When we are under pressure to change things within the terms of a particular frame of reference then – whether we are successful in our task or not – this pressure creates and consolidates the concrete sense of self that is so important to us. Talking about being put under pressure within the terms of a particular FOR is unnecessary; this is actually the only way we can be put under pressure – no framework means no pressure. It is simply not possible to be put under pressure to change in a spontaneous way. Pressure only exists ‘within a framework’; if we don’t know how we are supposed to change or what the end goal is, how can we experience pressure? If we don’t know what we are to do then how can we make ourselves do it?
Pressure can only exist in relation to an outcome that is already known, but if what we’re trying to do is achieve an outcome that we already know about then this isn’t really change at all, merely optimization. We can therefore say that pressure or compulsion can only exist in relation to the optimization of an existing structure; we might see this optimization as a new development or initiative but it isn’t – it is simply the consolidation of what is already there…
Pressure (or ‘compulsion’) is always linked with the perpetuation of the known, in other words, and the perpetuation of the known is an unreal endeavour! The perpetuation or consolidation of the known has got to be an unreal endeavour – we don’t really ever ‘know’ anything after all, that’s just a game we play. We want to think that we ‘know’ because that’s where our security lies and so our allegiance isn’t so much to ‘perpetuate the known’ as it is to ‘perpetuate the illusion that we know’, or ‘the illusion that there is a known’. Whether we actually do know anything or not is entirely irrelevant – the only thing that counts is that we remain firmly convinced that we do, and that we don’t ever run the risk of learning otherwise. This illusion that we know is based on us never finding out that we don’t know, so this ‘not finding out the truth’ is what we invest all our energy in, not ‘learning about the truth’ as we fondly like to imagine! The truth is actually the enemy – it’s only our own version of the truth (which is a lie) that we care about.
This is a very profound thing to understand – this understanding (of course) revolutionizes everything. Throughout our lives we are always struggling to successfully obey the pressure that is on us; problems beset us and we are forever trying to solve them! That’s what life seems to be all about – going from one problem to the next, one task to the next. Life is made up of tasks that need to be completed. When we successfully solve the problem (or complete the task) then the sense of relief is tremendous. This is the ‘reward’. When we can’t solve the problem or complete the task then the pressure to do so is enormous, unbearable, and this is the ‘punishment’. One the one hand there is the carrot and on the other the stick and this is what so much of our lives comes down to – being a slave to compulsion, being a slave to ‘pressure’.
The major part of our lives (sometimes all of it) is made up therefore of the constant effort to escape the pressure that either our social environment (or ourselves) are placing upon us. Inasmuch as we are conditioned (or programmed) by society the ‘environment’ and ‘ourselves’ are one and the same thing, anyway. There’s no difference – we are creatures of the system, we are the unfree players of the game that is being foisted upon us. ‘Winning’ – we might say – is when we are able to find the answer or the solution, and ‘losing’ is when we are not. A winner therefore is one who has all the answers or solutions whilst a loser is one who doesn’t, one who cannot come up with the right answer, the correct solution. A loser has no answers. We could also say that the winner is the one who can successfully complete the task, whilst the loser is the one who fails to do so. Our identity or ‘sense of ourselves’ is defined by our ability to successfully obey the pressure that is acting upon us, in other words.
This all makes perfect sense to us, naturally. We understand all about it. ‘But of course” we say. What else would you expect? If we wanted to go into it to any degree at all however we would soon smell a rat – the whole thing stinks to high heaven! Why is there all this emphasis on ‘answers’ and ‘solutions’? Why is it that we are insisting on looking at life as a problem to be solved or a task to be completed, and treating it accordingly? Why does life need ‘an answer’? The reason for this is of course because our fundamental allegiance is to the unreal rather than the real (or the lie rather than the truth) as we have already said. Our allegiance or commitment is to carry on thinking that we ‘know what is going on’ when the truth is that we don’t, and this is what makes life into a problem or task.
All pressure, all compulsion is essentially about trying to optimize what can’t be optimized. We are trying to optimize our structures, our systems, in face of whatever adversarial forces may be out there to prevent or impede this optimization. The thing is though that these structures / systems don’t really exist so optimizing comes down to ‘championing the unreal against the real’. The ‘adversary’ that we feel ourselves to be up against (which we generally refer to simply as chaos) is therefore nothing other than reality itself. The pressure we feel in all games is the pressure to do an impossible thing – we’re trying to make something that isn’t real be real. We don’t of course perceive the struggle in this way, we see ourselves as ‘striving to make everything come out the right way rather than the wrong way’. We perceive ourselves to be heroically trying to ‘correct an error’ or ‘overcome a problem’, and we don’t see the endeavour we’re so committed to as being impossibly. We definitely don’t see what we’re doing as ‘trying to make the unreal be real’!
We don’t have the slightest inkling that when we play a game what we’re essentially trying to do (or ‘pull off’) in the game is fundamentally impossible. After all, what we’re ostensibly trying to do is win and winning is not an impossible thing. it might be a hard thing to accomplish but it is by no means impossible – if it was then there wouldn’t be any point in playing the game! Why would anyone ever play a game if winning wasn’t a possibility? So in what way is ‘winning’ impossible? The point that we just can’t see when we’re actually immersed in the game is that winning isn’t just winning (whatever the technical definition of that may be). ‘Winning’ actually stands for something else, something we can’t admit to. We could also say that ‘winning’ stands for something that – just as long as we are playing the game – we can’t ever know about. We have no way of appreciating what this thing called ‘winning’ is standing for; we have no way of recognizing it, no way of perceiving it, no way of ‘tasting’ it just as long as we are apprehending everything in terms of the game.
What ‘winning’ unconsciously represents to us (what it represent without us actually realizing it) is being. Being is what we haven’t got. When we’re playing the game then we’re not in reality, we’re in game reality, we’re in conditioned reality. This is virtual existence, or virtual being, not the genuine article. Nothing is genuine in a game, obviously. But the drawback here is that virtual existence / virtual being is utterly worthless. It isn’t worth a damn. Of course it isn’t – there’s nothing there, there’s nothing in it! We get around this drawback however and the way we get around it is by utilizing an analogue of existence, an analogue of being. This analogue for the real thing (which we cannot see as being merely an analogue without losing the whole point of playing the game) is called winning. When we’re under pressure to win therefore (as we always are in a game!) we’re actually under pressure to ‘genuinely exist’, which is as we have just said impossible just as long as we are playing the game. How can we ‘play the game’ and yet ‘be real’ at the same time? Playing the game necessarily means not being in reality, very obviously, and yet (despite the fact that we don’t know it) we’re being pressured in the game to attain ‘realness’. The pressure to win is thus the pressure to do an impossible thing. This is why ‘pressure’ (or ‘compulsion’) is always paradoxical in nature – because we’re trying to do something that can’t ever be done.
So just to come back to the key point that we’re making here – when we’re playing the game we are functionally incapable of knowing that what we’re playing for is genuine being, or genuine existence. If we knew that then we’d know that we were in the game and if we knew that we were in the game then we wouldn’t be immersed in it, we wouldn’t be able to play it. To realize that we have only a fictional existence, a fictional reality, is to realize the truth and the realization of truth cannot ever happen in the dream. Naturally enough, that’s the one thing that can’t ever happen in a dream – anything else, but not that! So we understand ourselves to be playing for something else, some kind of embellishment or corroboration of our existence, but not being itself. We are playing for glory, for kudos, for the good opinion or adulation of others, anything else but not the redemption from the ignominy of non-existence. We might of course get intimations of this – intimations that get quite close – but we never really go into it very much; game-playing is exactly a reflective sort of thing, after all. We just keep trying to win, trying to win, trying to win, no matter what, because winning is good, because winning is the greatest thing, because trying to win is what you do in a game.
So the basic problem that we’re forever trying to find a solution to is the problem of us not being real. Our non-existence is the error that we’re trying to correct and winning (whatever that might entail) is the means by which we are going to rectify this profoundly unsatisfactory situation and make everything OK. Only it isn’t a solution because our success at the task at hand (however exciting the prospect might have seemed to us beforehand) doesn’t actually get us anywhere. We think that it’s going to get us somewhere but it doesn’t – success always turns into a damp squib, which means that we have to play yet another round of the game and tell ourselves that it’s going to be different the next time, that this time it’s finally going to pay out the big jackpot. But the game never really delivers and this is why we have to keep on playing it. The game is never going to deliver what we unconsciously imagine it is going to deliver and the reason for this is that ‘success in the game’ is just a hollow token for something that we are incapable of understanding, but which we have never actually lost. We seem to have lost it simply because we have removed ourselves from reality by playing the 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.