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Reflex Mind

‘Living life in the wrong way’, to borrow Lawrence Durrell‘s phrase, is where we spend all our time feeding the mechanical reflexes that live in us and turning our backs on the ‘non-mechanical’ mystery of who we really are, and so systematically starting it of any opportunity to manifest itself. If this isn’t ‘living life in the wrong way’ then what is?



When we feed mechanical reflexes they grow stronger, naturally enough. They grow stronger and they proliferate, and they very effectively drive out any trace of our true ‘non-mechanical’ nature. Mechanical reflexes themselves have no awareness in them – they are triggered and they ‘fire off’ and that’s all there is to them. That’s the beginning and end of the story. They go from point <A> to point <B> as quickly as they can and if anyone stands in the way of this movement then there’s hell to pay. All mechanical reflexes ‘care about’ (so to speak) is getting ‘where they are’ to ‘where they want to be’ as quickly and efficiently as possible – anything that helps us get from <A> to <B> is good and anything that impedes us is bad. Any other considerations – such as why it is so very good to get from <A> to <B> don’t come into it. It’s ‘good’ and that’s the end of it. That’s the result we want and that’s as far as we want to go into it. If anyone tries to go into it any further we will get angry with them; they have become the problem in this case. They have become what is preventing us going from <A> to <B>.



Reflexes, of course, don’t really ‘care’ about anything; they don’t really care about anything because they are only mechanical reflexes. They simply do what they do. When we ‘feed them’ and let them grow and become strong then these essentially harmless reflexes ‘takeover’ from us and act as if they are the person, not us. They then become (in a way) autonomous entities with a life of their own. They aren’t really alive but they do all the same take on the appearance of life, the trappings of life. They usurp us, they ‘wear the trousers’.   




In a very odd way therefore, ‘the tool takes over from the user of the tool’, and the result of this is that the proper order of things is lost and everything turns into a farce. This farce is what we have referred to as ‘the wrong way of living life’. Clearly this is the wrong way of living life – everything becomes about getting from <A> to <B> even though there is absolutely no sense to this other than the ‘sense’ of the reflex itself. There is a very narrow ‘sense’, which is ‘the logic of the reflex'(i.e. the logic that the reflex itself runs on) but outside of this there is no meaning to the action at all. It’s ‘purely mechanical’.



So the funny thing is that we are all ‘running on reflexes’ and so if anyone were to question us too closely on why ‘we’re doing what we doing’ then we’re just going to get angry with them. We’re just going to get angry with them because we don’t really have an answer. We’re not really interested in ‘the bigger picture’, we just want to obey the narrow logic of the reflex that happens to be driving us at the time. When the tool has taken over from the user of the tool then we are not in the least bit interested in the bigger picture; all we want to do is obey the logic of the reflex. As we keep on saying, this is ‘the be all and end all’ of mechanical life. We just want to obey the rule.



The other way of looking at this is to say that when the tool takes over from the user of the tool then everything becomes about ‘end-gaming’. There is this unexpressed and unexamined sense that ‘everything will be solved when we achieve the goal’. The goal becomes over-valent in other words – it takes on a significance or glamour that it doesn’t really deserve. In the Western world ‘the glamour of the goal’ has become All-Powerful and what this indicates is that our consciousness has become well and truly mechanised. The reflex-mind has become King.



When we are operating on the basis of the narrow logic of the reflex-mind and the goal becomes EVERYTHING  to us. The reflex is all about going from <A> to <B> and so – for the reflex-mind – <B> is everything. When we looking at the world from the point of view of the reflex then we are living in a very narrow world indeed; obtaining the goal is the ‘be all and end all’, as far as this world is concerned – it’s the limit of what we understand as well as being the limit of what we care about. Obeying the rule is the limit of what we understand as well as being the limit of what we care about – that’s how it is with machines, naturally enough!



When the only world we know with the world as it appears from the point of view of the reflex then everything gets subsumed within the narrow remit of this world. Everything gets ‘subsumed within the game’. Attaining the goal (or getting from <A> to <B>) thus becomes ‘the best thing in the world’, it becomes ‘the answer to everything’. This being the case, it’s no wonder that ‘getting from <A> to <B>’ becomes such a magnetically attractive proposition to us. This being the case, it’s no wonder that we never see beyond the specified goal or purpose and aren’t interested in seeing beyond it either.



But just because the goal that is currently on our minds is over-valent and super-magnetic, that doesn’t mean that when (or if) we attain it then anything is really going to change. The goal doesn’t mean anything in reality, after all! All that’s going to happen is that we going to keep on drifting along from one goal to another, one thought to another, each one magnetising us for a while. This will keep us busy but it won’t get us anywhere. Far from actually getting somewhere, what’s going to happen is that we going to keep on ‘feeding the reflexes that live within us’ so that they get stronger and stronger and more and more numerous, whilst we get weaker and weaker. This isn’t exactly the best possible news for us because the stronger the reflexes get the more suffering we undergo.



It’s not hard to see why handing over our autonomy to a bunch of mechanical reflexes is synonymous with suffering; reflexes have nothing to do with life after all – they’re all about getting from <A> to <B> as quickly as possible (as we keep on saying) and the thing about this is that neither <A> nor <B> actually exist. They are projections of the thinking mind. When we reject <A> then we are rejecting an idea that we have in our heads, and when we grasp at <B> then we are grasping after an idea that we have in our heads. As long as we are seeing everything from the POV of the reflex-mind all that we are ever doing is rejecting <A> and grasping at <B> and so we are orientated entirely away from life, entirely away from reality.



We have created a world for ourselves with no mystery in it – we have surrounded ourselves with garish and banal certainties, certainties that will never take us anywhere, certainties that have no relationship whatsoever with reality. We might argue that we’re getting on fine in this banal world and that there’s nothing wrong with our way of life, but what other viewpoint is the reflex-mind ever going to take on the matter? Not that we ever do feel the need to defend our way of life as explicitly as this. The question as to whether our over-rational way of life is fundamentally ‘out of kilter’ never gets raised – that’s too big a question ever to ask! No one is ever going to suggest that we have ‘got it wrong’ on such a fundamental level and even they did make such a suggestion no one is ever going to listen to us.



In practical terms therefore, this is an impossible point to raise. We think we are the reflex-mind, we are identified with it, and because we are identified with it the only place we can look for peace and well-being is in ‘the final fulfilment of the reflex’, so to speak. In other words, we can only look for our well-being in the situation that will come about when we get to point <B> and this conviction fuels the cause of our distress rather than relieving it, as we keep on hoping it will. As long as we are identified with the reflex-mind there will be no peace for us – we will be continually grasping for <B> because that’s where we think our fulfilment lies, but <B> is (as we have said) an illusion. This business of ‘grasping after illusions’ only ever leads to two things: [1] Frustration and self-recrimination when we fail and [2] Disconnection and alienation when we succeed. To be identified with the reflex-mind results in a life which is unreal – we grasp after reality but our idea of what that is is completely deluded. This is a life of scratching in which we can never find any genuine relief, and who would want this for themselves?









Art: ‘Enduring Spell’ by El Mac, on streetartnews.com







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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