When Macbeth says that life is ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ he could be talking about the thinking mind’s account of life rather than life itself. This isn’t what he meant in Shakespeare’s play of course but we could very aptly apply the quote to the narrative created by the thinking mind.
The mind’s narrative is most definitely ‘a tale told by an idiot’ and the most pressing task in life – without a doubt – is the task of extricating (or separating) ourselves from this narrative. If we don’t separate ourselves from the narrative then – as far as we’re concerned – there won’t be any difference between ‘life’ and ‘a tale told by an idiot’. The two – for us – will come down to the very same thing.
The two will come down to the very same thing because, as far as we’re concerned, the thinking mind account of ‘what life is all about’ actually is what it’s all about. We don’t have the capacity to question our thoughts (or ‘not believe’ then) and so whatever our thoughts tells us is real. Our thoughts are all we have to go on. This is what it means to be ‘caught up in the mind-created narrative’ – it means that we react to what thought tells us as if it were real. Narrative and reality have become conflated therefore; the latter has been eclipsed by the former.
We might ask why the thinking mind’s account of reality has to be so wrong. Our thinking process can go off the rails at times it is true, but for the most part it seems fairly reliable – if not very reliable. For the most part it seems to be a reliable enough guidance system when it comes to navigating the terrain of life. Why then would we want to be so disparaging of the information that the rational mind is providing us with? The thing that we never see however is that the information that we are running on is all coming from the POV of an entirely ‘made up’ perspective – the narrative that we are running on is coming from an unreal point of view and that ‘unreal point of view’ is the point of view of the everyday self. The information is slanted so as to produce an odd sort of illusion therefore – it is producing the illusion that this one narrow perspective is the only one there is, the only one that has any validity. We get trapped in it in exactly the same way that we’d get trapped in a hole and as a result we simply ‘can’t see out’; we take it that the view afforded us by the hole is the only view there is, therefore.
This argument might sound rather strange to start off with but all we’re saying is that we are personalising life when we shouldn’t be. Life isn’t a personal thing, after all! We all know from common experience that if we were to suddenly take everything that happened to us personally, regardless of whether to assume this or not, then this would constitute a ‘major mental distortion’. In the extreme case what we would be talking about would be paranoia, or ‘paranoid psychosis’. When everything in the universe has a very special meaning meant just for me then this is not at all a nice feeling – the place in the world occupied by ‘me’ has become too important! Luckily for us however the world has nothing whatsoever to do with us; as the line in David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World goes – ‘It’s got nothing to do with you, if you can grasp it’.
So here is why the story told to us by the thinking mind isn’t as reliable as we always assume it to be. Thought relates what is going on in the world to us but it relates this story as happening in relation to a viewpoint that doesn’t actually exist. I don’t know the world as it is ‘in itself’, I only know it as it appears to be in relation to ‘the very narrow viewpoint which is me’. I can’t take myself out of the picture, I can’t separate ‘what’s going on’ from my ‘habitual slanted way of seeing what’s going on’! This represents a fundamental distortion however because – as we have just said – we have hung our understanding of the world on peg that simply doesn’t exist. The world exists but the peg doesn’t.
This isn’t an easy thing to get to grips with of course – if you go up to someone and inform them that ‘the viewpoint which is them’ doesn’t exist then you aren’t going to meet very many people who will grasp what you’re on about. On the contrary, you are going to meet an awful lot of people who don’t have a clue what you’re talking about! The point is however that all we really saying here is that the universe doesn’t have a centre. On the small scale anything we come across can be said to have a centre – a town has a centre, a football pitch has a centre, an apple has a centre, a circle drawn on a page has a centre, but reality taken as a whole doesn’t. We could of course say that the centre of reality as a whole is ‘wherever I am’, but then again I could be anywhere, I could be anyone. The centre is arbitrary and so there is no real ‘centre’. The centre in relation to which our narrative about the world exists is entirely arbitrary therefore, and this is ‘the peg that we have hung everything on’. The whole of existence doesn’t really exist in relation to the narrow viewpoint of the self – that is just the ‘subjective impression’ that we get, obviously! It’s an impression that doesn’t actually mean anything. Wherever we are seems like the centre and so to talk about the centre in any absolute sense has no meaning.
We don’t always personalise our relationship with the world to the same extent of course. The degree to which this happens varies a lot in everyday life. It could be said that when we are more conscious then we personalise the world less, and that when we are less conscious we personalise our relationship with the world more. This turns out to be a very handy rule of thumb – we might quite rightly object of course that consciousness is not something that can be quantified or talked about in an analytic type of way, but at the same time this is a very good way of looking at what consciousness isn’t.
Consciousness isn’t when we personalise our experience of being in the world. That’s what it most definitely isn’t! Suppose I happened to be at the most extreme end of the scale, the ‘completely concrete end’. When I am in 100% ‘concrete mode’ then the only type of ‘world’ I am interested in is the world that directly corresponds to either what I want or what I don’t want. This is the state of ‘Identification with the World’ – ‘I am the world and the world is me’, as Johannes Fabricius says. When we are in this state of identification with world then (according to Fabricius) when we feel good in ourselves we feel good about the world (we automatically perceive the world we live in to be ‘a great place’) and when we feel lousy then we perceive the world to be ‘a rotten place’. ‘Everything is shit,’ I will say… The world reflects my mood, in other words. There is no possibility of me feeling bad but seeing at the same time that ‘all is well in the world at large’. This ‘separation’ of self from world is a complete impossibility for me and the reason for this is that I’m only concerned with the world as it narrowly relates to me.
Another way of putting this is to say that the only way I have of knowing myself is through my own story of myself, my own self-centred account of what is happening to me. I am my narrative and the only aspect of the world that interests me is the aspect that forms part of this self-related narrative. As regards that rather large aspect of reality that has no relationship to my drama, I have no interest at all. And it’s not just that ‘I have no interest’ either – the part of the world that is not relevant to my drama simply does not exist for me and that’s why we say that I am ‘unconscious’. To be trapped in one’s own literal narrative (which is the situation that gives rise to ‘the concrete sense of self’ is to be ‘not conscious’. This is what ‘not being conscious’ means.
In this situation there is definitely a ‘story’ that is being told – there’s no doubt about that. There is a very defined, very ‘black-and-white’ story that is being told to us by the narrative-producing mind but the thing about this story is that it is nothing more than the concrete self projecting itself out onto the world. No Very clearly, no matter what twists and turns of the plot-line it is still going to be the same thing; it is all still just the concrete self being projected out onto everything we encounter; the apparent ‘diversity’ of the unfolding narrative masks the profound lack of diversity in relation to what this narrative is actually signifying, in relation to what it ‘all comes down to’. It all comes down to me, after all! My story always just comes down to me… The point is that the concrete narrative is completely lacking in what we might call any ‘Greater Significance’. There is ‘Zero Universality’ in the concrete narrative (i.e. ‘the story of the concrete self’) and because of this we have to say that there is zero real meaning in the literal story-line that I am so fixated upon. It’s hollow.
Straightaway, of course, the concrete self is going to take grave offence to this statement since as far as it is concerned its tailor-made narrative is very meaningful indeed. The narrative in question couldn’t in fact be any more meaningful – this is clearly true since it is since the story the mind tells us is of course made up of all those issues which are most pertinent to us. That’s how the ‘personal narrative’ works, after all – it works by being personal; it works by ‘playing expertly upon our biases’. How then can we say that the concrete personal narrative is devoid of meaning, how can we say that it is ‘a tale told by an idiot’? That’s the same thing as saying that our sense of identity (that very sense of identity that is being played upon either positively or negatively, euphorically or dysphorically, by the twists and turns of the drama) is a tale told by an idiot. It’s ultimately insulting for the concrete identity to hear something like this – it constitutes a ‘very personal insult’!
There’s a curious ‘trick’ going on here however, as we have already intimated, and the trick in question is that we only get to be ‘the concrete sense of self’ when we allow ourselves to be defined (or conditioned) by the mind-created narrative. I can only be this identity when I believe in what the narrative is telling me so of course this narrative is going to be meaningful to me when I understand ‘who I am’ to be this identity! We’re going around in circles here! The narrative is very meaningful indeed to me but this is only because ‘who I take myself to be’ has been conditioned by that very same narrative. This is like saying that when we get conditioned by a particular belief-system then that belief-system seems to be true to us – of course it seems to be true us (that’s what happens when we get conditioned) but this rock-solid conviction of ours doesn’t actually prove anything! This rock-solid conviction of ours doesn’t actually carry any weight at all…
Suppose that I didn’t identify with the concrete self that is being automatically created by the process that happens when consciousness believes in the literal mind-created narrative – in this case ‘the story that is being told’ won’t make any sense. In this case it would indeed be told ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury ,signifying nothing’! The narrative only makes sense to a concrete sense of self that doesn’t actually exist; it only makes sense to ‘the concrete sense of self’ that has been created by the biases encoded into the narrative itself. Or as we could also say, ‘the narrative takes the concrete self for granted and so when we take the narrative for granted we also take the self that comes with it for granted’! This is really just a form of hypnosis therefore – the rational narrative hypnotises us into believing it and the way it does this is by compelling us to identify with the concrete identity that is automatically assumed by the rational narrative that we are believing!
We’ve fallen headfirst into a deep dark hole. We’ve fallen headfirst into the tautology and because we can’t see the tautology to be a tautology we can’t get out of it. We can’t see that what we take to be ‘sense’ is actually nonsense – we can’t see that the universe isn’t personal to us, and that all concrete, self-referential meanings are actually devoid of meaning. We’ve fallen into the trap of seeing everything from the POV of a concrete self that doesn’t exist and everything we see is that same concrete self reflected back at us. Of course the narrative that enshrines this self in ‘the central role’ is meaningless, therefore. How could it not be? As Jung says however, when we start to see life in universal terms, in mythological terms then this means that we are disidentifying with the concrete self – we’re starting to see out of the tunnel! We’re realizing that life isn’t something that happens to this little ‘defined sense of identity’; it’s happening for sure but it’s not happening for the benefit (or otherwise) of the defined sense of self….