The problem with ‘letting go stuff’ (in the psychological sense) is that there’s actually nothing there to let go of. Because there’s nothing to let go of, the act of letting go doesn’t exist – it’s an unreal thing! Here then is the glitch, the central (irreducible) problem that we keep running into – we’re trying to perform an act that can’t be performed. It can’t be performed because it doesn’t exist.
I might imagine that the reason I can’t ‘let go’ is because I’m too weak, or too lacking in resolve, or because I don’t really want to, or because I don’t know the correct way to go about it, and in this case it is clearly my fault that I’m not letting go, which makes me feel even worse about the situation than I did before. This gives me another issue, another thing to hang onto – my low opinion of myself, my condemnatory view of myself, my negative ideas about myself. This then becomes something else I feel that I have to let go of, and then – following my failure to do so – something else that I can beat myself up over for not being able to do.
The jinx just keeps on multiplying, therefore. It feeds on itself and then proceeds to bring forth innumerable offspring! Once a jinx like this gets started then there’s no end to the matter – the floodgates have been opened and that is that. Hyperreality has being unleashed upon the unwary, and we are all that! Once this type of this gets started in the first place then the result is inevitable – the illusions just keep multiplying and it is our unhappy fate to be compelled to keep on believing in them, no matter how ridiculous they get. We’re hooked, and now it’s just a matter of being slowly reeled in…
If there’s nothing to let go of then this also means that there’s nothing to grab onto either. Both holding on and letting go are meaningless acts; this is what we might call ‘a symmetrical situation’ – it’s the same thing (which actually isn’t a thing) seen from two different ends (which aren’t actually different at all). These ‘two ends’ are pleasure and pain – pleasure and pain are ‘the two ends of the stick of unconsciousness’. We hold on because holding on brings us pleasure and then we try to let go because what we’re holding onto is now bringing us pain.
As we have indicated however, it’s not quite as easy as that! It’s not as easy as that at all – we aren’t going to get out of the fix we’re in as easily as we got into it because now we believe that there’s actually something to let go of and this belief is where we’re caught. The first part of the process was where we mistakenly thought that there was something to grab and hold onto and this ‘mistake’ is what brought us pleasure. We like pleasure and so we don’t question this first phase of the process of identification, we don’t look into it too closely. We don’t look into it at all. Why look into a good thing, after all? If we do that it may not turn out to be not a good thing after all, and then we’ll be sorry…
Not examining (or not investigating) is the gateway by which we enter into the Kingdom of Illusion, therefore. We give up our capacity to look deeply into things, our capacity to be genuinely curious about what’s going on around us (rather than merely being nosey or suspicious). What could be easier than this? What could be more straightforward? Once we’re in the Kingdom of Illusion however we discover that it’s not such a straightforward matter to leave again. It’s easy to walk through the doorway, but not so easy to leave. It’s easy to check in but once we have checked in we discover that we can never leave…
Or rather we should say that we don’t discover anything of the sort. We don’t find out that ‘it’s not as straightforward a matter to leave the Kingdom of Illusion as it is to enter it’! We don’t spot the dissymmetry and the reason we don’t spot it is because we have given away our capacity to do so. We have given away our capacity to question, our capacity to examine. We have given away our capacity to see illusion as illusion. Because of our short-fall in the ability to look deeply into things, to be genuinely curious about the world that we live in, we are now fated to spend our entire lives walking up and down the interminable grey corridors of Illusion Land, knocking on doors that go nowhere.
Now if it were the case that wondering up and down the endless corridors of Illusion Land were to bring us pleasure (and keep on bringing us pleasure) then we would almost certainly be perfectly content with the arrangement! But that isn’t the deal – that was never how it was going to work out. The ‘deal’ that we have signed up to (without being in the slightest bit interested in scrutinizing) may be stated like this: What brings us pleasure is also what brings us pain. It’s the same thing in both cases – any given illusion is always going to bring us exactly as much pain as it did pleasure. ‘Illusion Land’ ought really to be called ‘pleasure/pain land’! It’s ‘razor-blades coated in honey’, as the Buddha said…
What has happened to us here therefore is that we have been well and truly ‘hoisted by our own petard’. The irony is complete; as well as being ‘complete’ it is also entirely invisible to us. When we wander about in the Kingdom of Illusion we do so with a total absence of any sense of the ironic. The joke is on us, but we don’t know it. We don’t know it because we have given up our sense of irony (or sense of humour) at the same time we gave up our curiosity about the world, at the same time we gave our ability to be genuinely interested in what it is that’s actually going on. We don’t care about what’s really going on because we’re too hypnotized by the cash prize that we think we’re going to win. We’re either too greedy or too fearful to care!
What a life this is – to be forever wondering back and forth and back and forth up and down all the innumerable ‘highways and byways’ that are to be found in the Kingdom of Illusion, whilst at the same time having absolutely no interest in finding out what’s really going on. What a preposterous situation this is! All that we are really interested in is in feeling good rather than feeling bad. And even saying this isn’t right because we’re not ‘interested’ in any true sense of the word – it’s a misuse of the word to say that we’re interested. We aren’t ‘interested’ in the sense that we genuinely want to know what’s going on – we don’t want to know what’s really going on because if we knew what was really going on then we would no longer be able to feel good about it!
Our own ignorance’, our own ‘fundamental lack of insight’ is thus – in the game that we are playing – our greatest asset. That’s the ‘key factor’ – our ignorance is the ‘magic ingredient’ that keeps the whole thing going. We are obliged to protect and secure this ignorance at any price; we have to make sure that nothing jeopardizes our precious ignorance and at the same time make sure that we don’t see what we are actually doing here. We have to protect ourselves against seeing that we’re protecting our own ignorance! This is our way of ensuring that we are going to be able to continue enjoying the pleasure that our illusions bring; it is also our way of ensuring that we continue to feel the full sting of the pain that these same illusions are going to engender in us. This pain is the flip-side of the bargain that we have unwittingly entered into when we gave up our ability to question or be reflective.
We are more likely to learn as a result of pain than we are as a result of pleasure. There’s more learning in pain than there is in pleasure because there’s more incentive to do something about it! What stands in the way of the ‘learning’ that there is in pain however is our tendency to try to either fix or avoid the cause of the pain – just as long as we are either trying to fix or escape from the pain that we are suffering from then we are feeding the illusion. We can’t fix or run away from the cause of our pain because it isn’t there – any attempt to do something about the pain (no matter how clever or skilful our doing) is only going to exacerbate the situation!
In self-help books and therapy sessions we often hear talk of the need to ‘let go’ of stuff. This however is the purest nonsense – trying to let go of stuff simply feeds back into our illusory predicament, reinforces our illusory predicament. Any sort of doing is ‘steroids’ for illusions! Things are a lot more simple than this -there is no need to let go of anything and there is nothing to let go of.
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.