Just about every minute of every day we are enthusiastically ‘opting for an inferior self’. This sounds suspiciously like a moral kind of statement but it isn’t. This isn’t the case at all – morality is nothing but a set of arbitrary rules that we habitually use to hit ourselves over the head, after all. It is however true that the way we usually encounter statements such as the one above is via some sort of moral context, which is to say, as ‘pressure to be something other than what we actually are. Such pressure is invariably unhelpful because all it does is make us feel bad about being the way we are – and try therefore to reject the way we are – which puts us in a very familiar prison. We have rejected ourselves for being the way that we actually are and yet at the same time we are the way that we are and there’s nothing we can do about this! Morality is nothing more than ‘an exercise in counterproductive pressure’, in other words.
The way we mean the above statement isn’t in any way morally loaded – it is simply an observation. Moreover, it’s an observation that is undeniably true! Why would we even want to deny it? If there’s one thing that we all know for sure it’s this – that we are living consistently ‘beneath ourselves’, so to speak. We are very much more than we admit to being and there is no blame or judgement in this – it’s just the way things are! This situation whereby we unfailingly opt for an inferior self is not a moral issue because we neither know that we are doing it, nor have any means of not doing it even if we did know. It can’t be argued that we ‘should not’ opt for an inferior self because ‘should’ and ‘should nots’ have absolutely nothing to do with it – no one restrained themselves from identifying with a ‘lower or inferior self’ because they felt strongly that they should not do this! What is more, all notions of should and should not derive from the inferior self in the first place, which makes the alleged moral nature of the situation even more ridiculous…
This raises a question, therefore. If I am aware, with perfect clarity, that I am so much more than the self which I operate as, and if I can also (again, with perfect clarity) see that there is nothing that I can deliberately do to change this situation, then what am I to do with this awareness? Where does this awareness get me? It does not on the face of it appear that there is any particular advantage to this awareness! There is a difference, all the same – even if it may not be immediately apparent what it is. Essentially, it means that I am going to stop putting so much pressure on myself to be ‘other than the way I actually am’, which sounds amoral to our conventional way of thinking but which actually is nothing more than simple honesty. Instead of feeling bad about forever reverting to old patterns of thinking and behaving, and then feeling bad about this constant reversion (which always causes us to get even more stuck in the pattern that we’re objecting to) we can now see that the belief that we ‘could and should’ do something about it is completely nonsensical and this insight changes everything. It changes everything because we stop trying so hard to do something that can’t be done, to change something that can’t be changed. We still try, but now we don’t try quite so hard! The ‘heart’ has gone out of the mechanism, so to speak…
When we try to ‘do something that can’t be done’ or ‘change something that can’t be changed’ then this type of activity creates a certain type of space. It creates a certain type of space that isn’t space! Or as we could also say, it creates a type of ‘virtual space’ which is made up of two complementary or self-cancelling ingredients, the illusion of progress and the illusion of reversal, the illusion of advantage and the illusion of disadvantage, the illusion of succeeding and the illusion of failing… Needless to say, we know this type of space very well indeed – we actually don’t know any other! This type of ‘virtual space – which we can relate to what Krishnamurti calls ‘psychological time’ – is where we spend most of our lives, it’s just that we don’t generally recognize it as being made up of the two self-cancelling ingredients in the way that we have just described it as being. The state of being in which we don’t recognize virtual space as being virtual space (and in which we don’t see psychological time as being psychological time) is the state of psychological unconsciousness, which is also know – in more old-fashioned language – as the state of soul-sleep.
There is a secret pay-off for being in the state of psychological unconsciousness, this state in which we can’t for the life of us see that both ‘advantage’ and ‘disadvantage’ are equally illusory, and the pay-off in question is the reified self (or ‘self-construct’). More accurately, the pay-off isn’t so much the reified self or self-construct but the state of affairs in which we get to believe in the phantom entity that we’re calling ‘the reified self’ or ‘the self-construct’ without any question at all, without any hint of doubt. The other way of looking at this is of course to say that there is a ‘price’ to be paid for recognizing virtual space as virtual space (or seeing psychological time as psychological time) and that price is that we have to relinquish our precious belief in the reified self. We have to let go of what we never had, and that – oddly enough – hurts a lot!
The reason it hurts as much as it does is because we had so many hopes riding on it. We had so many so many plans and expectations that were dependent upon this self being true and not a phantom. We had so many hopes riding on this assumed self that to face up to the reality that there is actually ‘no such thing’ is unbearably painful to us – we have invested too much in this position to simply shrug our shoulders and move on. The invisible irony here of course is that all of the things we were pleasurably anticipating, all the wonderful eventualities we were excitedly looking forward to, only ever existed in virtual space, only ever existed in psychological time and this means that they only ever existed in tandem with their opposites. The advantage we were looking for is only to be found in virtual space and this means that it is just as much a disadvantage as an advantage because it’s a self-cancelling event.
If we were to recognize virtual space as being virtual space (i.e. if we were to allow ourselves to see its true dual nature) then we’d have nothing to look forward to, nothing to pleasurable anticipate, and so that’s why ‘insight’ is no friend of ours. Insight is not welcome at our door because it would spoil our little game. But it is also because we cannot allow ourselves to recognize the true nature of virtual space that we get trapped in it, which is a guarantee of our continued torment because when we – as the ‘reified self’ – put ourselves in a position where we can pleasurably anticipate desired events we are at the very same time putting ourselves in the position where we are going to dysphorically anticipate feared events since (as we keep saying) advantage and disadvantage are the two sides of the same ‘virtual event’.
We can come back now to what we were saying at the start of this discussion, which is that we are spending just about every minute of the day ‘opting for an inferior self’. It becomes apparent now why we can speak of this self as being ‘inferior’ and why this is in no way a moral issue. The ‘inferior self’ is that self which exists purely in virtual space (or psychological time) and ‘keeps itself going’ by reacting to promises of advantage and threats of disadvantage which also only exist in virtual space / psychological time. We can say, therefore, that this self – the ‘reified self’ – is ‘inferior’ inasmuch as it is self-cancelling, self-nullifying (or just plain ‘unreal’). It is ‘inferior’ (to who we really are) inasmuch as it represents an inherently self-contradictory (or ‘conflicted’) state of being, which is a state of being that may be contrasted with the non-conflicted (or peaceful) of being which is how we inherently are, and would appreciate ourselves to be if we were not automatically and unreflectively grasping for the security of positive and negative certainty which is the product of the thinking mind.
We are actively embracing self-nullification, in other words! We are actively embracing self-nullification every time we strive for advantage, and when are we not ‘striving for advantage’? When are we not being ‘humourlessly purposeful’? In all of our characteristic purposeful activity we are actively embracing that state of being (or rather pseudo-being) in which we are constantly righting ourselves. More simply put, we are constantly embracing the state of suffering. We are embracing the type of suffering that comes from constantly undermining ourselves and selling ourselves short without seeing that we are doing so. We never admit to ourselves that we are undermining ourselves and selling ourselves short in this way, or if we do then we are said to be suffering from low self-esteem (or perhaps some other neurotic condition) and if this is the case then no one listens to us. When we have chronic low self-esteem or anxiety we do not have a voice and what we say is not taken seriously; the only people who have voices in this world are those people who are successfully in denial of their true situation – it is the successful ‘deniers’ who rule the roost, who get to say what goes and what doesn’t go…
We are actively embracing self-nullification just about every minute of every day but – as we have said – this is not a moral issue! Making it into a moral issue is a sneaky trick to obscure what’s really going on; it’s a clever ploy to throw us off the scent! When we put ourselves under moral pressure to be a different way to the way we actually are then the unseen implication here is that we really are this ‘inferior self’ and that we ought to do something about it. If we actually were the ‘inferior’ (or ‘self-cancelling’) self then we would have to do something about it and this would be ‘a very serious thing’, but because we aren’t this self (and never could be) that isn’t an issue. Trying to improve or fix the false self traps us in that self even more. The inferior self never can be changed, never can be ‘improved’, and if it could then this would only ever be for the benefit of this unreal self anyway! It’s also true that who we really are can’t be changed either but, then again, why would we want to?
Image – Dante’s Inferno video game
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.