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Strategies for Feeling Real, Parts 1 and 2

Part 1

The ‘secret agenda’ for most of what we do is allow us to feel real. The reason for all our ‘positive behaviour’ (i.e. activity that is carried out on the basis of a definite or literal view of the world) is to allow us to feel real. If we didn’t put the effort into having a literal view of the world, and engaging in purposeful behaviour on the basis of this concrete understanding, then without any doubt at all we would not feel real, and that would be extraordinarily challenging for us!

 

 

We could perhaps respond to this assertion (if we were to go along with it) by arguing that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with having such an agenda – why shouldn’t we want to feel real, after all? What’s the problem with adopting a strategy that enables us to feel real? Isn’t ‘feeling real’ a good thing? There is however a very substantial problem with wanting to feel real, and adopting various strategies to bring this about. We can look at this problem in several ways. For a start we can say that since we aren’t real in the way that we’d like to think that we are trying to be so (trying to be what we’re not) is only ever going to bring us trouble. The whole endeavour is based on a false premise and experience ought to teach us that this does not bode well! Trying to prove – and staking everything on it – that what is not real actually is real, that what is untrue actually is true is just not going to work out for us and so we would be better off not putting any money on this particular horse. It’s a ‘bad bet’. It’s not going to return our investment.

 

 

This is a pretty sound objection but it doesn’t really count for much because no one does go along with the suggestion that we actually aren’t real in the way that we like to think that we are. We aren’t going to go along with this type suggestion at all, not even for a moment. In no shape or form are we going to go along with this. It’s the last idea we want to be toying with! There is absolutely no way that we are going to accept that we aren’t real in the way that we fondly imagine ourselves to be and so we equally aren’t going to accept that the secret agenda for our positive (or ‘goal-orientated’) is to allow us to convince ourselves that we are real when we’re not. There’s no way that we’re going to accept the idea that our constant emphasis on literal descriptions of the world (and the associated goal-driven or purposeful activity) is there for the secret purpose of compensating for the unacknowledged feeling that we have that we’re not actually real…

 

 

From the generally accepted viewpoint, talking about an unacknowledged feeling that ‘we’re not actually real’ sounds ridiculous. That sounds like a kind of a pathological condition (like ‘de-realization’) – not like the normal way to be, the way that we all are, in fact. But then again if the whole point of the ‘generally accepted viewpoint’ is to deny our underlying unreality – which we will argue that it is – then of course we are going to be incredulous. Of course the notion is going to sound ridiculous from the generally accepted viewpoint; that’s what it’s there for – to protect us from any such dangerous suggestions. The collective viewpoint is there to protect us from any imputations that what we cherish fondly as being ‘most definitely real’ (i.e. the mind-created self) is actually not real at all, but merely an abstract mental construct, just like all our other ‘abstract mental constructs’….

 

 

From a collective viewpoint, we just don’t want to know that the mind-created self isn’t real. We don’t generally want to know that from a personal viewpoint either but there is nevertheless always the chance that we – as individuals – will be open to a reality that isn’t mind-created, a reality that doesn’t revolve exclusively around the mind-created self. From the POV of the collective mind however, any awareness of unconditioned reality is just not a possibility. We can’t accept that we aren’t real in the way that we understand ourselves to be and neither can we accept that our ‘positive’ behaviour has the secret function of allowing us to feel real, the secret function of compensating for the unacknowledged (and very unwelcome) feeling that we have deep down that we’re not real. “Unacknowledged feeling of unreality? What unacknowledged feeling of unreality?” we ask, in genuine perplexity. We’ve displaced everything onto the outside and so we don’t know what we’re feeling any more. The deep-down feeling that I’m not actually real turns into ‘the fear of being a failure’, or ‘the fear of not being validated or accepted by my peers’, or ‘the fear of not having enough friends’, or ‘the fear of not ever amounting to anything’, and so on, so we never see it for what it is. We only ever experience the essential ontological challenge of radical uncertainty in a trivialized ‘surrogate’ format.

 

 

The thing is that we just don’t look beneath the surface-level meaning of the purposeful behaviour so that if someone asks us what we doing we say that we’re “doing the thing” – whatever the nominal purposeful meaning of the thing happens to be. We point to the label on the jar. And because everyone else implicitly agrees not to look beneath the surface-level meaning either, this answer suffices perfectly well. “Oh right,” they say, “you’re doing the thing. That’s great…” But really we’re not doing the thing. Or rather we are doing the thing but ‘the thing’ is actually hollow – it’s only a two-dimensional surface. It’s a theatrical performance. We look like we’re doing the thing, we look like we’re performing the purposeful activity, (which is the nominal level of meaning that we all implicitly agree to take seriously) but what we’re actually doing in terms of our hidden agenda is compensating for the unacknowledged (and very unwelcome) feeling that we aren’t real! We’re distracting ourselves from the painful hollowness of the situation that we have created for ourselves by distracting ourselves all the time. The distraction compensates for the unwelcome feeling of unreality, we could say, but it is also responsible for creating it at the same time…

 

 

All of this might tend to sound rather peculiar, but as it happens this business of ‘compensating for a deep down feeling of unreality’ turns out to be an excellent source of motivation in daily life – it turns out to be more than enough to keep us busy on an ongoing basis, more than enough to keep us busy doing what we’re doing without ever having time to wonder why we’re doing what we’re doing. In plain terms, what we’re talking about is a game. The point of a game is – as anyone will tell you – is winning. What could be more straightforward that this? Everybody knows what winning is. Everybody knows what it means to be ‘a winner’. And yet at the same time none of us know what it really means to be a winner, or what it is that we are really succeeding at when we win at the game. Because the label is so very attractive (so self-evidently positive) we never look beyond it but what we’d discover if we did look beyond the label, beyond the nominal designation, is that what we actually succeeding at is ‘self-deception’. That’s the whole point of games, after all – to make out that something is real when it isn’t! So when we win what we’re winning at is ‘concealing from ourselves that what we’re really doing’. Success in the game means ‘success at not seeing that the game is actually meaningless’; success means ‘not seeing that the concept of success itself is meaningless at any deeper level of meaning than the one we’re busy assuming’…

 

 

The thing is that ‘winning’ (which is a word we think we understand so well) actually means something else; since what we’re engaged in is – as we have been saying – is ‘compensating for an unacknowledged feeling of not being real’, ‘winning’ simply means that we get to feel that we’re real. Or we could say that winning (or the euphoric state of feeling that one is ‘a winner’) is our surrogate for being real. We can’t actually be real (this being the one thing we just can’t squeeze out of the two-dimensional self-image!) but what we can do is have this bizarre surrogate which we will call ‘success’ or ‘winning’. The game therefore is the means by which we either obtain this highly-prized, much sought-after ‘surrogate for being’, or ignominiously fail to obtain it (amidst hoots of derision and peals of mocking laughter from our audience)….

 

 

So when we obtain ‘the surrogate for being’ this is winning and when we don’t obtain it this is losing. The surrogate form of being only exists in relation to its opposite therefore, unlike unconditioned being which has no opposite and this situation where all states are only understood in terms of their opposites is what is called in Eastern metaphysics ‘duality’. The key thing to understand about duality is that one opposite only has existence in relation to the complementary opposite – UP exists only in relation to DOWN and DOWN only exists in relation to UP. This is a funny sort of situation therefore because outside of the closed loop of UP and DOWN neither opposite has any meaningful existence at all! The one opposite causes the other to make sense, and vice versa. This being the case we can see that UP and DOWN (like any two complementary opposites) are the two apparently different aspects of the same thing. Actually, they are the same thing….

 

 

When we see two complementary opposites as not being the same thing (as being two very separate things) then we have entered into a closed virtual world – a ‘logical continuum’ which is bounded by the two poles of UP and DOWN or YES and NO or whatever. The reason we can say that it is a ‘closed’ world is simply because there is nothing in it that isn’t wholly defined in terms of the one opposite versus the other. The logical continuum is thus like a taut length of elastic cord stretched out between PLUS at one end and MINUS at the other and so each and every point on this length of cord only makes sense in terms of the PLUS versus the MINUS. That’s our orientation, that’s how stuff gets to be defined as actually existing. Having a definition which is made up out of PLUS versus MINUS is our credential for existence – the only type of credential (or ‘proof’) that the closed world of UP versus NO (YES versus NO) recognizes…

 

 

This is all very well in its own way but what we forget – in the thrill of being defined, in the thrill of being officially validated as existing – is that the two opposites which we are using to define ourselves are only different because we are adopting the convention that they are different. Outside of this convention they aren’t in any way different and what this means is that the business of ‘definition’ is actually a null operation – how after all can I define something exclusively in terms of two determinants which are when it comes down to it one and the same thing? How, in other words, can we define a thing in terms of itself? And yet as long as we carry on (as we do carry on) ignoring the plain and simple fact that the two sides of the coin are the two sides of the coin then we can carry on with this empty game indefinitely. Just so long as we stay within the bounds of the game then one side of the coin is totally different to the other side and thus the surrogate for being (which is ‘winning at the game’)  is going to remain – as far as we are concerned – a very real and attainable commodity. Winning isn’t actually a real thing on its own (it is of course quite meaningless on its own), but in relation to losing it becomes very real indeed. And yet because winning and losing are the two sides of the same coin, and because the only way ‘winning’ gets to be real is because we assume losing to be something different to winning, this means the so-called ‘reality’ of winning is no more than a conditioned appearance…

 

 

Conditioned appearance or not, the pleasure of winning (we may argue) is very real, very vivid and so it might seem that we might have pulled something real out of the game. The only thing is however that the pleasure of winning only exists as pleasure in relation to the utter dismay of losing, which is therefore ‘the other side of the deal’. Pleasure and pain don’t come separately but always as the two ingredients of the same package – you just can’t have the one without the other! We can of course deny the relational nature of the opposites – we can firmly believe that it is possible to enjoy pleasure without also having to endure pain but this is simply ‘a necessary fiction’. We couldn’t carry on playing the game otherwise – if we didn’t have this necessary fiction.  If we didn’t believe that the desired opposite can exist on its own, as a stand-alone element, then we would have zero incentive for continuing chasing it and continue avoiding the complementary ‘unwanted opposite’. If we were to allow ourselves to see that ‘the one incurs the other’ – because the one is the other – then this would be the end of the conditioned reality which we are so extraordinarily consumed with. Within the ‘conditioned reality’ (which is the only reality we know) the identity of the opposites is therefore ‘the forbidden awareness’. Just as Alan Watts says ‘knowing who you are’ is taboo, so too is having insight into the identity of the opposites.

 

 

Although the surrogate for being is polar (which means that all activity that is orientated towards it is perfectly null, perfectly self-cancelling) unconditioned being itself is not polar, is not ‘dual’. Being has no opposite, in other words! This statement doesn’t tend to sound right – we would probably say that the opposite to being is ‘non-being’. We would probably see this as obvious. But the strange thing is that in reality there is no such thing as non-being. ‘Non-being’ is no more than an abstract idea, an empty concept, a hollow illusion. It’s a hollow illusion just as ‘winning and ‘losing’ are hollow illusions. If we fear non-being then we’re fearing an illusion, we fearing something that doesn’t have any reality. ‘Non-being’ is a polar concept just as ‘the surrogate of being’ is – the one being the polar opposite of the other. Both ‘abstract non-being’ and ‘abstract surrogate being’ are illusions therefore, for all that we value one over the other. One is ‘the illusion that we want’, ‘the illusion that we are attracted to’ and the other is ‘the illusion that we don’t want’, ‘the illusion that we are repelled by’. One illusion pushes, the other pulls, and so the wheel of samsara gets to go around and around.

 

Part 2

 

We started off talking about our alleged ‘secret agenda’ to feel real when actually we aren’t and the strategies we sneakily employ to create and maintain the untrue impression that we genuinely do possess some basic, honest-to-goodness being. This is our theme. But if as we have just said being is all that there is and there is no such thing as ‘non-being’ why on earth would we have to have an agenda to feel real? Why would we need to utilize strategies? What’s going on here? This doesn’t seem to make any sense at all – why fight tooth and nail for being when being is all there is? The thing is though that what we are talking about here is the conditioned self and the conditioned self is a polar construct, which means that it can’t ever be real, no matter how we energy we put into wangling it. It’s not real at the beginning of all the wangling and it’s not going to be real at the end. We’ve already looked at why polar constructs aren’t real – they’re not real because they’re made up of two self-cancelling halves. Similarly, the polar self isn’t real because it’s a self-defining tautology. It isn’t real because it’s a closed system and nothing ever happens in a closed system that isn’t a perfectly self-cancelling vibration between plus and minus!!!

 

 

A polar construct is called a ‘polar construct’ because it is completely defined in terms of two complementary opposites which appear within the terms of the game to be two separate elements, two totally different things. But because each pole only makes sense in terms of its ‘opposite number’ they clearly aren’t two separate things there at all. Within the terms of the system change can take place – things can get better or they can get worse (i.e. the situation can change with regard to us approaching or departing from what we have designated as the advantageous or desirable pole) and so all of the intrigue and planning to do with ‘working things so that it goes the good way for us rather than the bad’ is very absorbing for our attention. This intrigue is not just ‘very absorbing’ – it is entirely absorbing, it is everything for us, it’s the whole world for us, which is to say, we keep at it night and day and don’t ever concern ourselves with anything else. If however we ever were to ‘step out of the box’ (i.e. step outside the logical continuum) we would see very clearly that there is never any net gain, any more than there is ever a net loss. The books always balance perfectly no matter what. It is like taking a step forward and then taking a mirror-image step back – the sum of these two actions is always nothing at all!

 

 

Anything that happens in a closed world or closed system is always going to be unreal, therefore. A closed world is (needless to say) a world that is sealed off entirely from everything that is not itself. It stands alone – it never refers to anything else, it never acknowledges that there could be anything else. Because it never refers to anything thing else the only way the closed world can verify its own existence is by reference to itself – which is to say it only exists because it itself says that it does. So it supports itself and is not supported any anything else; it is a statement that agrees with its own basis even though nothing else does! But a statement which is ‘true only because it itself says that it is true’ is a tautology, an exercise in false or fatuous logic, and this means that whilst it may appear on the surface to be saying something actually it isn’t saying anything at all.

 

 

A closed world is a purely abstract proposition therefore. It is a groundless conjecture. It’s an exercise in make-believe. This in itself is no problem at all – a conjectural entity is fine as a conjectural entity just as an abstract proposition is fine as an abstract proposition. That’s all fine and dandy. This is as far as it goes however – we can’t take it any further than this no matter how much time and effort we put into it, and ‘taking it further’ is what we are always trying to do! To put this another way, there’s only one thing that an abstract proposition is good for and that is being an abstract proposition. It’s no good at all when we try to use it as a source of ontological security, when we try to use it as a hook to hang our whole lives on. The conjectural entity which is who we take ourselves to be is (in other words) no good as a basis for living life. The chief failing of the polar or conditioned self – if we may speak bluntly – is the fact that it simply doesn’t exist. Its failing is that it has no reality in it at all – not even a little bit…

 

 

Given the significant nature of this failing there is of course no real choice open to us other than giving up the whole endeavour of trying to live life on the basis of the conjectural self as a thoroughly bad idea. It’s a doomed endeavour and as such the project of investing everything we have in it – and refusing point blank to accept the possibility that this just isn’t going to work out – is not exactly the smartest thing we could ever do. Far from being the smartest thing we could ever do, it is actually complete and utter insanity! It’s a very bad idea indeed, but because the ‘letting go’ of this bad idea is much too much of a radical step for us we’re left with no choice but to try to make it work, even though we know deep down that it isn’t ever going to actually work, not really. What we do therefore – because of this fundamental snag that we are trying to get around (the fundamental snag of the conjectural self not actually existing) is that we give up the straightforward possibility of living our lives on a simple, honest and sincere basis and instead take up a life of double-dealing, trickiness, deviousness, sneakiness, subversion and non-stop self-deception!

 

 

What we do – in essence – is that we arrange for ourselves to be caught up in all sorts of dramas since being caught up in a drama (any sort of a drama) reinforces the illusion that there is someone to who to the drama is happening. What kind of drama doesn’t have somebody to who it is happening? In a drama we are practically screaming “This is real, this is real, this is real!” Sometimes we actually are screaming this. And if the dream is real then the person to whom it is happening must also be real, by direct implication, since the two are so intimately connected. The principle is therefore that when my whole life is a drama (or series of ongoing dramas) then the reality of my life is pretty much unquestionable – everything that happens is reinforcing the fact there is someone to whom it is happening. The more dramatic the story-line the more effective the reinforcement. And on the other hand if my life isn’t an ongoing tiresome drama then there is no more reinforcement of me – without the personal narrative of ‘this happened to me, and then that happened to me, and then this other thing happened to me…’ the ‘me’ just fades out of the picture, it becomes unimportant. I can of course say that ‘life happens’ but the personal pronoun has been lost and the drama ceases then so too does this all-important, all-absorbing personal pronoun. No drama means no me, in other words.

 

 

Another – related – way to talk about the ‘personalization process’ that we are referring to here is to say (as we did before) that we get to feel real by looking at the world in a literal (i.e. humourless) way, and then engaging in all sorts of ‘positive behaviour’ on the basis of this literal-humourless viewpoint. ‘Positive behaviour’ means behaviour that is directed exclusively towards attaining concrete (or literally-understood) goals. The strategy with dramas is predicated upon the principle that ‘if the drama is real then too must be the one to whom the drama is happening’ and – in a similar way – the strategy with concrete thinking is based on the principle that ‘if the goal is concrete then the one who seeks to attain the goal (or who has attained the goal) must be equally concrete’. I am as concrete as my goals are, in other words and since ‘being concrete’ is what my strategizing is all about it makes sense for me to invest in literal thinking and concrete behaviour to the maximum possible extent.

 

 

Engaging in behaviour that is orientated exclusively around concrete goals and literal descriptions of the world is therefore something that we do on a full-time basis. We do it non-stop, barely pausing to take a breath. We eat, sleep and drink goals and goal-orientated behaviour and this – very peculiarly – seems like a positive sort of a thing to us. Generally speaking, purposeful behaviour is considered to be most admirable; we think it’s marvellous, we think it’s great – just so long (of course) it doesn’t tip over right over the edge into flagrant outright no-holds-barred OCD! Goals are good, goals are good, goals are good. Being busy is good, being busy is good, being busy is good. This is the message that we are constantly being given, the message that we are constantly buying into. To be hard at work pursuing goals is wonderful, to be working away industriously (no matter at what) is marvellous. But all of this ‘outwardly directed activity’ is merely a smokescreen – it’s not about attaining the stated goals at all, the goals are just the cover story, what it’s really all about is shoring up the illusion of the one who is trying so hard to attain the goals. ‘Winning’ isn’t about ‘successfully actualizing the goal’ – it is about successfully (and covertly) promoting the illusion that there is someone there to be a winner (or a loser) in the first place…

 

 

This becomes easier to see when we are talking about frankly obsessive behaviour. Obsessive behaviour is very clearly desperate behaviour – which is to say, it is extreme resistance, extreme ‘trying’, extreme counterproductive effort. When we come across extreme resistance, extreme trying, extreme effort, we naturally ask what the resistance is against – the resistance draws attention to the fact that something is being resisted. In the case of frankly obsessive behaviour what is being resisted is the non-existence of the self. This is ‘desperate behaviour’ because what it sets out to do is impossible from the very start – it is a ‘doomed endeavour’ because the notion of self that we are trying to shore up is entirely non-existent, entirely unreal. This very weak starting-off point (the presumed existence of the fundamentally unreal self) makes all activity that stems from it desperate. In obsessive behaviour our ‘strategy for feeling real’ can be clearly seen as being doomed or desperate – it is obviously desperate/doomed because we are trying so hard and so persistently whilst what we are trying to achieve remains at the same time manifestly impossible. The sense of security (or certainty) that we are trying to reach runs away from us just as perfection runs away from the perfectionist, just as the goal of safety (or zero-risk) runs away from the anxiety-sufferer. Obsessive-compulsive behaviour means repeating the ritual, repeating the behaviour over and over again in an attempt to milk some kind of efficaciousness out of it, even though the prognosis is inevitably as bad as bad could be. The very fact that we are doing whatever it is that we are doing so many times shows that what we are doing isn’t actually working – the absurd multiplication of effort gives the game away.

 

 

So on the one hand what we are trying to achieve may be said to be the holy grail of absolute certainty with regard to either what we do (or what we know) in the outside world, and the sense of security that this certainty represents, and on the other hand – less obviously – what we are trying to achieve can be said to be ‘a concrete validation of the reality of the one who is doing, or the one who is knowing’. We are trying to reach the state of certainty in relation to proving to ourselves that the goal definitely has been attained, but more importantly – as we have been saying – we are trying to be just as certain about the reality of the one who has attained it. Our eyes might be directed outwards at the goal, therefore, but what our activity is really aimed at is ‘firming up’ the not-so-firm (not-firm-at-all) reality of the seeker of the goal. In the case of obsessive behaviour the basic unit of activity has to be repeated a vast number of times in order to compensate for the manifest impossibility of what we are trying to achieve and as a result of this unbounded escalation of an obviously ineffective behaviour the absurdity of what we’re trying to do becomes obvious to everyone. What is much harder to understand is that the patterns of purposeful behaviour that we engage in in everyday life (i.e. ‘normal’ behaviours) are also fundamentally ineffective in the very same way however, which is why we have to keep on repeating and repeating them too.

 

 

It doesn’t make sense when we say this because a lot of our purposeful activities do have pragmatic utility – inasmuch as we perform a goal-orientated action in order to obtain a practically useful goal (fetching a glass of water when we’re thirsty, etc) we’re not being obsessive, it’s true, but an awful lot of our behaviour is not about our biological base-line needs (because – in the West as least) our base-line biological needs have been met, but rather they are about something else. If we were to be totally honest with ourselves (which of course we very rarely are) we would have to admit that our purposeful activities go beyond what we actually need, and into the domain of what we want, into the domain of what we have been conditioned to want. What we’re really doing with the majority of our activity (which fills our days up completely) is maintaining an illusion. We’re beavering away trying to build up our image of ourselves, our idea of ourselves, as society says we should be. This is what takes up all our resources – it is frequently said that we have the means on this planet of ours to look after everyone’s needs, even though we show very little interest in doing so. The problem is that we are pouring all the resources into ‘maintaining an illusion’ instead, and that is an endlessly costly business. It is a black hole, in fact, because illusions are never satisfied…

 

 

Whilst it is true that we don’t in everyday conditioned life rely upon such a cruelly impoverished range of behaviours as is the case in OCD (and whilst it is also true that we don’t have to keep on repeating them quite so frantically) we’re still trying to achieve the same impossible goal, which is to prove beyond any doubt the existence of the one who is enacting the behaviours. Were we to succeed particularly well (were we to succeed to a truly spectacular degree) then we would have proved it so conclusively that it never needs to be proved again. This is where we become (for example) a celebrity or sports star whose name is on everybody’s lips. This is where we ‘make the big time’ and from this point on are assured of theatrical immortality.

 

 

What we are saying here is therefore that the behaviours which make up everyday life are themselves fundamentally obsessive, even though we are not at all disposed to seeing them as such. These behaviours are fundamentally obsessive simply because they are so dreadfully repetitive, so crassly formulaic, so relentlessly generic in their nature. They are obsessive because they are all in the service of an illusory, mind-created self. The only time we are not being obsessive is when we are being spontaneous, when we are being genuinely creative and expressive of our true unique (i.e. non-mechanical) nature and this is not really ‘the name of the game’ when it comes to mechanical society. This is not really what is required of us – we are required to ‘fit in’, we are required to play our part in the game, not question the game. And the game is obsessive – as all games – by definition – are obsessive.  How is a game not obsessive, after all? We keep on doing the same basic thing over and over again in order to obtain exactly the same outcome. And what’s more, that outcome isn’t even real!

 

 

What stops us becoming painfully aware of the empty obsessive nature of games is simply the pleasure or satisfaction we get from winning – we’re so focussed on getting this pleasure that we don’t pay attention to anything else. And then, when everything flips around and pain is the thing rather than pleasure, then we simply do the same thing in reverse – we become so focussed on the pain that we don’t pay any attention to anything else. One way it all about how good everything is and the other way it’s all about how bad things are but either way we’re shut down, either way we’re locked up in the game, which is a ‘meaningless pseudo-reality’. If it weren’t for the dual motivation of pursuing pleasure on the one hand and avoiding pain on the other hand we would straightaway see that the game is sterile, that the game is an empty obsession. OCD becomes immediately transparent, we might say, precisely because there is no satisfaction is gained from obtaining the stating goal. We keep on doing it but we get no feeling that we have done anything (or achieved anything) and so we keep on having to do it in the desperate hope of obtaining this feeling of having got somewhere. In this way ‘quantity’ is substituted for ‘quality’ – which is the hallmark of mechanical living. The usual way of things is of course that we do obtain some kind some kind of satisfaction (or reward) when we manage to successfully perform our goal-orientated activities and this is what allows us to remain completely unaware of the frightening emptiness of what we’re doing. Or we could equivalently say that this is what allows us to remain blissfully unaware of what we are really doing with all of our overbearingly concrete goal-orientated behaviour. We make great play in our culture of goals and purposefulness and ‘being in control’ but because our attention is so very effectively displaced onto ‘the outer’ we never come anywhere close to gaining insight into what our constant aggressive busy-ness is really all about, which is affirming and re-affirming the existence of a thoroughly unreal self!

 

 

At the same time as being continuously (and tediously) engrossed in purposeful behaviour (in order to shore up the illusion of the self which is purposefully engaging in the activities) it is nevertheless true that we are still vaguely aware – on some level – of the utter dullness and sterility of this mode of being. We know it’s not the real thing, that it’s only a compromise. On some level we know that this business of scrabbling after goals the whole time is not where it’s at and so we generally pay some kind of lip-service to a life beyond the rigmarole of endless mechanical activity. We believe in some kind of ultimate goal which is where we don’t have to engage in striving after goals all the time. As Gurdjieff says, we keep on rowing feverishly from one place to another in the forlorn hope that we will one day find that spot where we don’t have to row any more. We’re dreaming of attaining to the state of being the ‘All-Time Winner’ – the Winner in Perpetuity, the Winner who is so well-established, so supremely invulnerable to change, that no further effort ever has to be put in…

 

 

Once we have finally ‘ticked all the boxes’ then – or so we imagine – we can finally enjoy the spontaneous life. Once we have ‘satisfied all the conditions’ then we can relax and let our hair down, then we can stop being so stressed and up tight and show to the world and ourselves that we still have a sense of humour underneath all the adult seriousness. We can party. We can show that we’re cool really. We can do all the things we’ve been putting off doing. We can ‘be ourselves’.

 

 

The problem here of course is that this just isn’t going to happen. It can’t happen – there’s absolutely NO WAY that it can happen. It’s crazy to think that it can happen. Why we can be so sure on this point is nothing if not straightforward – all of this serious, purposeful stuff (the ticking of the boxes and the satisfying of the qualifications, the satisfying of the criteria) is as we have said all for the unstated purpose of creating a believable illusion. It’s all about ‘affirming and re-affirming’ the illusion of the conditioned self and making that illusion as firm as possible, as solid as possible, as reassuring as possible. That’s all very good. But then – at the end of all this rigmarole (at the end of the rigmarole of laboriously constructing the dull old purposeful self) – we imagine that we will be able to turn around and let go, turn around and live the spontaneous life! The purposeful self requires constant effort in order to maintain itself (since it isn’t real of itself) and so – this being the case – how can it ever get to the point where no more effort is needed?

 

 

At the end of assiduously constructing our own personalized prison therefore, brick by brick, day after day, engrossing our whole lives in the task in fact, we imagine that we can just ‘walk free’, just like that. The way it works is that every purposeful action we perform ‘unconsciously’, ‘unreflectively,’ ‘non-ironically’ or ‘non-playfully’, etc adds to the illusory density of the assumed concrete self. It adds to the burden. Every time we do something in the name of the illusory self we’re making that illusion more believable (and therefore less escapable) in other words. It is as Wei Wu Wei says,

 

As busy little bees, gathering honey here and there, and adding it to their stock in their hive, we are wasting our time, and worse, for we are building up that very persona whose illusory existence stands between our phenomenal selves and the truth of what we are, and which is what the urge in us is seeking.

 

The thing is however, is that what we’re actually after is not Reality at all, but conditioned reality, which is to say polar reality, the reality of ‘self’ versus ‘other’, the reality of ‘me’ versus ‘you’, the reality of ‘allowed’ versus ‘disallowed’. We never wanted actual Reality at all! What we’re after – if the truth be known – is the polar surrogate of Reality, which is ‘pleasure versus pain’, ‘winning versus losing’, ‘YES’ versus NO’. We are looking for the prize within the closed format of duality, which is all edges, all boundaries, with no actual genuine content…

 

 

There is Reality to be had aplenty (if we were genuinely interested in finding it!), but there is no ‘one who feels real’. The two are mutually exclusive – either there is the Original Article, Non-Dual Reality, the One, the Ineffable Mystery, the Source of all Blessings, or there is the hamster wheel of conditioned existence in which the unreal conditioned self is forever trying to win and not lose, forever running after (or fleeing away from) an attractive/repulsive conditioned (i.e. hallucinatory) reality…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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