The only thing that really matters is escaping from the prison of the self. How could anything else matter? Yet this also happens to be the one thing we never care about – we very rarely show the slightest interest in ‘escaping from the prison of the self’. We couldn’t be less interested! We’ll care about anything else, but not this… Actually, all of our energy goes in the other direction; all our energy and resourcefulness goes in the direction of consolidating and reinforcing this prison. All of our strength and intelligence goes towards furthering the aims of the self – which seems of course very natural to us!
We could also say that the only thing that really matters in life is escaping from the prison of our own minds. The greatest thing there could ever be is to make our way through life without a mind there telling us how to see reality the whole time, and compelling us to act this way and that. What could be greater than to live life without a mind? What could be more marvellous than this? The less in thrall we are to the mind the more marvels we get to see; the more enthralled we are by the mind the less marvels life holds for us. When we are ‘totally in thrall’ – as we almost always are – then life holds no marvels for us at all. How can life hold any marvels for us when we only ever see what that dull old mind shows us? As Carlos Castaneda tells the reader through the words of Don Juan:
Seek and see all the marvels around you. You will get tired of looking at yourself alone, and that fatigue will make you deaf and blind to everything else.
When we are captives of the self then life holds few wonders for us. Actually, for the self there are no wonders. What interest does the self have in wonders, after all? Wonders do not serve the self and the self only has interest in those things that promise to be useful to it personally. As we have said, for the self there are no wonders; for the self there are only advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons. Or as Carlos Castaneda says, ‘…an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.’
This is why the mind / the self is a prison – because it blocks out everything in the world that is marvellous! If you take all the marvels, all the wonder from existence, what is left? All the mind ever sees is ‘the remainder’ – the portion (whatever that may be) that is left after all the wonder has been taken out of life. All the mind ever sees are dull old facts – the dull old facts that it itself has made up to bamboozle us. The universe is in this way turned into nothing but dull technical data, stuff that would put you to sleep in a minute. It is like reading a fifty-page report written by an expert in corporate law. Some authority is telling us ‘how it is’ and there’s nothing in the least bit marvellous about this official version of reality. Actually, this ‘official version of reality’ is being used as a club to beat us into senseless submission. We’re being stifled to death by it…
Similarly with the self – as we have said, the self sees everything in terms of either possible advantage or possible disadvantage to itself, things that it can exploit or things that can potentially exploit it. When we say that the self sees everything in terms of either its own advantage / disadvantage what we are actually saying is that the self sees everything in terms of itself. This is what it means to be the self – it means that you necessarily see the world only in terms of yourself. If it doesn’t relate to me and my needs in some way then I’m just not interested; if it doesn’t show up as a ‘blip’ on the radar of my agenda then as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t exist.
This is very clearly a prison, therefore. If the self sees the world only in its own terms then this means that it doesn’t see the world. It sees only the ‘pseudo-world’ that is made up of its own projections. The self lives in a world that is made up only of itself, its own likes and dislikes, and what could be more imprisoning than this? If I am getting excited about a goal that I am chasing it is only because of me that I’m excited, nothing else, and if I am worried about something then this is also only about me. If I say that I want to be free then this too is all about me and so I’m not talking about freedom at all. I’m talking about myself – it’s not freedom that I’m on about here but the removal of anything which might be getting in the way of the gratification / validation of the self.
Just as the thinking mind automatically uses itself as a measure of the world, so too does the self measure everything it comes across in terms of itself. Whether something is said to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ means ‘good or bad for me’ – it comes across as a universal standard but it isn’t! Everything I encounter is a reflection of the central, all-determining prejudice that is me. How do we know this to be true? Because if this wasn’t the case then everything we came across would fill us with wonder, and it generally doesn’t! There is no wonder in our grubby projections, just as there is no wonder in the self. The self is a dull and petty thing and so when we see the world only in terms of ourselves the world also become ‘dull and petty’. The world actually becomes something squalid.
‘Wonder’ is the magic ingredient to life that we have quite forgotten about; we knew it as children but we know it no more. Wonder is the most important thing of all, and yet we have somehow let it go without ever making any protest. We never dwell on it, we never saw it go. The ‘loss of wonder’ is such a terrible thing that we have had to deny it. We can’t ever let ourselves know about this loss; it would take the pleasure out of our lives to see what we are missing, to see what has become of us. It makes a mockery of everything we cherish. We may have a microwave and a dishwasher but we don’t have any wonder! How could we ever get excited about things if we knew that the most important thing about life had been taken away from us?
This is a very strange thing – just as soon as we forget about the wonder we switch all our interest, all our allegiance, to the shadow-world of our own unacknowledged projections. We no longer have the slightest bit of interest in the wonder of the world. It’s not just that we no longer have the slightest interest in the wonder of the world either – the essential wonder of existence (which Jung refers to as the numenosity) is now a source of boundless terror to us. Everything has switched around on us so that what was once wholesome is now something spooky and unsettling to be afraid of. We now look for comfort in our unacknowledged projections, we develop and great fascination for them. So great a fascination do we develop that we cannot tear ourselves away from them – this is a flat impossibility for us. We exist in a state of hypnotic fascination towards our positive and negative projections; we can’t tear ourselves away from either type. From this point on we’re ‘prisoners in the cave’, just as Plato said: the door to the outside world has been locked and the key has been thrown away…
From this point on we’re lost. We’re left to stumble around in the dark, not knowing what we are doing. We’re lost within the mechanical dream, lost in the trance of unconsciousness, reacting blindly and involuntarily to our own positive and negative projections as if they were not our projections, just as if they were something real, just as if they were something which has actual independent existence in the world. Such is the intensity of the attachment we feel toward these projections that breaking free has – as we have said – become a pragmatic impossibility for us. We don’t even want to break free. We no longer have any independent will, any will that is independent of the attachment. What the attachment wants is what we want – we can’t see any difference. The ‘dreams’ that ensue as a result of being compelled to act out (either positively or negatively) every attachment that comes along are completely immersive – there’s no trace ourselves left, there’s no trace of our true (unprogrammed) consciousness left. It is as if the dream is possessed of its own voracious life and all it wants to do is feed on us. It has the upper hand and it isn’t about to let us go!
How great it would be to go through life beholding marvels! How great it would be to behold one’s own life as a marvel! And yet for the conditioned mind ‘marvel’ is a dirty word. Wonders and marvels are regarded as being thoroughly disreputable – they are not to be included in the official report. They are not to be mentioned in any sensible communication. So instead we make our way through a ‘life’ that has nothing to do with wonders of marvels; we grimly make our way through a world that has been effectively stripped of anything that might even remotely be considered marvellous or wonderful. This is our legacy to ourselves – that in a world which is made up of nothing else apart from wonders, we should be blind to anything wonderful. Instead, we continually concern ourselves with dull technicalities, with repetitive hollow routines. The self – after all – is a dull technicality, is a hollow routine.
The self has no time for wonders! Wonders make the self feel uncomfortable – they offer it no comfort. What could the self possibly have to say about the wonders of the world? What place is it to find itself in a universe that is made up of nothing else other than wonder upon wonder, marvel upon marvel? Where’s its niche, where are its cosy validations? The only way for the self to survive (if it is to keep any shred of its pride left) is to block out all of that splendour and create instead a closed and claustrophobic world that is a faithful reflection of its own tiresome small-mindedness. As the self is dull and tiresome, so too is the world that it creates! The self and its world are the same thing.
Why are the self and its endeavours so infinitely tiresome? Simply because it is not real. The self isn’t real and neither is its world. The self isn’t real and so nothing real will ever come out of it. The story – which we continually buy into – is that something real will come out of it! The story has been going on for a long, long time and nothing has EVER come out of it. Nothing ever will come out of it and that is why it is so tiresome. If the activity in question were playful instead of serious then it wouldn’t be tiresome but the thing is that the self is always serious. It is chronically serious – like a person suffering from obsession is chronically serious. What could be more tiresomely serious than the self and its never-ending purposeful activity? What could be more tiresome than the self and its wretched perpetual goals? Our goals and plans and purposes are our way of proving to ourselves that we are real when we aren’t and this is why they are so very tiresome. Our unceasing purposeful activity is ‘tiresome’ because it is the activity of denial and what is more tiresome than denial?
It’s as if (for some reason) I am becoming more and more superficial in myself, more and more vapid, until I reach the point at which I’m not being real at all. I am being completely false – my whole attitude is now a kind of mockery. There is a kind of horror in being so dreadfully superficial, so dreadfully vacant, and yet at the same time I am saying with my attitude ‘everything is OK, everything is fine, everything is just great’. According to my attitude, there is no problem anywhere, things couldn’t be better, and yet my true self is actually absent here. This is the situation of the concrete self – the concrete self is saying with its attitude ‘everything is OK, everything is fine, everything is great, etc’ but this bland posture exists in blatant denial of what’s really going on. What’s really going on is a kind of nightmare or horror story. Why is the situation of the concrete self a kind of nightmare or horror story? Simply because the concrete self is very seriously saying that it is real when it isn’t. The concrete self is total, full-blown denial of the truth, because it is afraid of that truth. The self IS denial, end of story!
The self fears finding out about the truth of its situation more than anything else – this is its ultimate fear. It is playing the game that what it fears isn’t true, isn’t real, and yet this is a very superficial kind of a game because we wouldn’t be playing it unless what we were implicitly saying is true, actually were true. All games are of course superficial in this way – all games operate by stating one opposite in order to deny the other, and yet the opposite we proclaim from the rooftops and the truth we are sneakily denying can never be separated. Our denial and what is being denied are joined together, joined at the hip. The self can never escape from the awareness that it is denying with all its serious (or concrete) activity, and – as is always the case with denial – the more resolutely it gets locked into the state of denial the more impossible it becomes for it to ever face what it fears. The more it invests (with its ceaseless purposeful activity) in its attitude of denial the harder facing the truth becomes, so this becomes ‘a one-way street’. Having to go around denying the truth because that truth represents one’s ultimate fear must constitute a nightmare (or horror story) by anybody’s standard! The pain of this situation can either be internalized or acted out in violent acts, and when we consider that all the violence and evil that exists (and ever has existed) in the world stems entirely from the denied fear that is to be found at the heart of the self’s ‘make-believe’ existence we can see just how ‘humourless’ (or ‘grim’) the situation of the concrete self really is…
When we don’t make ourselves be ‘the concrete self’ then everything is very different. There couldn’t be a bigger difference! Unconditioned consciousness doesn’t aggressively assert that it exists – that is the self’s game! Unconditioned consciousness does not therefore live in a state of precarious denial of the actual truth of its situation; it does not exist in self-cancelling polarities. Or as we could also say, consciousness is playful – it is playful because it does not seriously (or humourlessly) assert its own existence, its own reality. Its activity is playful – it is always ‘as if’ rather than the aggressive literal ‘is’. There is no ‘is’ for consciousness!!! It is happy to play at conditioned existence, but it is equally happy to let go of this illusion again. Unlike the cumbersome and cantankerous concrete self, consciousness can ‘let go’. It can let go because is no defined ‘self’ there that it needs to hold onto!
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.