The essential problem that we are constantly trying to solve with our thinking (or almost all of the time) is the ‘problem’ of our unreality. This is the problem that we are always trying to fix, and it is also a problem that we are never ever going to admit to! This is a very clear and succinct way of looking at what lies behind the thinking process, which always pretends to be about something else. There are at the same time however difficulties in getting to grips with this particular psychological viewpoint. These ‘difficulties’ come down to the fact that we don’t believe ourselves to be ‘fundamentally unreal’!
‘Being unreal’ is a bit of a problem for us. It is of course not just a bit of a problem – it’s a tremendous problem. Being unreal is something that we have major issue with. Being unreal is an insurmountable problem – it’s an insurmountable problem because we can’t ever overcome it (much as we’d like to) and it’s also an insurmountable problem because we can’t see beyond it. We can’t see past our ‘need to believe that we are real’; we can’t let go of our resistance as far as this one is concerned…
We very much want to be real, but the big problem with this is that we aren’t, and never can be. How can a mind-produced image ever be real? How can a thought be real? All we know are mind-produced images, or thoughts. We live in a world that is entirely made up by ideas, by images, and so this of course means that what we know as ourselves is also nothing but an idea, nothing but an image. How could we live in a world that is made up entirely of our own thoughts and yet at the same time not be one of those thoughts? How could that possibly work?
In order to live in a world that is made up of mind-created images and yet at the same time feel that this world is genuinely real, that it actually means something (rather than being an empty fiction) we cannot be allowed to know that the mind-created images are only mind-created images. Otherwise how can we be taken in by the show? We cannot let ourselves know that our ideas are only ideas otherwise we can’t avail of the false security that believing in these ideas provides us with. But the thing about this is that we then have to believe in the idea of ourselves that the image-making mind supplies us with and what this means is that we have becoming an image (or ‘an idea’) without knowing that we have. We have lost contact with reality without knowing that we have.
So that’s the deal – if we want the (false) security of believing in the mind-created world (which is made up on nice, reassuring ‘literal certainties’) then we have to lose our connection with who we really are (which is not a literal certainty) and pledge our undying allegiance to the mind-created self which is a sterile idea without any depth in it, without any mystery in it. We have to pledge our allegiance to a mind-produced image which is a mere blank ‘token’ that doesn’t actually have any reality of its own…
This deal comes with its own inbuilt set of snags or glitches however and these aren’t exactly small ones! The essential glitch is that ‘security’ comes with two faces, not just the one (which is what we naively assume). This is so easy to see, and yet we never see it! The two faces that we’re talking about here are ‘the good face’ and ‘the bad face’, or ‘the face we like’ and ‘the face we don’t like’. Or as we could also put it: the two sides of what we see as ‘security’ are ‘the pleasure-producing side’ and ‘the pain-producing side’. Wherever there is ‘security’, therefore, there is always going to be both pleasure and pain and these two aspects of what is called ‘conditioned existence’ can never be separated. This isn’t just any old glitch, this is the Super-Glitch, this is ‘the glitch to end all glitches’..
Let us say that my mind creates a flat or literal reality for me, a (false) reality that I cannot see through. If this mind-produced image matches my assumptions regarding ‘what is good’ (or ‘what is right’) then I am going to feel pleasure. I am going to be ‘pleased’. But what this means is that there is now (at the very same time) the equally valid possibility of a literal version of reality that does not match my assumptions (or ‘rules’) regarding what is to be considered ‘good’ or ‘right’ and in this case my mind is producing pain for me, just as it produced pleasure before.
The ‘security’ that we have given our freedom away for is as good as it is bad, therefore. It is as right as it is wrong; it is as pleasurable as it is painful. It is the honey at the same time as being the razor blades, to use the Buddha’s metaphor, so that the more we get driven mad by our longing for the sweetness of the honey, the more terrible the lacerations caused by the hidden razor blades become. This so-called ‘security’ is actually a horror story – it’s a horror story we can’t see as such because we’re too crazed, too intoxicated by our ‘love of the sweetness’.
What this so-called ‘security’ is really therefore is an addiction – we’re addicted to (false) security just as we might be addicted to gambling or drinking or taking heroin. It’s exactly the same thing that we’re talking about here – we’re being led on to our destruction by our insatiable craving for the sweetness of the lure. We are driven onwards into the addiction by our need for something which doesn’t actually exist, something which is only a ‘front’ for something else, something which is only a maddeningly tempting mirage that conveniently (for the addiction) covers up the bottomless pit of suffering that we are about to fall into.
This then is the ‘glitch’ that we are saddled with when we agree (for the sake of security) to see the mind-produced world of reassuring certainties as being genuinely ‘real in itself’. We obtain the sense of ontological security that we wanted alright, but what we didn’t read in the small print was the disclaimer that exists in relation to any unpleasant situations we might find ourselves in as a result of opting for this sense of security. This disclaimer invalidates any objections we might come out with when we discover that the product we have just bought for such a high price is in fact inescapably jinxed. ‘Super-jinxed’, in fact!
What is all the ‘craving for security’ about, however? What is the origin of all this craving that has gotten us into such trouble? Very clearly, it’s the same thing as ‘the need or desire to be real’ which is what we started off talking about. We have a problem with not being real. We have a big, big problem with it! We are – not to put too fine a point on it – absolutely opposed to the status of ‘not being real’ and we’re going to fight against it with everything we’ve got.
But let us examine the alternative. What is so bad about ‘being unreal’? What’s so very terrible about it? Why are we so implacably imposed to ‘going along with being unreal’ just for a change? Why is ‘not being real’ just a very great evil?
What we’re looking about here is simply fear. Fear – in its essence – isn’t about anything specific, anything in particular, it’s just about ‘letting go’. It’s about ‘surrendering to the unknown’. We cling to the known because we’re afraid of the unknown, not because ‘the known’ has any actual intrinsic value of itself. It doesn’t! We cling to the known because we’re afraid of the unknown and ‘the unknown’ is just a more familiar way of talking about the unreal. We can only believe in what we can know and this is another way of saying that ‘only the known is real to us’. Or as we could also say, the thinking mind can only believe in what it can think. The thinking mind can only ‘accept as true or valid’ what is represented in its own terms and the rub here is that its own terms aren’t real. The thinking mind’s terms equal ‘the rules of logic’ and the rules of logic aren’t real – they’re only real when we agree for them to be real (like all rules). The thinking mind’s terms aren’t real because it itself isn’t real!
The thinking mind isn’t real and yet it ‘wants’ to be real. This isn’t strictly true of course – thought itself doesn’t want to be real because it is only a mechanical process. Thought itself doesn’t want anything because there is no ‘thought itself’. We want to be real because we have identified with the thinking mind and this state of ‘identification’ makes us unreal without knowing that we are. Identifying with the thinking mind in the way that we do puts us into a deluded state. The delusion is that we think our beliefs are real, the delusion is that we imagine our thoughts to be real…
It’s not that our thoughts or beliefs are unreal but that everything else (i.e. what our thoughts are supposed to be about) is, but rather that nothing is real. As the lyrics to the Beatles song goes, “Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about”. We only get hung up when we want something that isn’t real to be real. We don’t want what we are hanging on so tightly onto to be revealed as being unreal, but no matter how tightly (and for how long) we hang onto the thought or belief that isn’t going to make it real.
Hanging onto our thoughts because we are afraid that they (and us!) may turn out to be unreal if we just ‘let them be what they are’ doesn’t make them unreal doesn’t make them real. Nothing we do can make them real, but that doesn’t stop us trying! That doesn’t stop us working away at it! Hanging on tightly to our thoughts in the attempt to make them real doesn’t make them real – it just make the razor blades cut into our thoughts more. Hanging tightly onto our thoughts doesn’t help us in any way because what we are hanging on to is the double-edged sword of (false) security. We’re actually hurting ourselves, that’s all. We’re impaling ourselves on the paradox that we can’t see to be a paradox. The more tightly we hold on to our thoughts the greater our fear becomes regarding not holding on, regarding ‘letting go’. Ironically, we’re creating our own problem by our attempt to fix it!
This is what ‘letting go’ means therefore – it means giving up the fruitless / self-frustrating task of ‘trying to make the thoughts real’. We’re not hanging on to anything real, in other words. We only have to give up what we don’t have anyway, as the mystics always say. We only have to let go of our pain-and-pleasure-producing illusions. It’s not exactly that we ‘have to’, of course. We don’t ‘have to’ do anything. That’s just us using language in a clumsy way. We can let go of our ‘cherished-but-pain-producing’ illusions. It’s not ‘we can let go if we want to’ either because ‘want’ is desire and desire is simply fear-in-disguise. We can let go of what we never had in the first place if we become spontaneously interested in finding out what is the truth and what is the ‘convenient lie’. ‘Letting go’ is the same as ‘being curious’, in other words…
What we’re actually talking about here is ‘being playful’. Being playful happens by itself or it happens not at all. Being playful means not stubbornly insisting that something is real when we know deep down that it isn’t…
Art by Marco Cianfanelli in – TheOriginalVanGoghsEarAnthology
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.