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The Survival Game

So if there are ‘no wonders for the self’, what does this mean exactly? Undoubtedly there are no wonders for the self – how could there be? What is the self interested in, after all, other than matters that specifically relate to it? There is nothing ‘wonderful’ (which is to say, ‘mysterious’ or ‘deep’) about the self, and so there is equally nothing wonderful about its goals, its plans, its concerns, its worries, its preoccupations and its obsessions.

The reason there are no wonders for the self is because all the self ever encounters is itself therefore. All the self ever encounters is ‘its own face reflected back at it in an unrecognized form’ (as Jung says) and so what’s so wonderful about this? At the same time however, the self ‘never misses what it doesn’t know’. It has got something else to be concerned about – something else to be preoccupied about, something else to be obsessed about, and that comes out of the game that it is playing.

One way to explain this game is to say that it has to do with our attitude towards life, our attitude towards the world we live in. The game comes into being as a result of what we are doing on a full-time basis – exploiting the environment that we find ourselves in. Our attitude to the world is that we only care about it in as far as we can get something out of it and it is this game that creates the self.

This is such a remarkably simple thing to understand! It’s such a remarkably simple trick that we’re talking about here – the moment we start to exploit the world (or look at it in an ‘exploitative’ way) is the moment we lose sight of the wonder of the world. As soon as we start exploiting our environment we stop seeing beyond what it is we are exploiting the environment for! We can’t see beyond our goals, we aren’t interested in anything beyond that; we set up our own horizons – our greed is our limit! Our attachments are precisely what limit us, in other words.

We might say that as soon as we make the ‘unconscious assumption’ that the ‘good thing’ in life is something that we need to obtain for ourselves as a result of our skilful and determined efforts, then we slip into the ongoing struggle that is ‘the modality of exploitation.’ When we’re in this modality then our ‘well-being’ is completely dependent upon this success of our exploitative or goal-orientated activities and this is the pressure that we are going to be under all of the time. It’s never going to stop.

In one way of course this is very far from being an ‘artificial’ or ‘unnecessary’ position to be in – what we are talking about here is very clearly our basic situation as living creatures. The precondition of being a living creature is that we are obliged to keep on exploiting our environment for the resources we need in order to keep on living. None of us are free from the requirements of the ‘biological survival game’! But just because we are obliged to play this biological survival game on one level (i.e. the level of our physical corporeal existence) it doesn’t mean that we have to function this way on all levels! Our attention doesn’t have to be hooked into the game the whole time.

This is like saying that just because I have a job of being a policeman or lawyer or teacher that doesn’t mean that I have to be a policeman, lawyer or teacher all the time! I did that then there would be something very seriously amiss! In this case the role has taken over completely, and that is always ridiculous – who I truly am has been lost to the generic role! This is a reversal because the role was only there to serve who I really am and not vice versa. In the same way therefore, when I turn the whole of my existence into a mere ‘survival game’ then the most important thing of all has been lost – consciousness itself has been lost.

There is no consciousness in any game – how can there be consciousness in a game when games are all about achieving concrete goals? ‘Consciousness’ might be defined (in a negative fashion of course) as when we see beyond the game that we are playing to that which ‘isn’t a game’. What lies beyond the game is not a game precisely because it isn’t made of concrete goals, and the reason it isn’t made up of concrete goals is because there isn’t any concrete self there trying to either gain something or avoid something!

It’s not just that there are no defined goals in ‘non-game reality’, there is no defined anything. There is no defined reality, no defined world. The only reason we perceive there to be such a thing as ‘a defined world’ is because our relationship with that world is based entirely on what we want out of it; it is because we have an eye to exploiting the world around us that makes it defined for us. As we have been saying, when our relationship with what’s around us is an exploitative one, then we have automatically placed in limit on what we are interested in and it is this ‘cut-off point’ in our interest that defines the world for us. It is this that ‘shuts reality down‘.

Ram Dass expresses this by saying that ‘the universe is as high as you are‘ – ‘high’ simply being a way of saying that our awareness no longer has concrete cut-off points, that it is no longer ‘contained’ or ‘imprisoned’ within the games we are playing. Our games (our narrow agendas in life) are our prison but we are also very fond of our prisons; we are fond of our prisons despite the pain and frustration that imprisonment brings us and the reason we are so very fond of existing strictly within arbitrary limits is because if we go beyond them then not only does the concrete world lose definition (and become ‘no-longer-concrete’) so too does the concrete self ‘lose definition’ and that is exactly what we don’t want! The concrete world and the concrete self are the same thing, after all.

We keep on with our games, with our exploitative relationship with our world because we are flatly convinced that when we learn to play the game correctly then there will be no more pain and frustration in it for us. We associate the pain and frustration of the game with losing, in other words. Losers suffer whilst winners have a great time, and are free from all restrictions to their being. Then (or so we imagine) we can give up all our tedious, mechanical goal-orientated activity and rest in some kind of well-deserved bliss. We will be at peace then; we will be free from the onerous need to keep on struggling and striving. We will be free to cultivate a more poetical or philosophical relationship with the universe we live in (however we might phrase this to ourselves).

What we don’t see is that the self simply can’t exist in some kind of ‘non-exploitative’ relationship to the universe. It can’t stop struggling and striving because that’s how it maintains itself. As we have said, when the self ceases to relate to its environment in terms of what it wants or needs, then it ceases to exist. The concrete self is a function of its own striving. When we take the ‘Bigger View’ we see that what we previously took to be unquestionably importance only seemed to be so important because we made it so, because we said that it was. We see that it was ‘important’ only because of this narrow idea that we have of ourselves, this narrow idea of ourselves that we have always act on behalf of.

There is just as much pain and frustration in winning as there is in losing therefore. What we are winning anyway, other than the right to carry on being limited? When we do badly in the game we suffer because we believe that by not being able to successfully obey the rules of the game we are prevented from availing of the wonderful prize that comes with success. When we ‘win’ however things are no better; winning is only an idea really and – as an idea – it doesn’t stand too much scrutiny! When we win we are still stuck with our fundamental ‘exploitative attitude to life’; we cannot become free from the game by obsessively playing the game!

As long as we have this narrowly exploitative attitude towards life, towards reality, then we are being cruelly limited by our own arbitrary agenda. We are living in a totally sterile world, in the totally sterile world that is made up of our own assumptions being reflected back at us, and our only escape from this utterly appalling sterility is to buy into the notion of ‘winning’ that the game presents us with. When we buy into the notion that ‘winning’ actually means something real then we can allow ourselves to hope. The game has then got us exactly where it wants us; it has ‘got us by the short and curlies’! For the self there are no wonders and there never can be. Instead of ‘wonders’ all we can ever have is ‘hope’, and supremely crazy thing about this is that we don’t even know what the hell it is that we are ‘hoping’ for!

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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