretending that it is. Or we could say that in order for me to find the exercise meaningful (and thus have a chance of obtaining satisfaction from it if I am ‘successful’) I need to dissociate myself from the decision that I have made when I decided that it shall be meaningful for me to do X, Y or Z. I need to dissociate (or separate) myself from my original intention, which was that such-and-such an outcome shall matter to me. This means that the meaningfulness of everything I do from this point on will be based upon me ‘withholding information from myself’, ‘keeping secrets from myself’, ‘keeping myself in the dark’, ‘ignoring my own involvement’, etc. Only if I am 100% effective in keeping it a secret from myself that ‘the outcome or goal in question is only meaningful because I have said that it shall be meaningful’ can I stand any chance of obtaining the gratification (or validation) that comes when I successfully obtain the outcome or goal that I am striving for (which is the goal that I myself have arranged to be meaningful, but which is only meaningful because I have ignored my complicity in this action). In order to be able to have the possibility of enjoying ‘the good feeling that comes with the successful enactment of personal will’ therefore (which is what we might call euphoria) I have to put myself into ‘a null situation that I cannot see to be null’…

 

 

 

When I narrow my interest down this much I miss everything. I miss the ‘main event’ because the main event is not about me, no matter how convinced I might be to the contrary! I have become exclusively preoccupied with something which is not only ‘not the main event’, but which doesn’t actually exist at all. It’s just ‘me in a solipsistic trance’ – it’s just ‘me obsessively and exclusively relating to myself’! And because this situation is necessarily a closed (or self-referential) loop that excludes anything that is not related to me and my projections, me and my attachments, reality itself is excluded. The world is excluded – and all that I have left is some kind of tawdry illusion that I cling to, all that I have left is a hollow token of what I have lost because of my obsession, but do not know that I have lost…

 

 

 

So if the ‘main event’ is not about me, then I might want to know just exactly what it is about. What is the main event? What am I missing? This question brings us right back to what we started off talking about. Life always comes as a blessing, we said, up until the point where we turn it into a game by making it into an exercise in personal will by making it ‘all about me’. Then, it isn’t a blessing any more, it’s simply ‘suffering in disguise’. “It begins with a blessing but ends in a curse”, as Kevin Ayers says.

 

 

 

The main event that we are talking about is of course life itself. Life is ‘the main event’. Life is the blessing and the thing to understand about this blessing (this benediction, as Krishnamurti puts it) is that the self (the ‘me’) isn’t in it! The real you – as Alan Watts says – isn’t narrow and exclusive. The ‘real you’ is the whole universe. Or as we could also say – who we really are is life itself – not the illusory separate entity we imagine it is happening to!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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