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The Essential Dilemma of the Small Self

The small self is always toxic. It is its nature to be toxic.  There is actually no way that it can’t be toxic since the small self is – by definition – against everything else, against everything that is not itself, and there is no way that this situation can’t result in negativity, can’t result in the production of toxicity. Even when the small self is being as ‘sweet as can be’ it is still being toxic – in this case it is merely being ‘secretly toxic’. It is being toxic in an undercover way, in a way that is not immediately obvious to anyone…


The small self (or the ‘small mind’) only gets to exist in the first place by ‘fighting its own corner’, by ‘maintaining itself at the expense of everything else’. It only gets to exist in the first place by defining itself in contrast to everything else. Contrast is what makes the self into the self! I can only be ‘me’ by defining myself in contrast to everything that is ‘not me’. Defined selfhood is an oppositional sort of a thing, therefore. We can hardly deny this! There is ‘me’ on one side of the fence and there is ‘you’ on the other side; there is ‘the self’ and there is ‘the other’ – ‘the other’ being the rest of the world, everything that is not the self.


When I experience myself as being ‘me’ then this is – as we have said – a thoroughly exclusive  sort of a thing. This experience is a result of exclusivity not inclusivity. I’m not including anything else in my definition of ‘what constitutes me’. I have to ‘set myself apart’ in order to exist as the defined self. I have to be distinct – I have to experience myself as being quintessentially separate from the world; ‘apart from the world’ not ‘part of the world’. There has to be an impermeable self/other boundary there or else there can’t be a self. The isolated little self has to be isolated and little if it is to exist at all – it is isolated because that’s the only way it can be a self, and it can’t help being ‘little’ because if it excludes everything else (if it excludes the rest of the world, if it excludes everything that is not it) then this is naturally going to make it ‘little’!


The little ring-fenced ‘me’ has to be little and ring-fenced in order to be a ‘me’, in order that there might be the experience of there being a ‘me’. We don’t however generally experience ourselves as being completely isolated, completely separate or fragmented. Or rather we do, but only occasionally, only when we are having a hard time, only when we are not able to distract ourselves with ‘positive projections’ in the way that we usually do. Positive projections equal desire. We see possibilities in the world that aren’t really there, possibilities of development or fulfilment or ultimate satiation that aren’t really there, and this keeps the isolated ‘me’ from seeing the sterility of its situation. The small self keeps on thinking that it can ‘win’, in other words, and this is the intoxicant that prevents it from seeing the truth…


Another thing we do in order to prevent us from seeing how fundamentally isolated we really are is that we form alliances with others in the same situation as us so as to create a feeling of being connected, a feeling of being part of a bigger world. By being part of a group we don’t feel like isolated disconnected egos, in other words! But just because we’re part of a group, part of a collective, doesn’t mean that we aren’t the small self, doesn’t mean that we aren’t ‘trapped in the small mind’. Really, we’re just ‘the small self on a bigger scale’! The proof of this is very easy to see, if we are interested enough to keep our eyes open for it. The sure sign of the small self, the small mind is that it is divisive, that it is partisan, that it is fundamentally opposed to any way of seeing things (or doing things) other than its own. The sure sign or the small self / small mind – therefore – is that it operates on the basis of exclusivity not inclusivity. The fraction is valued over the whole.


When we affiliate ourselves with a group we are buying into the mind-set of that group and that mind-set is the small mind. Groups or collectives are always the small mind written large, the small mind on a large scale, and we can see this from the way they always behave. We can see this – if we’re interested – both from human history throughout the ages and the current political situation. The small mind (or the small self) is always at war – it is at war with itself, it is at war with different versions of itself.


The expanded small mind makes up in quantity what it lacks in quality. It is profoundly impoverished in terms of diversity – being essentially an artificially maintained monoculture of ideas and behaviours – but it compensates for its inherent impoverishment (its hollowness) by being aggressive, by constantly expanding its sphere of influence, by replicating itself incessantly. Its aggression is its expansionism, its fundamental intolerance of any way of thinking or seeing the world other than its own, its fundamental intolerance of anything other than itself. And expansionism (or intolerance of difference) always results in the depletion of diversity. There’s no way that it can’t!


The aggression of the small self / small mind is thus both the cause of its inner impoverishment, and the result of it! This is, we could say, the essential dilemma of the small mind – it is inwardly impoverished as a consequence of its aggression, as a consequence of the way in which it constantly insists on validating its point of view and yet this heedless expansionism, this innate unreflective aggressiveness is caused by that impoverishment (that ‘lack of diversity’) in the first place! It’s closed loop.


Everything is constantly being brought down to the level of the ‘lowest common denominator’; everything is constantly been brought down to the ‘equilibrium level’. The equilibrium level is what the small self (or the small mind) is constantly aiming at or grasping for. ‘Equilibrium’ is the seductive golden prize that the small self is always clutching at. And yet this so-called ‘prize’ is in reality nothing other than the state of zero information content – this is of course going to be the case since zero diversity (i.e. ‘uniformity’) equals zero information content. These are two ways of talking about the same thing!


When the small self doesn’t get its own way, when it doesn’t get what it wants, then it ‘raises an unholy stink’, it lets out a cloud of vitriolic toxicity. But when it does get its own way, when it does get what it wants then its satisfaction is equally toxic! Its contentment, its delight, its pleasure is equally toxic – even though we may not immediately see this. After all, when the small self succeeds in obtaining its goals (or meeting its agenda) all it is doing is impoverishing itself yet further, thus creating the cause for further toxicity! Winning and losing are the two sides of the same closed circle – the closed circle that is the ‘small self’.


The dilemma of the small self is that in order to be the small self it has to be against everything that is not it. It has to define itself by the fact that it is not everything else and in doing this it is impoverishing itself. This ‘impoverishment of being’ causes it to act in such a way so as to constantly exacerbate the painful impoverishment (or ‘lack of interiority’) that it is suffering from and so it is caught in a loop, caught in a vicious circle. This is what we might call a negative ouroboros motif. What the small self grasps at is the state in which everything has been made uniform (i.e. the state in which it possesses everything that there is to possess or controls everything that there is to control) but this much-desired state (unknown to itself) is also the state of its ultimate impoverishment, the state of its ultimate hollowness


The small self is thus inevitably trapped in the situation in which it is forever chasing suffering, without ever being able to see that it is doing so…

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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