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Preserving the Pattern

Our central, all-consuming passion in life is the preservation of whatever pattern it is that we happen to be trapped in. It doesn’t matter at all what that pattern is – that has nothing to do with it – our number one over-riding aim is always to preserve and perpetuate that pattern, to make it last forever, if we can!




On a very small scale of things (in a very short-sighted kind of a way) being wholly engrossed in perpetuating the given pattern – come what may – makes perfectly good sense. It gives us a game-plan, it gives us an agenda. It gives us something concrete to aim for in life. Perpetuating the pattern is the logic by which we live our lives and it feels good to have some kind of logic! On a bigger scale of things however this all-consuming passion of ours to protect the pattern we’re trapped in doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s not just senseless, it’s absurd! It’s utter madness. Why would we want to preserve the pattern we’re trapped in?




To say that our tried-and-trusted game-plan of ‘always struggling to preserve the existing pattern’ is utter madness is another way of saying that it is a thing that we would recoil from in horror immediately if only we could see it for what it really is. This is the ‘turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness’ that is spoken of in the Lankavatara Sutra. The fact that we don’t recoil in horror is of course because we never do see it for what it really is – we’re too engrossed in it, too caught up in it, too addicted to it, to actually see it for what it really is. The ‘concrete logic’ of pattern-perpetuation has a grip on us that we just can’t break free from – it’s like a type of hypnosis. There is horror in it, but we won’t ever know the horror in which we are trapped just so long as we remain under the influence of the hypnosis. What is more, we don’t – of course – have any great desire to witness this horror! Rather than expose ourselves to the perception of the horror therefore we are very careful to keep ourselves restricted to only seeing the small picture, only seeing the narrow view of things. We stick to this narrow view like glue! To protect ourselves from the disturbing awareness of seeing what we are really doing we make very sure to keep on looking at life in a very short-sighted kind of a way. We avoid the ‘Big Picture’, the ‘Long View’, like the plague…




This benighted state of being, in which we abstemiously avoid the Big Picture (in which we scrupulously avoid ever looking any further than the tip of our own noses) is generally the only state of being we know. Even to call this a ‘state of being’ is misrepresenting what is going on – it’s a squalid ‘avoidance of being’ which we perversely dignify as something honourable, something worthwhile in its own right. It goes without saying that we don’t let ourselves see that we are being determinedly petty and short-sighted in everything we do: to be petty is not too see that one is petty. Instead of seeing our deeply ingrained small-mindedness for what it is we have an astonishingly effective way of validating it, of ‘making it OK’. We utilize an awesomely effective mechanism for turning everything around so that what is supremely and pointlessly petty becomes ‘the thing to aim for’, ‘the best thing of all’, ‘the gold standard for everything that we should be trying to achieve in life’.




The mechanism in question is the mechanism by which we take the basic unit of the pattern that we are perpetuating (whatever it is), and using it as the unquestionable basis for everything we see, everything we think, everything we do. This ‘basic unit’ then becomes invisible to us for what it is, and instead becomes something quite different – it becomes the ‘thing that we assume’, the ‘thing that we take for granted’, in all that we do. Whatever we see is seen on this basis, whatever we think is thought on this basis, whatever we do is done on this basis, and at the same time – by virtue of the fact that we are using whatever it is as a basis – it is absolutely certain that we never shall have any curiosity, any interest at all, either in what it is that we are using, or in the fact that we are operating in this fashion in the first place. What we have essentially done is to have turned the basic unit of the pattern into a rule, and once it has been turned into rule then there is nothing else to do other than to automatically (i.e. unconsciously) obey it. Rules get to be rules because we are so very unconscious around them; rules are not rules if we’re conscious of them!




The rule is always petty. All rules are by their very nature petty – how could they be otherwise? A rule is concerned only with its own ‘small truth’ and nothing else matters to it. The Bigger Picture doesn’t matter to it. There’s no way that the Big Picture could matter to the rule; a rule – by virtue of the fact that it is a rule – is fundamentally incapable of relating to the Big Picture, to the Whole of whatever it is that is going on. A rule is irredeemably narrow and that’s what makes it into a rule. For the rule, its own small truth is the final measure of everything and if its small truth is vindicated, looked after, protected, then as far as it is concerned all is well with the world. Seen from the outside, of course the rule is ridiculously petty – it is ridiculously petty because it makes a point of championing its own small truth in complete wilful ignorance of the greater truth which comes out of the Big Picture. When we identify with the rule in question however then it is a different story – in this case we ourselves never look beyond the small truth of the rule. We ourselves become fundamentally incapable of seeing beyond it, we ourselves become fundamentally incapable to relating to the Big Picture. Any suggestion that this way of conducting ourselves constitutes pettiness (or small-mindedness) of the highest order becomes frankly incomprehensible to us. We couldn’t get it if we tried…




What has happened here (when we identify with the rule) is that the small truth has substituted for the Greater Truth. The small picture has been substituted for the Big Picture. So via what is essentially a conjuring trick (a type of ‘sleight of hand’) the small truth has become ‘the measure of all things’, it has become ‘the alpha and the omega’! Via this conjuring trick, this sleight of hand, the little picture has become the whole world – it has become ‘that which we cannot look beyond’! The Greater Truth has been done away with entirely; the Big Picture no longer officially exists! Which is not to say of course that we go around announcing that the Big Picture does not exist – if we did this then that would immediately give it away that there is such a thing as ‘the Big Picture’. That would immediately draw attention to the fact that the small picture which is all we ever have time for is only ‘the small picture’. So the way that the Greater Truth is ‘done away with’ is not by denouncing it but by ignoring it – it is steadfastly ignored, as if it were not there, and at the same time our attention is kept busy with all the nonsensical ‘petty details’ that we are constantly being fed with. And on top of this mechanism, our immersion in the little picture means that we have brought about an unconscious (but all-powerful) aversion to seeing the Big Picture. The horror comes out of what we have done (i.e. out of our way of inverting reality), but for us the pain has now become unconscious, and is directed to any awareness that might arise regarding our true situation. The truth itself is the pain! The truth itself is the horror! We have invested everything in the little picture not being the little picture, so naturally the truth is now our enemy…



Even talking about the rule being exclusively concerned or preoccupied with its own ‘small truth’ is misstating the matter. The ‘small truth’ which the rule exalts over everything else isn’t really any sort of a truth at all! It is true in relation to the rule (i.e. it is true inasmuch as the rule assumes it to be true, inasmuch as the rule says it is true), but outside of this there is no ‘truth’ in it at all. This ought to be clear – if the rule is fundamentally incapable of relating the Big Picture, the Whole of what is going on, then how could we possibly say that it possesses any sort of a claim to the truth, even a ‘small truth’? Actually, the small truth of the rule only gets to seem true when the Big Picture is excluded; the ‘small truth’ (the ‘relative truth’) is therefore something that only gets to be real for us only when we can’t see the actual truth! The ‘relative truth’ is an inverted form of truth – it is true only if the rule is as ‘especially important’ as it makes itself out to be, when actually it isn’t ‘important’ in this way at all. The rule is only important because it itself says that it is. The rule is a circle, in other words. It comes into being as result of trick, a tautology, a ‘loop of logic’, and the world that it creates is necessarily a closed one, therefore…




So one way of talking about what we’re perpetuating when we’re ‘preserving the pattern’ is to saying that it’s the rule, the constant measure (or ratio), the basic invariant unit, but another way is to say what we’re preserving is simply ‘the self’. There’s nothing mysterious about this – the self is simply ‘what we identify with’ and so if we identify with the rule, the unchanging basic unit, then this is ‘our self’. The self is an arbitrary position, just as the rule is an arbitrary statement of ‘how things should be’. So the self is the constant, the invariant, the rule that we take totally for granted in everything we do. We could therefore say that our mechanism for validating everything we do – as we work away at perpetuating the pattern – is calling the rule the self. We validate what we’re doing because the pattern we are enacting is an expression of who we are. This is the supreme validation, the ultimate validation, the validation nobody ever sees through. Who ever sees through the self? Who ever looks beyond the self? Who ever questions the self? The self is the ultimate blind, the ultimate baffle, the ultimate opacity. It guarantees blindness,  it guarantees short-sightedness. As soon as I come across something that stands to further the ends of the self, I look no further than this. As soon as I come across something (or somebody) which appears to be a threat to the self, a risk to the self then – similarly – I look no further than this.




As far as validations go, this is a truly awesome one. Our way of being in the world is astonishingly petty, but we never notice it (we are incapable of noticing it) because it is all validated by the self. Our perceptions, thoughts and actions are petty precisely because they are in the service of the self, but at the same time it is because of this that we don’t see that they are petty. My ‘self’ is the whole world, so my total self-absorption, my total self-centredness, does not stand out as being bizarre! The self is a form of blindness therefore because no matter what we think or say or do, if it is in the service of the self we will not question it, we will not look beyond it. We are fundamentally incapable of questioning it – the justification (or validation) is absolute, and so we will never see beyond it…




Really, this is more intelligent than it might at first glance appear to be. At first glance this whole business of being ‘flatly incapable of seeing beyond the entirely arbitrary but utterly unquestionable dictates of the self’ (i.e. ‘blindly obeying the rule’) might seem ridiculously stupid but there is method in this madness. If we consider that our underlying (secret) agenda is to not look too deeply into things, to not be curious about the situation that we find ourselves in, then this ludicrous ‘game of the self’ is the best possible stratagem. In fact they simply don’t come any better than this! To be fully engrossed in the blankly incurious pursuits of the concrete self is the best possible defence against becoming aware of anything that we might not want to be aware of. To be fully engaged or engrossed in the blankly incurious mechanical pursuits of the concrete self is the best possible defence against any sort of awareness whatsoever! Awareness doesn’t come into it! Awareness is the one thing that never comes into it!




As far as diversions go, the game of the self is a brilliant one. It is completely engrossing, completely absorbing, completely compelling. These are all the things we look for in a game! The point of a game is precisely that it should trap our awareness and cause us to forget or lose sight of the fact that ‘the game only is a game’, that ‘the construct only is a construct’. The more effectively a game can do this the better a game it is and the game of the self does this superlatively well. The game that we are this self or that self will keep us busy forever. It’s the ultimate fairground – we can play there forever. We never tire of the thrills and spills that this tacky old fairground has to offer! The game of ‘preserving whatever pattern it is that we are trapped in’ is completely engrossing, completely absorbing, completely all-consuming and these are all the things that we are looking for in a game. The other side of the coin is however that the whole business is perfectly absurd, perfectly senseless, perfectly insane. So whilst we might be doing very well indeed with regard to our undisclosed agenda of not wanting to look too deeply (or at all) into our situation, from another – saner – point of view, we’re not doing too well at all!




As long as all I want is ‘short-sighted’ logic (i.e. the ‘logic of the little picture’) then – in a kind of a way – I might be said to be content. I’m content in a short-sighted sort, in a ‘not wanting to know’ of a way. In this case I just ‘carry on with what I’m doing’ and as far as this short-sighted agenda goes I can’t really go wrong! If I happen to succeed in preserving the pattern then that’s great (that’s the icing on the cake) and if I don’t succeed this is annoying or worrying for me but it’s still all good really because I’m still safely preoccupied. Failure is every bit as engrossing, every bit as immersive, as success, only in an unpleasant rather than a pleasant way. The game is just as water-tight whether I’m winning or losing – it’s when I stop taking success and failure so seriously that the game is in jeopardy! It’s when I start developing a sense of humour that the integrity of the concrete construct is threatened! On the theatrical level the game is about winning (as any fool will tell you) but on the secret level, on the hidden or covert level, the game is all about continuing the game. The real reason we play the game is because by playing it we forget that it is a game.




From the (covert) point of view of the game the only thing that matters, the only thing that counts, is immersiveness. If the game is 100% immersive then all is well. But then again, ‘immersiveness for the sake of immersiveness’ (which is the same thing as ‘controlling for the sake of controlling’) is not really such a great thing outside of its own closed frame of reference! If we could get our heads in any way straight (which we can’t when we are caught up in the game) then we would see that ‘immersiveness for the sake of immersiveness’ is actually a terrifying thing! We’re throwing our awareness away, we’re farming out our consciousness out to whatever nonsensical but self-validating patterns of reacting there might happen to be out there. For the sake of self-distraction we’re giving ourselves over to the non-terminating pointlessness of a whole bunch of stupid meaningless games and at the same time we’re giving away our capacity to see what we have done…




If we were to ask ourselves what exactly the pattern is that we’re trapped in (which normally of course we’re far too busy to do) then we would see that there is something very strange, very peculiar about it. It doesn’t matter what sort of a pattern we’re talking about here – they are all ‘peculiar’ in this same way, as we would readily see if we took an interest in them. A fixed (and therefore repetitive) pattern is ‘peculiar’, we might say, in that it seems a lot more expansive or spacious from the inside than it does from the outside. A pattern (or a game) always seems to have many more possibilities ‘on offer’ when we are seeing things from its point of view, than when we are not. It’s like a grubby little opinion, a grubby squalid little prejudice – if I am the one who is articulating the opinion or prejudice then it doesn’t seem ‘grubby’ or ‘squalid’ at all (quite the opposite is true, in fact; it seems as if I am offering up pearls of wisdom), but if you hear me articulating the prejudice and you don’t happen to share that viewpoint then the ‘smallness’ of my thinking, the pettiness of my outlook on life, will be immediately apparent to you. To be stuck in a terribly petty view of the world is painful precisely because it is small, precisely because there is no space in it, but I don’t see the pain as being due to the viewpoint itself – instead I see the source of my suffering as being outside of me, out there somewhere in the world. So if I am prejudiced (just to stick with this particular example) then I don’t see the source of my misery as being the excruciatingly petty way that I have of seeing the world, but rather I hang it on the target of my prejudice – I hang all my pain on whoever it is that I am being prejudicial towards, and then proceed to ‘take it out on them’.  This is the mechanism by which I stay safely ‘unconscious’,




This type of ‘invertedness’ isn’t just something that is associated with prejudices (which are as we have indicated very small and bad-smelling boxes that we opt to live in because they offer us a very handy way of displacing our pain and misery outside of ourselves) – it is a characteristic of all fixed, repetitive patterns of being. A fixed pattern is essentially ‘the same old thing repeated over and over again’. The fact that it is only the same old thing being repeated over and over again means that there is no space. ‘Space’ would be if there WAS a chance of something different happening, something new happening, something that isn’t just ‘the same old thing’ happening, but in a fixed (or mechanical) pattern this simply isn’t the case! So we can say that the fixed pattern has no space in it. But when we are in that pattern (when we are playing that game) then there does seem to be space, which is to say, there somehow seems to be the possibility of something different happening!




This therefore is what makes the pattern apparently spacious (when we’re looking at things from the inside) – it’s because we imagine that something new is going to happen when it isn’t! Seen from the outside however, a game (or a repeating pattern, which is another way of talking about a game) can straightaway be seen to have no space in it – it has no space in it because in a repeating pattern (by definition) nothing new ever happens! When there’s no possibility of change, no possibility of movement, no possibility of anything different happening then this is absolute confinement – it is not possible to be more confined, more restricted than this. There is no freedom whatsoever and this complete lack of freedom (which nevertheless appears to contain the possibility of change) is the ‘peculiar thing’ about all fixed patterns of being. The complete lack of any leeway for change is an astonishing thing since reality itself (which is of course what underlies and supports all repeating patterns) is nothing other than perfect leeway, perfect freedom, perfect openness. The two situations could not therefore be more of a contrast to each other. They are antitheses.




Given that the discrepancy between the fixed pattern of being and reality itself is so colossal, with there being no freedom at all in the fixed pattern and perfect immaculate freedom in reality, why do we not notice the difference? Why – we might wonder – do we not feel the pinch at being so unnaturally confined? Why do we not experience utter horror at being trapped in ‘the rational simulation of reality’? On the face of it, we might imagine that it couldn’t be possible to be fooled in this way, in such a big way – how could we be presented with the static mechanical simulation of life instead of the real thing, and not notice the difference?  How could we be so ridiculously gullible? How could we be such suckers? This seems unbelievable. If such a trick could be played on us, then surely there is nothing we would not fall for?




The point is however that consciousness can get trapped in any rational simulation (where ‘rational simulation’ equals a ‘fixed or repeating pattern’) and the reason for this – as we have said – is because a reversal (or inversion) takes place whereby the pattern that we are adapting to becomes the very standard or template by which we measure (or perceive) reality…




As a result of this inversion (which necessarily becomes invisible to us just as soon as it has taken place) the freedom of being able to move, the freedom of being able to change is replaced with the ‘freedom of being able to act out the fixed pattern that we are trapped in’, which is the same thing as ‘the freedom to assert the self’. Genuine freedom is freedom from the self, therefore, whilst inverted freedom (the deceptive and trapping ‘degenerate analogue’ of freedom) is the freedom to believe that one is this fixed mechanical self, and keep on aggressively asserting and re-asserting this pattern forever…




The freedom to let go of this fixed pattern of being is what mystics call ‘ecstatic release’ or ‘bliss’, whilst the ‘inverted freedom’ to keep on asserting and re-asserting (iterating and reiterating) the fixed pattern we are trapped in gives rise to an ongoing vibration of euphoria/dysphoria – it gives rise to satisfaction and pleasure in the first instance, and dissatisfaction and pain in the second. Successfully asserting the self (the ‘me’) feels great to start off with because for us this is real freedom – it is the only type of freedom we are interested in, the only thing we understand as freedom – but this ‘apparent step forward’ rebounds on us in the second phase because actually all we have done is to forcefully reiterate our prison!




The more successful we are in enacting the fixed pattern that we’re trapped in, the more imprisoned in it we are! The more we are able to obtain those outcomes that accord with our thinking the more trapped in our thinking we become. The more we are able to prove to ourselves that the beliefs and opinions and theories we subscribe to are the correct ones the more trapped in our mind we become. And yet this is where almost all of our energy and dedication goes – into asserting and reasserting our own limitations, as if there were something intrinsically worthwhile about this!




Obtaining the outcomes that accord with our thinking, and proving ourselves right in what we believe in, is just about all we ever put effort into. What else do we ever care about? All we care about is the fairground of samsaric life. Chasing narrow satisfactions (and fleeing the equally narrow dissatisfactions that come along as part of the package) is the name of the game and the game is all about perpetuating whatever pattern it is that we happen to be stuck in….











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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