So if we can’t ‘wake up on purpose’ (or ‘separate ourselves from our conceptualisations on purpose’) then does this mean that we just have to keep on dreaming? Are we destined to spend the rest of our lives ‘stuck fast’ to our wretched artificial constructs, our impoverished conceptualisations and dry rationalisations? That would be a strange thing. What – we might ask – would be the ‘point’ in there being this marvellous state of ‘being awake’ (this state of ‘non-conceptual’ awareness) if we could never know it, if we could never have any connection with it? Unconditioned awareness would mock us, in this case. It would only be there to taunt us…
If we were to go around intellectually knowing that there is this ‘state of non-conceptual awareness’ which is perfectly free from all restriction, from all prejudice, from all pestilential narrow-mindedness, and yet never be able to have any actual relationship it, then how would that make it make us feel? That would be – we might imagine – be very frustrating indeed. It would surely be better just to go around believing, as most of us do, that the ‘reality’ we relate to on a daily basis is ‘the only one there is’. Otherwise – we might argue – we are ‘falling between two stools’. We’re falling between two stools and as a result we’re not getting the benefit of either.
To be unconscious, and be blissfully ignorant of our situation, is one thing, and to be conscious and be blissfully aware of the transcendent truth of our situation is another thing, but to fall between the two and miss out on both types of ‘bliss’ sounds like a very unattractive proposition! Who would want this? That is surely the worst of both worlds! If we are thinking like this though – and the chances are that we are – then what’s happening is that we want to jump straight from the one way of living (the unconscious way) to the other (conscious way) and we don’t want to pay the debt that we have incurred by investing in the unconscious life. Star. We want to get off ‘scott free’, so to speak, and yet as Jung says, no one gets out of here without paying down to the last penny of what they owe. There are no shortcuts, in other words, much as we wish to believe in them. There are no short-cuts, there is only the long cut.
We want to go straight from unconscious suffering to ‘the ineffable bliss of letting go of all our constructs’ without having to endure the conscious frustration of having to go through the motions of unconscious or mechanical living, whilst at the same time ‘knowing better’. Beforehand, therefore, the type of suffering that we were experiencing was the good old-fashioned kind, the pain of ‘not getting what we want’, or the pain of ‘getting what you don’t want’, as it is said in the Buddhist Scriptures. After we see through the game (to some extent or other) it is another type of suffering entirely that we are going through. One needs to be awake in order to suffer, otherwise we’re just ‘thrashing around’….
What we are now tasting is the suffering of seeing the futility (if not insanity) of seeing what we doing whilst not be able not being able to do anything about it. we’re living the unconscious life, – but – to some degree – were conscious of it, and this is actual ‘real’ suffering, rather than the ridiculous ‘unconscious suffering’ of the pseudoself not being able to get its own way, even though the pseudoself has no actual existence, and even though we are not it anyway.
No matter how much the pseudoself suffers the pangs of ‘not being able to actualise its conditioned-will’ no change, no liberation is ever going to come about because of it. Both the victories and the defeats of the conditioned self are only going to affirm the apparent existence of this identity, and thus cause us heaps more suffering in the future. When however we find ourselves in the ‘split’ situation of both suffering from the thwarting of our conditioned will (which is the will of the pseudoself) and seeing the actual nature of this suffering, and seeing how deeply absurd it is, then we are suffering consciously, and so genuine change will always come about as a result of it.
What’s actually happening here is that we are ‘paying back what we owe’ with our conscious frustration. We have invested heavily in illusion, and now we have to take the loss on the chin; we have to repay the loan which we took out to subsidize our misconceived endeavour. And to cap it all, we are painfully aware the whole time that we have ‘wasted our money’ (or squandered our inheritance) and that when we have repaid what we owe then we will be ‘back to Square One with nothing to show for it’. We invested in ‘unreal real estate’ after all, so what did we expect? We have spent our entire life-savings on phantom stocks and shares…
So it isn’t really the case that we have ‘fallen between two stools’ and are therefore ‘failing to benefit’ from either world (either the real or the unreal one). Or rather, this is exactly the case but this is actually a good thing! It’s a good thing because – as we have just said – this type of pain, this type of suffering, is conscious rather than unconscious, and as Gurdjieff says someone somewhere, no one suffers consciously without becoming freed by that same suffering. This is a ‘law of the universe’ – our conscious suffering actually is our freedom! Unconscious suffering – on the other hand – isn’t anything.
This isn’t the same thing as deliberately putting oneself in line for suffering so as to help one’s progress along the spiritual path’. That would be mere ‘goal orientated behaviour’ and no one ever became free as a result of GOB! GOB is carried out for the benefit of the one who pursues the goal (obviously enough) and ‘the one who pursues the goal’ (i.e. the one who wishes to benefit themselves in a spiritual way) doesn’t exist. GOB is investment in ‘unreal real estate’, and as such it is an exercise in unconscious rather than conscious suffering. We’re trying to benefit who we’re not; we’re trying to benefit who no one is, and no good is going to come of this.
What starts off as grim ‘conscious frustration’ ends up as humour, however! It ends up as ‘lightness of spirit’. The ridiculous antics and aspirations of the pseudoself are not tragic but comedic, and after a while we start laughing at ourselves and our predicament. At this precise point ‘grace’ comes back into the picture: we’re still going through the same old mechanical stuff – and so in this way nothing has changed – but we’re in that situation in a different, more sensitive way. We’re living the unconscious life with better grace. Or to put this another way, we still going through the same old mechanical stuff that we always did, but now we’ve developed a sense of humour about it…
Image: Ubu Roi, at Rider University