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CONGRATULATIONS AND CONDOLENCES

It is always possible to possible to create ‘validatory mental structures’ that make us feel good about whatever it is that we’ve done, are doing, or are about to do. We validate the pattern of behaviour so that it seems ‘OK’ to us. This ability is our Number One ‘super power,’ if we could think about it like this. Superman can fly through the air or through space at tremendous speeds, burn things up with his heat vision, and lift very heavy things with apparent ease; Batman can swing from building to building by extruding his spider-web filaments and attaching them to tower-blocks; Wonder Woman can deflect bullets with her wrist bands and we normal mortals can validate anything we do (or think) just by creating the correct validatory mental structure to go with it…

 

 

We don’t see anything wrong with this ability, this ‘super-power’ and so we invariably go right ahead and use it! We go right ahead and create the validatory structure to make whatever it is we doing legal and official. We have a certain way of thinking or behaving and we validate it so that whatever we’re doing becomes OK. We want to believe that something is true and so we go ahead and authorize it and that’s OK. We are a certain specific way, and we validate that way so that’s OK too. Our very modality of being is validated. Everything about us is validated. It’s all great. It’s all good. With a superpower like this why wouldn’t you use it all the time? We can after all get away with just about anything this way!

 

 

The only reason you mightn’t use this superpower is of course if you could see that there was some kind of very serious downside to the deal – and we can’t see one! This isn’t to say that there isn’t one however – as it happens there is an enormous downside, an absolutely tremendous one…

 

 

The downside that we’re talking about here arises because there is a kind of a ‘balance’ that is always preserved, no matter what we do. This balance is what we might call ‘Original Symmetry’. We can explain this notion in terms of a perfectly flat surface – perhaps a section of sheet metal of some kind. If it’s a flat expanse of sheet metal we’re talking about then Original Symmetry is how the surface ‘starts off’ before we do anything to it – perfectly flat, perfectly free from any distortions. So if someone then comes along and hits it hard with a serious heavy-duty hammer so as to put a major dent in it then this indentation to the surface is our ‘purposeful doing’, it is ‘what we have done’. The books are balanced in this case with the simultaneous creation of an equal and opposite ‘out-dent’ on the other side of the sheet of metal, and this is complementarity is how Original Symmetry gets to be preserved in this particular example!

 

 

The type of balance we’re looking at here is the balance between all positive assertions that can possibly be made, and all the negative assertions that go along with them. Given that all our ‘validating mental structures’ are made up of positive assertions, the principle of the preservation of Original Symmetry means that for every validation there must be an equal and opposite de-validation and so to the extent that we get a good feeling out of the validation that we have arranged for ourselves, we must also obtain a bad feeling out of the devalidation that comes with it. The devalidation is after all every bit as uncomfortable and inconvenient as the validation is comfortable and convenient.

 

 

The entirety of the life of the defined self comes down to validating and devalidating situations, when it comes down to it. That’s all there is in it! For the defined self there are no other possibilities other than validating and devalidating situations. Everything either agrees, or it disagrees.

 

 

The reason no other possibilities exist for the defined (or ‘finite’) self other than ‘those it likes’ and ‘those it doesn’t like’, ‘those it finds agreeable’ and ‘those it finds disagreeable’ is precisely because it is defined. This is what it means to be defined! The defined or definite self exists in a sea of possibilities (because that’s what reality is) and so what it does, what by its very nature it has to do, is to try to find or construct validating possibilities for itself, and avoid the devalidating ones. It does this in order to feel ‘good’, in order to feel OK about itself, because it likes to feel good, because it likes to feel OK about itself…

 

 

It is of course a tautology to say that the defined self ‘likes to feel good’ or that it ‘likes to feel OK’. ‘Good’ is what agrees, and ‘bad’ is what doesn’t agree. The defined self only gets to exist in the first place by saying – in effect – that something or other ‘is good’ and then trying as hard as it can to obtain this good… [Or equivalently, by asserting that such-and-such is ‘true’ and then striving as hard as it can to prove that whatever it has just asserted really is true.] This is the ‘quintessential game’ of the defined self, only it doesn’t see it as ‘a game’ but rather as the only way life could ever possibly be. The defined self is perennially playing the game of ‘maintaining and verifying its own limits’ – its limitation is its joy, so to speak.

 

 

This is all fine and perfectly legitimate and as we have said it is very possible to put together some pretty fantastic ‘validatory structures’ – situations that make us feel absolutely wonderful, absolutely fantastic, absolutely ‘over the moon’. This is called by the defined self various things such as ‘getting it right’ or ‘lucking out’ or ‘hitting the jackpot’ or ‘winning’ or ‘succeeding’, and so on. When this sort of thing happens it is considered by all and sundry as being an entirely splendid business – a marvellous business altogether. It’s A-1 super-duper. It’s top-drawer. It’s fabulous. It’s magic. It’s a dream come true…

 

 

As far as we’re concerned – as defined selves – there couldn’t be anything better than this. It doesn’t come any better. A supremely validating situation is the ultimate – it’s what we all want!

 

 

And yet what we’re raving on about so enthusiastically (which is the marvellously agreeable situation that we have cleverly engineered or discovered for ourselves) is only half the story. It is only the first part of the story – only the ‘first act’ so to speak, in the two-part drama that is about to unfold. The second part of the story, the second act, is where we get to encounter (and become very intimate with) the corresponding disagreeable set up. So in the same way that we gush on and on about how marvellous winning is (which is when our defined sense of self gets to be validated), we bewail and bemoan the other side of this set up, which is losing. This is therefore – needless to say – a very curious state of affairs.

 

 

We babble on intemperately about how wonderful the agreeable set up is, how fantastic it is, how brilliant it is, how marvellous it is, and yet what we are enthusing about so extravagantly is the very same thing we are complaining about, bitching about, giving out stink about, creating all sorts of unpleasantness about, only a short while later. We celebrate it and we curse it, in equal measure…

 

 

The question is, how do we manage to be so extraordinarily divided against ourselves? How are we so conflicted in ourselves? How can we love a situation and hate it at the same time? If we could get to grips with this essential paradox or self-contradiction we would learned something absolutely crucial about basic human psychology – something which no contemporary psychology text book will even come remotely close to mentioning. Because our way of understanding ourselves is entirely rational we remain sublimely oblivious to the inherent paradoxicality of the purposeful side of existence – the side that is based upon our logically-defined goals, and our thinking in relation to these goals. Rationality is always blind to its own paradoxical nature. If it wasn’t then it would disappear instantly in a puff of smoke – it would vanish without a trace. Reason proceeds from A to B to C as it does do only because it is constitutionally unable to see the way that it always contradicts itself.

 

 

This is very straightforward to see if only we could learn to stop looking at everything through the rational mind, which actually operates on the basis of its own inbuilt ignorance – i.e. which operates purely on the basis of what it is constitutionally unable to know about. If the reasoning mind were not stubbornly one-sided (or ‘blinkered’) in its approach then it would promptly cease to exist! The only way a logical statement can mean what it claims to mean is after all if we make sure not to see that every positive statement is actually the very same thing as the corresponding negative statement (i.e. if we make sure not to see that there is no such thing as a definite truth which is not inherently paradoxical). We have to avoid the ‘Liar paradox’; we have to turn a blind eye to Russell’s paradox…

 

 

This is what Jung meant when he said that the intellectual faculty operates via ‘the separation of the opposites’ – via the separation of left and right, up and down, in and out, good and bad, right and wrong, and so on. We draw a line between LEFT and RIGHT, between UP and DOWN, etc, but this line is only there because we have said that it is. We draw the line – it isn’t there naturally. After all, how could there be a line (or boundary) between LEFT and RIGHT, UP and DOWN? The intellectual faculty operates by turning its back on what it isn’t interested in, and then pretending that what it has ignored doesn’t exist. It operates by assigning a value, and then pretending that it wasn’t responsible for assigning it. Or we could say that it operates by creating limits, creating a framework, and then concentrating solely on what lies within these limits, within this framework, as if what lies within it were something genuinely special, genuinely important. It plays a game, in other words, and playing a game necessarily means not attending to the fact that you are playing a game…

 

 

The validation we seek in life is the positive affirmation that ‘such-and-such an assertion is definitely true’. Or even more to the point, we can say that the validation we crave is the ‘ontological validation’ of knowing that we definitely exist, since we are in some way associating ourselves with this all-important definite assertion. Obtaining this validation is the game we are playing. As the existential psychotherapists have said, the fear that underlies our existence is the ontological terror of doubting our own existence, and so the way that we counter this archetypal fear is by stating most emphatically that we do in fact exist, and then clinging on for all we’re worth to this positive affirmation! When I believe that I do indeed exist, for sure and for certain, then I feel good. More than this – when I believe that I definitely exist then I am suffused with the most intense euphoria. A definition of euphoria might therefore be (if we wanted one) that it is the intensely good feeling that I obtain when I manage – however temporarily – to deny the primary reality of my own ontological terror!

 

 

Euphoria, in one form or another, is all we ever want. Chasing euphoria is the name of the game. Whatever goals we seek, it is never for the sake of the logically-stated goal itself, but simply for the sense of validation that we will obtain from it. Or to put it another way, whatever goals we chase after, it is only really for the sake of the euphoria that we hope to get out of them. Euphoria is the ultimate motivator – the only motivator – in the realm of form (or ‘definition’) because to have a definite form, to be unambiguously defined, is to deny the reality of my ontological terror, the need to escape from which constitutes my base-level of motivation.

 

 

Whatever beliefs or ideas we wish to believe in (whatever truth we wish to prove or demonstrate to ourselves) it is only because of the euphoria that this will bring to us. Whatever structures we wish to have validated, it is only because of the euphoria we will get from them. All purposeful activity – without exception – is always for the sake of obtaining validation, is always for the sake of obtaining euphoria for ourselves…

 

 

The definite or defined self, the literal or concrete ego-identity, is the positive assertion. And yet at one and the same time, this definite or defined self is also the corresponding negative assertion because all definite statements are secretly paradoxical. All positive assertions secretly deny themselves – the ‘positive assertion of the self’ also equals ‘the negation of the self’. There is no way around this! So by becoming irrevocably defined I gain both what I most crave, and what I most fear, both in the same basket…

 

 

To be defined is to live on a razor’s edge with what we most desire on the one side and what we most fear on the other – there is never any separation between the two! I am both YES and NO, winning and losing, pleasure and pain. I am both what I agree with and what I disagree with, I am both what I celebrate and what I bemoan.

 

 

We desire existence and we fear non-existence, and yet existence and non-existence are mutually-creating terms, just like ‘front’ and ‘back’, or as Alan Watts says, like ‘selling’ and ‘buying’. Or as Jung says in The Seven Sermons to the Dead

 

Everything that discrimination taketh out of the pleroma is a pair of opposites. To god, therefore, always belongeth the devil.

 

In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung mentions the castle in The Chymical Wedding which has the words “Congratulator, Condoleo.” (Congratulations, Condolences) written over the doorway. Reading this inscription as we enter we would be forgiven for feeling certain misgivings! We understand ‘good’ well enough, just as we understand ‘bad’, but what is ‘good/bad’?

 

 

This metaphorical alchemical castle is – we might say – not so much the physical body that we take up residence in at the beginning of our earthly life but the ‘state of defined and therefore abstract identity’ – the state of being a ‘me’. The me is defined by what it likes and what it doesn’t like, and ‘what it likes’ and ‘what it doesn’t like’ are one and the same thing! The defined and therefore abstract self, from within whose bounds we are obliged to experience life, is like a wiggly line drawn on a sheet of paper – this wiggle looks as if it properly occupies a certain amount of space on the page but it’s really just a one-dimensional line, somewhat like a mass of spaghetti on a plate, if the spaghetti were somehow all of one piece! Pull the wiggly line straight again and we would see that it occupies no space at all! The area it seemed to occupy was made up of innumerable positive and negative displacements of the original straight line, all of which necessarily balanced each other out, and all of which therefore cancel each other out when the line is pulled straight again…

 

 

The wiggly ‘good/bad’ (or ‘bad/good’) business isn’t the same thing at all as the Union of Opposites which is the ultimate goal of alchemy – it is a frantic oscillation between them! The conjunction of opposites is infinitely deep and infinitely still – it is the very portal to Eternity. The mad, frenzied oscillation between good and bad, yes and no isn’t a portal to anywhere, however! The oscillation between opposites is merely what we might call ‘compulsive shallowness’ – we never get anywhere, although we are perpetually subject to the delusion that we are doing so… It is of course not Eternity that we encounter in everyday life, but the never-ending ‘going back and forth’ which is the false approximation or analogy of eternity… This is how we do unconscious homage to the Eternal, without having any insight at all into the fact that this is what we are doing.

 

 

Going back to the image we used earlier of the flat expanse of metal sheet, we can say that the ‘me’, the defined identity, is the dent that has been put into it. In one way – looking at the dent from one side of the sheet (the positive side) this is a marvellously great thing! After all, here we have a resoundingly unequivocal affirmation of positively defined existence, an unqualified “It is” (or “I am”). We’re too busy delighting in this unequivocal affirmation to see that it is a static sort of a thing – we too excited to see that it doesn’t actually go anywhere. Its not part of the real world at all but only some kind of sterile abstraction, like a sign hanging on the wall that doesn’t actually refer or relate to anything any more, or like a place-name for a place that no longer exists. So half the time we’re preoccupied with blowing the trumpet about how great it is, how marvellous and wonderful it is, how fantastic it is, and the other half of the time we’re equally preoccupied with bewailing and bemoaning how terrible it is.

 

 

This graceless, sterile dance (or rather vibration) is how the defined self approximates the ineffably graceful and creative flow of the Unstated, the Undefined, the Unnamed, only as we have said it isn’t really any sort of an approximation at all! It’s as if I am trying to approximate a virtuoso orchestral performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by tapping a pencil upon a matchbox, or as if I am trying to approximate Michelangelo’s David with a lump of chewing gum that I found stuck to the bottom of my shoe one day…

 

 

I am trying to render the fluid in terms of the fixed, the unlimited in terms of the limited, the open in terms of the closed, the infinite in terms of the finite.

 

 

So even though the glorious assertion of positive existence or defined identity sounds great, it misses the point entirely. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s also the other side of the sheet of metal to contend with, the side we weren’t looking at, the side with the antithesis, the nemesis of that we were getting so excited about. The defined self isn’t just the one half of the story, it’s both sides, expressed successfully, sequentially, on and on, in a type of ultimately senseless Morse code.

 

 

Despite the blatant senselessness of this circularity (the senselessness of the ‘circular mind’, as some Buddhist sutras put it) there is a kind of a way which we could consider that there is some sort of meaning to this YES/NO/YES/NO oscillation business. We could consider it to be a distress signal! Or we could possibly even consider it as an ‘error message’ – the ‘error’ in question being the falling away from the blissful Unitive State into what Herbert V. Guenther and Chogyam Trungpa describe in The Dawn of Tantra (1975, P 16-17) as the ‘frozenness and narrowness’ of the ‘ordinary mode of perception’ –

 

 

This process of transformation we have described is one of growing narrowness and frozenness. We are somehow tied down to our senses, to the ordinary mode of perception. We dimly feel that something else might have been possible. If we try to express this situation in traditional religious terms, we might say that man is a fallen being. But here he has not fallen because he has sinned or transgressed some commandment coming from outside him, but by the very fact that he has moved in a certain direction. This is technically known in Buddhism as bhranti in Sanskrit and ’khrul-pa in Tibetan, and is usually translated as “error”. But error implies, in Western thinking, culpability; and there is absolutely no culpability involved. We might tend to feel that we could have done otherwise, but this attitude simply does not apply here. The process is a kind of going astray which just happens. The idea of sin is irrelevant.

 

 

The falling away is an ‘error’ simply because it doesn’t go anywhere – it’s an error because it is a dead-end, a flat self-contradiction. But the thing to do if you run into a dead-end is to go back, to return to where you came from! The +/- dent in the medium seems like a great thing, in a very short-sighted sort of a way, until we realize that + leads to which leads to + and so on, but then when we gain precious insight into this circularity, this endless self-cancelling, then we naturally cease to put all our energy into it. We stop buying into it. We get wise to the trap…

 

 

And if we cease to push as hard as we can the whole time for the wonderfully rewarding positive assertion, for the euphoria-producing literal statement of “It is!” or “I am!” then we also cease to suffer from the dysphoric backlash. We cease to be meaninglessly defined! When we no longer put all our energy into defining ourselves as being this or as being that then the dent in the underlying medium relaxes, eases, merges back tracelessly into the medium, and so ‘who we are’ is no longer so tortuously pinned down. We are freed from the need to be who we say we are just as a wave is freed from the necessity to carry on being a wave once the ‘wave energy’ (which is to say, the ongoing or transmitted energy that keeps [+] separate from [-], the crest separate from the trough) runs out. When a wave’s energy runs out it merges gracefully back into the ocean from which it arose, and in the same way when we stop putting energy into the habit of separating ourselves from what we don’t like and securing what we do like then we merge back into the Original Medium of Undifferentiated Consciousness

 

 

We talk a lot about freedom – we go on about it incessantly. But there isn’t any freedom for the conflicted tautological knot which is the defined self. There couldn’t be. It isn’t the defined self that gets the freedom – freedom is freedom from this conflicted literal self, not for it. That’s how that we know we’re free – because we no longer see this tortuous knot of self-contradiction as being ‘who we are’…

 



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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