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Everyday Life is absurd

The major difference between esoteric and mainstream psychology (and it’s more than just ‘major’, if only we could see it) is that esoteric psychology clearly acknowledges the way in which consciousness exists in ‘an enslaved condition’ in everyday life whilst conventional psychology makes no reference to this unhappy state of affairs at all!



In conventional psychology it is taken as read that we are all more or less autonomous in our daily lives – we might be influenced to some extent by innate personality traits or by learned behaviour, or by the interaction of our genotype with events  in our environment, and all that kind of stuff, but we are still (of course!) seen as being unquestionably autonomous in our day-to-day lives. This isn’t just an assumption made by mainstream society it’s an assumption made by our entire culture! We all think we’re autonomous. ‘Autonomous’ is however the one thing that all the esoteric traditions – without exception – agree that we are not…



The following two quotations, the first from Anthony de Mello and the second from P.D. Ouspensky, are completely clear on this point:


Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. (De Mello)


Another illusion is that we are awake. When we realize that we are asleep we will see that all history is made by people who are asleep. Sleeping people fight, make laws; sleeping people obey or disobey them. (Ouspensky)


Contemporary psychology makes no reference at all to the way in which consciousness is completely enslaved (or asleep) in everyday life, enormous though this fact is – and facts could hardly come any more enormous than this! Talking about the elephant in the room doesn’t come into it – this is more like having a fully grown Titanosaur in the room and still not seeing it. Another way of approaching the matter would be to say that the situation we’re talking about here is more than just a bit akin to Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days where the main character Winnie is buried up to her waist in the first act and then up to her neck in the second. Winnie talks at great length (to her husband, who we don’t see much of) but she contrives with her chatter to completely ignore the fact that she is buried. We might speak of this as the ‘theatre of the absurd’ but it is equally well the absurdity of everyday life. Everyday life is absurd – it isn’t the fact that we’re buried up to our necks in sand that makes it absurd but the fact that we’re buried up to our necks without ever mentioning it that makes it absurd!



Conventional psychology is absurd too for the very same reason. It’s not that rational psychology has ‘got it wrong’ – it’s just absurd. Nothing Winnie says is wrong, it’s just the fact that she says it all without ever mentioning the central impediment that the audience can’t get away from seeing renders everything absurd. If we don’t see the elephant then everything else becomes ludicrous. Coming back to mainstream psychology therefore, it’s not that we have to try to offer refutations or show through reasoned argument where it’s going wrong – one does not argue against the absurd – that in itself would be absurd! The moment we argue against absurdity we ourselves gets subsumed in that same absurdity – we then become part of the ridiculous charade without being able to see that we have. There is absolutely no need to argue against absurdity…



It is not denial or repression that we’re talking about here – it’s not that we see that we are buried up to our necks but are too scared (or perhaps too polite) to ever mention it. We genuinely don’t see it. We couldn’t see it if we tried. We couldn’t see it even if we made it our business to do so. We wouldn’t be able to see it even if we paid an army of highly trained experts to give us their professional help in seeing it. The fate of consciousness in the everyday world is that it is enslaved so thoroughly that it can’t turn around and see the fact of its enslavement – this is not a freedom that is permitted it. When consciousness is in the enslaved state it can only look at the world in the way that it is compelled to look and it simply does not see that there is any other way. It can’t see that. Conditioning is of course always like this – conditioning wouldn’t be conditioning if we could see that are being conditioned. This is equivalent to saying that a lie would no longer be a lie if it honestly announced itself as being such!



We just can’t see the blatantly obvious fact of our enslavement when we are in the everyday state of conditioned consciousness. For us therefore, this is the only type of ‘consciousness’ that there is – we can know of no other. ‘None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free’ as Goethe says. As fully grown adults we are absolutely convinced that we have ‘already arrived’ at this aware, educated and mature adult state of mind and as a result of this presumption we imagine that we are (if we undertake enough training) eminently qualified to make authoritative statements about this, that and the other. We’ve made so bold as to set ourselves up as experts and in the process we have so thoroughly taken ourselves in that we now flatly incapable of questioning our own authority! The runaway tool which is the thinking mind has set itself as God – from its throne it tediously pontificates about everything under the sun and we have no choice but to sit there – as if hypnotized – and take it all in. A prize fool is talking, and we are all sitting around nodding at each other and making sure that we look suitably impressed! No matter what preposterous stultifying nonsense we are subjected to, we have quite lost the power to ‘say boo to the goose’…



All of our supposed psychological knowledge comes out of the rational faculty and the rational faculty is enslaved consciousness. The rational mind is an enslaved mind. How could it not be? It is enslaved by all the assumptions that it has to make for granted in order to be in the position where it can start rationalizing. It is enslaved by the rules that it runs on; it is enslaved by the rules that it cannot ever question. This is what rationality is – it is ‘the obeying of rules’, nothing more. Of course we can say that the rules are ‘true’ or ‘valid’ and that it is the right thing therefore to obey them. That is a very familiar line! We can in other words say that the rules are true rules and this puts an end to any questioning of them; there’s nothing else to do in this case but to ‘get on with it’ and stop whinging. This however couldn’t ever be the case – there’s no such thing as ‘a true rule’!



A rule will of course always assume itself to be true – this is the very mechanism by which the rule gets to be a rule. Rules get to be rules by taking themselves seriously even though there isn’t really any need to do so (the rule says that it must be taken seriously in other words, but nothing else does). Saying that there is such a thing as ‘a true rule’ is the same as saying that there is such a thing as a rule which the whole universe is obliged to take seriously, and this suggestion is quite laughable. If that were the case, then the rule would come first, and the universe would come second! A mere abstraction would then become more important than reality…



There are no rules in reality. The notion that there are rules in reality is preposterous! Reality is ‘what is’ – there is no need for reality to be told what to do or what to be by a bunch of rules. Reality doesn’t need to be organized. Reality doesn’t need to be ‘caused’ by some external factor – it’s not a computer programme being run by someone in an IT research lab somewhere. If it were then it wouldn’t be reality – it would simply be ‘a caused phenomenon’. The IT research lab would be reality in this case. And even if we try to get around this by saying that the research lab is itself a programme being run from a lab somewhere else (as part of some multi-level meta-experiment) that only pushes the problem out further. In the end, we have to get to the ‘non-created reality’ and that non-created reality is the only thing we can legitimately speak of as being actually ‘real’. The point that we’re making here is simply that rules come out of reality rather than reality coming out of rules….



We always think that everything comes out of rules – we can’t really help thinking this since ‘coming out of rules’ is how the thinking process itself works. We’re prejudiced towards thinking this way. The thinking mind can’t understand how anything could happen without logical causation – understandably enough since logical causation is all that it knows! How can we expect logic to understand something that is not logic? That is like expecting the bureaucratic mind to appreciate poetry or abstract art; it’s not the job of bureaucracy to appreciate poetry or art – the job of bureaucracy is to appreciate bureaucracy! Similarly, the thinking mind’s function is to break everything down into logical categories, into compartments. Then it can analyse the relationships between these compartments. The thinking mind runs on rules, as we have already said, and rules always fragment reality into parts. Reality doesn’t actually have ‘parts’, but rules break it up into parts. Breaking everything up into parts is often a useful thing to do for practical purposes (which is why the thinking mind is such a good tool) but the problem that comes with the unreflective use of the tool of thinking is that we inevitably start to imagine that reality does come in these categories, that it is made up of parts. In David Bohm’s words,


Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.


The universe is what we might call ‘an expanded singularity’ – because it started off as a singularity (i.e. wholly unique and unprecedented) it can never not be this way! It can never cease to be a singularity. No matter what bureaucratic processes we subject the singularity to it is still always going to be the singularity. No matter what systems we devise, there still won’t be a box in the form for it, a category for us to fit it into. No matter how much feverish classifying we do (so as to create the comforting illusion of positive knowledge for ourselves) the singularity remains at root a singularity and as such unknowable. This ought to be as plain as the nose on our face – and it would be if we weren’t thinking so hard about it!



The singularity doesn’t take itself seriously. How can a unique event ‘take itself seriously’? It doesn’t ask “Am I right the way I am?” It doesn’t worry whether it is fitting into the box or not. It doesn’t have any hang-ups about itself. As Alan Watts says,


Did you ever see a cloud that was misshapen? Did you ever see a badly designed wave? No, they always do the right thing!


The singularity just doesn’t think this way – the rational mind on the other hand (with its boxes) does. The rational mind thinks this way all the time. It can’t not think this way. This is what thinking is – it’s us taking the made-up boxes seriously. It’s us taking stuff seriously that we don’t actually need to be taking seriously. It’s a game, in other words. The thinking mind is itself nothing more than the rules which it runs on (how could it be more?) and rules get to be rules – as we have already pointed out – by taking themselves seriously.



Our normal everyday state of consciousness could therefore be said to be ‘that state in which we take arbitrary rules seriously’ (bearing in mind of course that all rules are arbitrary). It is ‘that state in which we are enslaved by rules without being able to see that we are enslaved’. We can’t see that we are enslaved by the rules because we can’t see that we don’t have to obey them! In this enslaved (or determined) state of being we take the mind’s rules absolutely seriously, and we also take the picture or image of ourselves that the mind creates absolutely seriously.



When consciousness is enslaved it takes everything absolutely seriously. If we were to doubt this assertion all we would need to do is to take a good look at ourselves! We go around being ridiculously serious (or ‘full of ourselves’) the whole time. We’re playing a game that we don’t know we’re playing. We’re playing a game that we won’t admit to. Even when we think that we’re not being all serious and tedious and dull (as we adults are so very prone to being, as if it were an indicator of responsibility or moral virtue) we are never very far off. All it generally takes is the smallest, most inconsequential upset to our plans (or to our system of likes and dislikes) and we’re straightaway back being serious again. ‘Reacting’ is serious, and we’re ‘reacting’ just about all the time…



What are we being ‘serious’ about, we might ask? What we’re being serious about is ourselves, of course. What else is ‘like and dislike’ about? What else are we ‘full of’? What we’re taking seriously is ourselves – we’re enslaved to the illusory mind-created idea or image of ourselves. This mind-created illusion of the self is the sand that we’re buried up to our necks in. This is the ‘all-encompassing restriction’ that no one ever mentions. Consciousness – which is free and noble in its nature – is compelled to serve a thoroughly grubby illusion. It is compelled by dead mechanical forces to caretake the illusion of the self constantly, with barely ever a break to do anything else. It is compelled to dedicate itself to the onerous task of caretaking this illusory self-image on a full-time basis – no matter that nothing ever comes out of this misguided project other than endless misery and frustration.



The illusory self-image is without any doubt the least interesting thing in the entire universe! It is quite devoid of interest. It is infinitely devoid of interest. It is infinitely devoid of interest because it is sterile – nothing ever comes out of it apart from itself and ‘itself’ is an empty illusion. The nature of our enslavement is however that we are forced to lavish all our attention upon this sterile illusion (and suffer unending agonies on its behalf) and at the same we are forced to ignore everything else that is not this self, or is not related to this self. The stark irony here is of course that whilst the illusory self-image is utterly sterile, utterly devoid of interest, utterly devoid of real content, what we are so very persistently turning our back on is nothing other than Reality itself….



And if this isn’t absurd, then what is?




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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  • Saša

    “The fate of consciousness in the everyday world is that it is enslaved so thoroughly that it can’t turn around and see the fact of its enslavement – this is not a freedom that is permitted it. When consciousness is in the enslaved state it can only look at the world in the way that it is compelled to look and it simply does not see that there is any other way. It can’t see that. Conditioning is of course always like this – conditioning wouldn’t be conditioning if we could see that are being conditioned. This is equivalent to saying that a lie would no longer be a lie if it honestly announced itself as being such!”

    I think, the Ouspensky quote may be a bit misleading… it’s not that consciousness is asleep, still less is it possible to “enslave” it, it is absent.

    March 27, 2016 at 5:20 pm
    • Saša

      “I would argue therefore that consciousness is there but in ‘bound’ form, so that we do not see it as it really is. In the ancient alchemical treatises, the spirit Mercurius is said to be ‘bound’ in matter.”

      By the way, looking at the myth of Mercurius from the point of view of the teaching Ouspensky expounded, it refers to our “Essence” not consciousness – it is bound to this sack of blood and bones when we are born. For, if you think of it, if it were possible to thwart or enslave consciousness, there would be no freedom and we(most of us) are not free in every way imaginable, because we are not conscious not because we think wrongly as it is only a side effect and one of the characteristics of a sleep-walker.

      March 30, 2016 at 9:31 pm
  • Saša

    It won’t hurt if you consider consciousness diluted in matter but that is not the point.

    Ouspensky’s view is that it is absent in us because we never complete the full transformation of the third-being-food, as Gurdjieff called it. We depend on it to be truly conscious. Very little gets transformed automatically aided by accidental outside shocks, which is why we really have only sparks of it and even those are quickly extinguished by the haphazard work of centres.

    Changing one’s mechanical POVs, though necessary, is still just a part of a more complex effort needed for becoming conscious.

    March 30, 2016 at 1:06 am
    • Saša

      …or the parable of the prodigal son… agreed – they whisper softly into the ear of the emotional centre which is far more clever than logical mind.

      Isn’t it extremely curious that sleep-walkers still tell these tales to their children without a clue that it’s the single best thing they will ever do for their posterity?!

      March 31, 2016 at 3:52 pm
  • Andrew

    I felt a mixture of relief and exasperation reading this. Relief, because much of this chimes with an over-riding sense I have when going through everyday life, but exasperation because you are so definite. You state so many ‘facts’, which seems to me to be falling into the same trap you are shining a light on. I know we all like to feel certain and secure in our statements.
    I don’t know anything about this stuff beyond my own impressions, observations and intuitions (I’m starting to read now), but what I’m most tired of are the staked out zones of certitude that people mark out for themselves, and all the positive statements you make above, on a website which has ‘negative’ in it’s moniker, just seems like more of the same. ‘There are no rules in reality’, is a rule. ‘The universe is….an expanded singularity’, is a rationally stated fact. I could go on and on.

    January 31, 2020 at 4:47 pm