Who we are is the perspective we have on things. What this means therefore is that when we have complete perspective on everything in our lives – if we allow for the moment that such a state of affairs is actually possible! – then we are truly ourselves. So we could say that if we have perspective then to this extent – and to this extent only – we are present in our own lives. And contrariwise, we can also say that to the extent that we don’t have perspective, then to this very same extent we are not present in our lives…
This becomes a very powerful way of understanding what is going on with us in our day-to-day lives when we consider that our main modality of interacting with the world automatically causes us to lose perspective left, right and centre! Our primary modality of interaction with the world causes us to leak out perspective in all directions like a rusty old bucket full of holes will immediately leak out any water that has been put in it. We are that bucket and there’s never anything in us! But what ‘modality’ are we on about here? What then is our ‘primary modality of interaction with the world’?
The type of interaction we are talking about here is (very straightforwardly) the type of interaction we call CONTROL. What else do we do with the world that we live in other than control it? What else do we ever do in our spare time other than plot new and improved ways of controlling the world? This is what we call ‘making goals for ourselves’ and if ever we are not formulating goals (or dwelling upon the goals that we have already made) we are bemoaning the fact these goals have fallen through, have been denied us. Either its one way or it’s the other – either we are dwelling positively on our goals in the hope that they will come to pass, or we are dwelling negatively on them because we feel that they won’t. And – naturally enough – this translates further down the line into either ‘celebrating the fact that we have got what we wanted’ or ‘despairing and recriminating over the fact that we haven’t’. All of this type of thing comes down to control, whether we see it that way or not – our happiness or unhappiness is all about how successful we have been in ‘getting our own way’.
If I am therefore totally caught up in trying to control a situation (as I so often am) then what this means is that I am becoming less and less present the whole time. The more I try to be in control the less present I am! And – equally – the more I plot and scheme to be in control the less present I am. This – very obviously – is a classic vicious circle because the less present I am in a situation (i.e. the less perspective I have on things) the more pressing the problem will seem to me and the more pressing the problem seems to me the more I will try to control it! The situation escalates therefore until I am desperately (and counterproductively) trying to control something that really doesn’t need controlling. I am creating ‘the need to control’ by the fact that I am trying to control…
Supposedly – or such is the logic of the game – once I DO get in control of whatever it is then everything will be fine, but this notion is just not going to pan out because I will have now lost so much perspective (as a result of investing so heavily in control) that just about everything will now seem like ‘a problem that needs fixing’ to me. I will as a result be swallowed up in endless anxiety, which is a mind state that naturally tends to attend ‘lack of perspective’. How could I not be anxious when there are problems (or potential problems) everywhere? I will solve one problem only to have another pop up immediately, and then the next stage after this is when so many problems keep ‘popping up’ that I will just get overwhelmed by it all and will sink into a state of generalized anxiety where everything seems like a problem, but I can no longer focus on any one individual problem.
Another mind state that can arise as a response to global loss of perspective is aggression – instead of problems I see enemies and so I become hostile and attempt to control everything on this basis instead. I try to subdue the world with my aggression but by taking this attitude I actually make the world into my enemy – attacking creates the need to attack (i.e. it creates enemies everywhere) just as ‘defending creates the need to defend’. So either I can try to run away and fall into anxiety or I can try to expand outwards and solve the problem this way instead, just as an aggressive and militaristic country might. ‘Global aggression’ (or ‘making the whole world into an enemy’) is explained here by Tibetan meditation master Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpe Nyima:
Whenever we are harmed by sentient beings or anything else, if we make a habit out of perceiving only the suffering, then when even the smallest problem comes up, it will cause enormous anguish in our mind.
This is because the nature of any perception or idea, be it happiness or sorrow, is to grow stronger and stronger the more we become accustomed to it. So as the strength of this pattern gradually builds up, before long we’ll find that just about everything we perceive becomes a cause for actually attracting unhappiness towards us, and happiness will never get a chance.
If we do not realize that it all depends on the way in which mind develops this habit, and instead we put the blame on external objects and situations alone, the flames of suffering, negative karma, aggression and so on will spread like wildfire, without end. This is what is called: “all appearances arising as enemies.”
Both the runaway ‘global retreating’ which is anxiety and the runaway ‘global expansionism’ of aggression are a result of reacting to fear, and in both cases the fear comes about as a lack of perspective (i.e. as a result of unconsciousness). Full-scale anxiety or full-scale global aggression may be seen as the two extreme examples of what happens when the need to control runs away with us: both anxiety and aggression are manifestations of a process that has its own momentum, a process which ‘carries on under its own steam’ once it has become established. ‘Control breeds the need to control’ and once we get locked into the logic of this way of looking at the world the whole process very quickly becomes pragmatically irreversible. Even if I decide that I don’t like the onerous necessity of having to stay in control all the time I can’t just back out because by ‘trying to stop being in control’ so much I have simply added another level of control on the old one! Reliance control to feel good is a one-way street, a slippery slope. As Alan Watts says, this is the paradox of intending – I cannot intent not to intend.
‘Control’ takes many forms, most of which are invisible to us, most of which take place entirely automatically – without our knowledge or consent. The need to control is something we buy into, and once we do buy into it we have no choice but to surrender our autonomy to it. We have to go the whole hog – there’s no half-way house in this game! If being successfully in control is the only way I can feel good (or the only way I can avoid feeling bad) then whatever price I need to pay I must pay. The need to control subsumes everything else; it justifies everything that is done in its name… Once I go far enough down the ‘slippery slope’ I will end up giving up everything just so that I can stay in control – and what this comes down to is my freedom. The logic of the compulsion to control is that through successful controlling we will get to be free, but since controlling involves giving up our perspective (which is who we essentially are) there is no way that this logic can be anything other than a convincing lie.
Some forms of control are as we have said perfectly visible and ‘up front’, but the most of the control mechanisms that we have bought into remain – like the bulk of an iceberg – both invisible and unsuspected. As a rule, whenever the ‘need’ is great enough then the mechanism that satisfies this need becomes covert, becomes removed from the realm of our everyday awareness. It becomes something that operates all by itself, without my knowledge or permission. If I have an intense desire for something, then the mechanisms (or patterns of behaviour) that are dedicated to the goal of obtaining whatever it is that I desire become autonomous, so that I do things, arrange things, set up situations etc, without ever consciously knowing that I am doing so. Something within me will work towards getting me whatever it is that I am hankering so badly after without me being consciously aware of the fact. This might seem like a rather peculiar idea but anyone who has suffered from an addiction will appreciate the truth of this assertion.
Similarly, therefore, if I have an intense fear of something, then the mechanisms which are dedicated to the task of protecting me from what I fear will operate autonomously, without my knowledge or conscious consent. The mechanisms take over, protecting me from whatever awareness it is I (unconsciously) want to be protected from, whilst the whole time I enjoy the convivial illusion that I am perfectly free to do or think anything that I want. When we are in denial we do not know that we are in denial, in other words. If we did know then of course it wouldn’t be denial! Both in the case of ‘extreme attraction’ and in the case of ‘extreme aversion’ therefore I hand over my freedom to shadowy ‘control mechanisms’ that in effect run my life for me without me ever suspecting that this is actually the case.
When we talk about ‘shadowy control mechanisms’ what we are really talking about is thinking, which we don’t even usually see as being about control! Thinking is of course a process that proceeds pretty much constantly, as well as automatically (i.e. it occurs whether we assent to it or not!) and so the fact that we very rarely see it as being about control is highly significant. Thinking is the way in which we ‘control everything without seeing that we are controlling everything’. What we are controlling with our thinking is of course the meaning that the world has to us, and so clearly this represents a very profound type of control! When we think what we are doing is slapping a description on everything – we are keeping up a commentary, we are putting a judgement on everything, we are assigning values to everything, we are expressing our likes and dislikes with regard to everything, we are shoe-horning everything into our conceptual boxes, and so all this is of course the very essence of controlling, even though we contrive not to see it as such.
When I think I am making everything conform to my own narrow expectations, whether I realize this fact or not. Even if something happens that doesn’t conform to my expectations, something ‘out of the ordinary’, I still pass some comment on it, I still make some evaluation or judgement on it, and so as a result of this automatic commentary it conforms anyway. It conforms to my thinking inasmuch I am most definitely going to have something to say about it! If something happened and I just let it stand, without me saying anything about it, without me adding my tuppence worth, then this would be a different matter because there would be no control involved. I wouldn’t be trying to put a meaning on what just happened. This however is something that I am practically incapable of doing – I am compelled to make a comment, I am compelled to say my piece, I am compelled to make a judgement.
So what this means is that we are thinking just about all of the time, and all the time we are thinking we are losing perspective, losing perspective, losing perspective. All of the time that we’re thinking we are ‘guaranteeing our own absence’. How much we’re thinking – and the intensity (or urgency) with which we’re thinking varies from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, and so too therefore does the degree to which we are present, but unless we have the capacity to be silent in ourselves our actual awareness will be continually being ‘eaten up’ by all the ubiquitous non-stop thinking-activity. Our sense of perspective on what is going on for us in our lives will be continually being eaten up and we won’t have any appreciation of this fact for the simple reason that we won’t have the perspective left to us to realize that we have no perspective left to us.
This is a bizarre state of affairs: by virtue of the fact that we are continually straining (whether we are aware of it or not) to ‘stay in control’ we have lost our perspective on the world, and without perspective it is as if we are ‘stuck’ to the mere surface-level details of our lives and are never able to see beyond this most superficial of levels. It is as if we have been reduced to living in a two-dimensional kind of a world – we are stuck in conceptual ‘flatland’ precisely because without perspective we can never see beyond the mere appearances of things. This perspective (which in terms of our analogy would equal ‘height’ or ‘elevation’) would come back to us just as soon as we stop trying to be in control the whole time but as we’ve said this cessation of control just isn’t a possibility for us! Even if we’re not aware of compulsively trying to stay in control the whole time we’re doing so. We’re doing it anyway, we’re doing it automatically, we’re doing it without realizing that we’re doing it. It is as if, for us, ‘existing in the world’ is the same thing as ‘fighting constantly to be in control’! We have confused one for the other.
This, it turns out, is quite an accurate way of putting it since for us ‘existing in the world’ means existing in the world that is familiar to us, and the only way we can get the world to remain in the reassuringly familiar format to which are accustomed to seeing it in is by ‘managing’ our perceptions of it on an ongoing basis. We don’t just ‘perceive the world as it is’ – much as we think we do – we regulate our perceptions, we manage our perceptions, we control our perceptions. Like the image of the duck who seems to be sitting there peacefully on the surface of the river without a care in the world, whilst actually it is paddling away under the surface with its little feet for all it is worth, we are constantly working away to get our perceptions of the world to fit in with the dictates of the cognitive template which regulates how we are supposed to see that world. We might seem to be ‘just sitting there,’ but actually we’re working away non-stop. We’re working away at maintaining the world – or at least, we’re working away at maintaining the world in the way we unconsciously want the world to be!
All of the busy ‘sense-making’ programmes are running quietly in the background, doing their job unobtrusively but effectively, and – if we bothered to reflect on the matter – we would know that they are because we continuously and reliably recognize the various elements in our environment as being ‘what we always thought they were’ and we find nothing strange about this conformity of the world to our expectations. This fact proves that the duck is paddling away! This lack of insight into any equilibrium-seeking activity going on in the background, this false sense of familiarity regarding the world we perceive around us every day, is a sure sign of ‘lack of perspective’ – it is a dead giveaway. We’re feeling this sense of utter familiarity with everything around us because we’re living in a world that we ourselves made. Why wouldn’t we experience a sense of familiarity when we’re presented with own construct?
If having some perspective on the situation we’re in equates to ‘things feeling strange’ and having no (or very little) perspective is when ‘things feel normal’, ‘feel like they always do’, then it is clearly the case that we are generally operating in this world with a minimal level of perspective, a minimal level of consciousness, since being here in the world (actually being here) is an utterly astonishing thing. Being here is unprecedented! Being here is something we just can’t take for granted, despite the fact that we obviously do! If we are taking everything totally for granted (as we pretty much always are) then what this shows is that we simply aren’t here – it shows that we simply aren’t present, which is of course the point that we have been making all along.
If ‘who we are’ is the perspective we have on things, as we have said, and if having zero perspective means that our existence seems like a familiar routine, like a dull, repetitive sort of a business, then this means that we are aren’t here. It means that we’re ‘somewhere else’, somewhere that isn’t actually real. It means that we’re existing in some sort of mental construct, some sort of manufactured illusion that has been created as a result of us taking the operations of the rational (the model-making or theory-making) mind too seriously! This machine mind has one job, one purpose, and that is to make sense of things, make sense of things, make sense of thing… If we’re good enough at this business of ‘making sense of things’ we can even take this to the next level and try to ‘make sense of our trying to make sense of things’, as most of the Western philosophers have tried to do. This however only causes us to leak perspective even faster – the only possible consequence of all this convoluted mental activity is that we are going to reduce the amount of perspective we have available to us to homeopathic proportions, and get completely sewn up into a heavy-duty mind-manufactured delusion as a result
Why shouldn’t we try to make sense of the world we live in though? It doesn’t seem right to say that trying to make sense of our situation is only ever going to tie us up in knots. That seems perverse. Trying to make sense of the world seems like the right thing to do – the heroic thing to do, even. Isn’t making sense of stuff (i.e. thinking) what defines us as a species? Isn’t our ability to think rationally about the world, our ability to theorize of make models about the world, our greatest gift? What about Rene Descartes’ famous utterance “I think therefore I am”? We seem to be rather out of step with Descartes (who is after all the ‘father of modern philosophy’) on this point – in fact what we’re saying is the perfect antithesis of the famous ‘cogito ergo sum’ (this impressive-sounding formula, this magical ‘rational mantra’ that has been dutifully repeated so many millions of times over the last few hundred years). What we’re saying is that ‘I think therefore I’m not’ – we’re saying cogito ergo non sum.
When we think, we think that ‘we are’ but the truth of the matter (which we can’t see) is that we’ve ‘disappeared up into our own hypothesis’, whatever that is in Latin! The truth of the matter is that when we think we actually become our own hypothesis! And what exactly does happen – we may ask (if we happen to be curious about such things) – when we do become so foolish as to ‘hypothesize ourselves’? In this case, as we can easily argue, we enter into a realm of ‘logical absurdity’ because a hypothesis can’t explain itself any more than a mathematical set can be a member of itself.
So what would happen if a set were to be a member of itself? The absurdity of this proposition is of course very easy to point to in a purely visual sort of a way: if B is a subset of A then this is graphically represented by drawing the little circle that is B inside the bigger circle that is A, but then if we now go ahead and we say that ‘A is a member of itself’ we have to have a big circle A that contains a little circle A, but this little circle A also has to contain the big circle A! We have as a result of this absurd logical operation a box which exists within itself, a definition that defines itself.
This is therefore like a man who is dreaming himself – ‘a man who is his own dream’. There is obviously a bit of a problem in this because there is no hook to hang it all on – if the dreamer is dreaming himself then where is the basis? The usual scenario is where the ‘me who is not the dream’ dreams ‘me as I am in the dream’, which means that the real me is doing the dreaming, and so there is a basis in reality, but if it is the ‘me as I am in the dream’ who is dreaming the dream that I am dreaming in then it all goes around and around in very tight circles.
This kind of problem is known in the field of linguistics as a tautology – suppose there is a word wurp that I have heard used and, having heard it, I naturally want to know what it means. I look it up in a dictionary and I see that wurping is what an adult molifer does when it feels threatened – it is in fact the characteristic defensive behaviour of a fully-grown molifer. So then I look up molifer and discover that it is a creature that is particularly well-known for its habit of wurping when threatened! If it didn’t occur to me to reflect on this definition then I might well be entirely happy with it and in this case I would go away thinking that I had learned something useful. If on the other hand I stopped to think about it then I would immediately realize that I have been conned. I would realize that someone is having a laugh at my expense. There is a very superficial impression that something has been explained but there’s nothing at all beneath this surface-level impression – it’s a hollow explanation, a hollow definition!
So to come back to our criticism of ‘cogito ergo sum’ we can say that this is essentially a ‘tautological’ or ‘hollow’ statement, and not at all worthy of being considered of profound philosophical import, since when I think I create a logically-consistent bubble of thought within which ‘the one who thinks’ (i.e. my ‘rational understanding of the one who thinks’) is also a thought, is also a rational construct. The thing about thinking after all is that it ‘paints everything with the same brush’ and so before we know what has happened we have entered imperceptibly (and irreversibly) into a seamless conceptual universe in which everything is a concept, in which all the elements are concepts.
How could this be otherwise? The thinker thinks that he is different from the thought that he thinks, but as Krishnamurti keeps pointing out, this just isn’t true! When the thinker actually sees that he is the thought then this awareness constitutes an absolute revolution, as Krishnamurti says here –
What happens when the`thinker’ sees that he is the thought – which he is – that the ‘experiencer’ is the experience? Then what is one to do? Are you following the question? The thinker is the thought and thought wanders off; then the thinker, thinking he is separate, says, `I must control it.’ Is the thinker different from the thing called thought? If there is no thought, is there a thinker? What takes place when the thinker sees he is the thought? What actually takes place when the `thinker’ is the thought as the `observer’ is the observed? What takes place? In that there is no separation, no division and therefore no conflict therefore thought is no longer to be controlled, shaped; then what takes place? Is there then any wandering of thought at all? Before, there was control of thought, there was concentration of thought, there was the conflict between the `thinker’ who wanted to control thought, and thought wandering off. That goes on all the time with all of us. Then there is the sudden realization that the `thinker’ is the thought – a realization, not a verbal statement, but an actuality. Then what takes place? Is there such a thing as thought wandering? It is only when the `observer’ is different from thought that he censors it; then he can say, `This is right or this is wrong thought,’ or `Thought is wandering away I must control it,` But when the thinker realizes that he is the thought, is there a wandering at all? Go into it, sirs, don’t accept it, you will see it for yourself. It is only when there is a resistance that there is conflict; the resistance is created by the thinker who thinks he is separate from the thought; but when the thinker realizes that he is the thought, there is no resistance – which does not mean that thought goes all over the place and does what it likes, on the contrary. The whole concept of control and concentration undergoes a tremendous change; it becomes attention, something entirely different.
So in conclusion we can say that when the machine-mind is working all the time (as it invariably does unless something happens to stop it) then what happens as a result is that everything gets converted into a construct, including the thinker, including the one who is making the constructs. I become no more than just another category of thought and so ‘one thought is thinking about another thought’! I have in this way disappeared into my own thought-bubble, I have become no more than another category in my own filing system – just another concept in my own conceptual universe, just another detail in my own map.
When thinking goes ahead constantly and automatically, therefore, as it almost always does, then we end up in the situation where there is nothing that is not a construct and as a result the amount of perspective available to us immediately dwindles away to ZERO! We’re stuck in ‘construct world’ and we can’t see it because we’re a construct too! Or we could say that we’re stuck in ‘construct world’ because having the perspective to see that are ‘in a world entirely made up of our own thoughts’ has now become a pragmatic impossibility for us. Perspective has in this situation become a ‘controlled substance’, ‘a banned commodity’ – perspective (or consciousness) has been made illegal, and the penalties for being caught with it in your possession are very severe!
All of this ‘invisible absurdity’ came about – as we have said – because of our unexamined need to be in control the whole time. This ‘need to be in control’ (which is the same thing as fear!) has run away with us and as a result we have lost connection with reality entirely. ‘Spotting the absurdity’ means, as Krishnamurti says in the passage given above, that we see that the thinker is the thought, and as a result we also see that there is no real advantage to be had out of control! We see that there is no advantage in going down this road. There only seems to be an advantage because – as a result of exercising global control – we no longer have the perspective that would be necessary for us to see that there is no advantage in exercising ‘global control’…
When we don’t spot the absurdity then we are – by default – stuck in the realm of false or illusory freedom, we are trapped in Krishnamurti’s realm of psychological time which is the realm in which we seem to have the possibility of genuinely getting somewhere (or the possibility of genuinely ‘gaining advantage’) whilst actually we don’t.
When we do spot the absurdity however, when we do see that ‘the thinker’ and ‘the thought’ are not different, then ‘control and concentration’ are replaced by attention, which – as Krishnamurti says – is ‘something entirely different’
‘Control and concentration’ eat up our perspective and cause us therefore to be ‘absent without knowing that we are’, whilst ‘attention’ returns our sense of perspective and so allows us to ‘come back to ourselves’ and be present in our lives rather than absent…
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.