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The Only Real Adventure

The only real adventure is the movement out of the tired old mental equilibrium state that we are almost permanently stuck in. This is the only adventure worthy of the name – anything else is only entertainment, a cheap gimmick, anything else is only ‘passing the time’…

 

 

If we aren’t willing to undertake the Great Adventure (which is really nothing other than life itself, since life is in its very essence a disequilibrium state, i.e. ‘a state that can’t be compared to anything else’) then we need entertainment. In this case, we need entertainment big time! Contrary to what we might think, entertainment isn’t something that we engage in because we want to (on a whim, as it were) – entertainment is something we engage in as a matter of grim necessity. The need to be entertained is the grimmest necessity there is, in fact! The need to be entertained is the ‘direst of needs’; although we can’t generally see it, the state of having to be entertained or distracted is the most unpleasantly wretched situation of all, the most dreadfully miserable state that we could ever find ourselves in…

 

 

Why this should be so is not too hard to see. The reason entertainment (or distraction) becomes an absolute need for us when we are unwilling to launch ourselves into the adventure of life is because the alternative to embarking upon the adventure (the alternative to moving out of the mental equilibrium state that we’re stuck in) is infinitely sterile. The alternative to moving out of equilibrium is after all staying in the equilibrium state and there is nothing in the world as tedious and pointless and intolerably uninteresting as ‘staying in the equilibrium state’! When we ‘refuse the call’ to set forth on the Hero’s Journey (as Joseph Campbell calls it) then the meaning of life itself is lost to us and we have to make do – insofar as this is possible – without it…

 

 

The ‘refusal of the call to adventure’ leads to only one place, and we all know that place every well, even if we don’t necessarily  like to admit to ourselves that we do. It is the place we are forever trying to distract ourselves from with all of the entertainment we arrange for ourselves, all of the dramas we get involved in, all of the games we play… Who doesn’t know that place – the place we end up in when – against our better judgement – we choose to avoid risk and opt instead for ‘the safe alternative’? There is nothing left when we are in this place other than pacing up and down, up and down, trying to distract ourselves from our situation as best we can – a situation which, if we were honest enough to it, has nothing going for it at all. Every day is Groundhog Day because every day is spent in sterile self-distraction routines. We’re always running around and around on the same old squeaky wheel….

 

 

We can of course get very sophisticated at this business of ‘distracting ourselves from seeing the consequences of the choice to refuse the call to adventure’ (which is the same thing as refusing the call of life itself). Our tactic is to make a virtue of this whole sorry business of self-distraction – we get together in a big group and make it a heresy not to be self-distracting! This is what we have always done; this is what the collective mode of living comes down to – the validation of our choice to ‘ignore the call’. Not avoiding the call thus becomes an irresponsible act, an immoral act, possibly even a criminal act. The responsible thing to do is to keep on pretending that the validation of our collective avoidance of life’s challenge isn’t a validation of our cowardice, but rather that it is the morally correct path to take, the virtuous and highly commendable path to take. This is the hypocrisy that we can never escape from just as long as we are part of that mental equilibrium state known as ‘society’ – this is the nature of the choice that we have made, but do not have the courage to own up to having made! Once we have validated our behaviour in this way then the call to embark upon the Hero’s Journey becomes something we never have to think about, something we no longer have any awareness of. The pattern of avoidance has become the Great Thing, the thing we are all supposed to do. The more energy we put into this pattern, this system, the more standing we obtain, the more highly respected we become, and so on…

 

 

All of this mass validation does not of course change anything. ‘If a million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing’, as Anatole France has said. If we have assiduously avoided doing the one thing that was most important for us to do, then what virtue is there in doing any amount of other things, no matter what pedestals we may put them on? Our situation remains exactly the same as it was before we started so energetically validating ourselves – we’re still in that same rotten old place, the ‘avoidance’ place. We’re never not in that place – we’re certainly not going to get out of it by implicitly denying that there is any such thing as the Hero’s Journey, by making out that we’re already doing ‘the heroic thing’ by knuckling down to the pattern that we’re required by our culture to conform to! Really, that’s just fear that happens to be called by a different name, fear that happens to have been made into a socially-acceptable way of life. We’re afraid of moving out of equilibrium – we’re deadly afraid of it. We’re all the more afraid of it because we can’t accept that we’re afraid of moving out of equilibrium. Denying the fear and pushing it firmly away from our everyday consciousness doesn’t in any way weaken it of course – it just gives it free reign to take over our whole lives! Everything we do and think then ends up becoming this denied fear – we just can’t see it. We can’t see it because we keep on lying to ourselves and saying that what the fear makes us do is what we actually wanted to do all along.

 

 

Everything we do and think – when we’re in the social collusion – is all about denying that there is such a thing as the possibility of moving out of equilibrium. But this possibility is nevertheless all around us – the possibility of moving out of equilibrium surrounds us on all sides, ever waiting for us. The Non-Equilibrium world surrounds us on all sides, forever waiting for us to notice it! The astonishing thing is however that we never see it. We’re all experts at pretending that it isn’t there, pretending that it doesn’t exist… To say that we are experts at ignoring and overlooking the Non-E world is in fact an awesome understatement – we are supremely accomplished in the art of paying the Non-E world no heed and simply carrying on with our business, whatever that ‘business’ might be.  There is a whole magical world out there and we couldn’t care less about it. We walk right by it every day. We laugh at those who talk about it…

 

 

This is really the most extraordinary situation therefore – the only thing that we could ever do that would be genuinely meaningful (i.e. that would not be completely sterile and pointless) would be to move out of the mental equilibrium world we’re caught up in and venture into the magical non-equilibrium world that we have been so steadfastly ignoring and yet this is the one thing we have no interest in doing. It’s not just that I have no interest in doing it (in the same way that I might say I have no interest in travelling to Tasmania or trying the traditional London dish of jellied eels) – as we’ve said, I never come even come close to admitting to myself that there could be such a possibility in the first place. We’re all in this together and it’s very much a water-tight conspiracy at this stage. We might like to go around laughing at the credulity of those who believe that there is some sort of major conspiracy going on but this is exactly the case. There is a tremendous conspiracy going on – the conspiracy to stop us knowing that there is any world out there other than the Equilibrium world, the conspiracy that makes us believe that this ridiculously shallow and pointless way of life that we have invented for ourselves is – absurdly – ‘the pinnacle of mankind’s evolution’.

 

 

The big question is – how do we stick it? How do we manage to carry on, given that there is nothing even remotely interesting going on here in our established mental equilibrium state? The equilibrium world is a finite game and in a finite game everything is already known in advance – it is known territory, just like when we’re playing a game of chess or tiddlywinks it is known territory. There is nothing that can ever happen that has not already happened umpteen zillion times – it’s all just rehashing the same basic thing over and over again and trying not to let it get old. That’s what a finite game is – it’s the same thing over and over again, the same old ding-dong that we nevertheless manage to keep on finding (most of the time, at least) fresh and interesting. One way to approach this apparent conundrum is to say that it is like bureaucracy. It is as if we have to fill in a long and tedious form – this is an entirely joyless and sterile affair as everyone knows but we go through with it because we hope to get something as a result. Either we hope to obtain a benefit or avoid a penalty – both of these constitute adequate motivation to go through the pain of filling in the form. In the same way, we could say that we engage in a finite game for what we hope to get out of it; our motivation is either to obtain the benefit of winning or avoid the penalty of losing and this is what keeps us interested in the game.

 

 

We reaching for something, we’re striving for something, and it is the hope of attaining the prize that we are looking for that keeps us running around and around the rotating wheel that is the ‘equilibrium world’ (and which is also sometimes known as ‘the rat race’). The boredom of treading the wheel can be alleviated – to some extent at least – by looking forward to the ‘good thing’ that is going to happen next… This is only a trick however, as we all know – the ‘good thing’ (no matter how much we hunger for it) is only a cheap incentive for us to carry on with the dreadful old game. The thing about the prize that we’re striving for is that it is as much a part of the equilibrium system as everything else – winning is as much the equilibrium world as losing is, as all the various bits and pieces in-between it are. We aren’t escaping from the dull old E-world at all, even though in an odd kind of a way we feel that we are. Our goals are all false-escapes – they allow us to feel that we are getting somewhere, they allow us to feel that we are leaving all the crap behind, when this is the furthest possible thing from the truth! We aren’t getting anywhere; we aren’t ‘leaving the crap behind’ – we’re getting deeper into it. No one ever got anywhere in the equilibrium world – the whole point of an equilibrium state is that one never gets anywhere!

 

 

So the prize of ‘winning’ isn’t interesting at all really – it’s actually deadly banal, the same as everything else in the social equilibrium state is. It’s only interesting to us because we are pinning so much on it. We are pinning everything on it – we are allowing ourselves to feel that what we’re striving to achieve is going to solve all our problems, and this is what motivates us to carry on. We’re deceiving ourselves, in other words. Or we’re allowing ourselves to be deceived, which is the same thing. We are playing to bring all play to an end as James Carse says, but the thing is that the game never does end. It keeps on going forever, just as the spinning hamster wheel keeps on turning forever. The only way the hamster wheel is ever going to stop spinning is if we stop running (if we stop striving to obtain the prizes that are being dangled so enticingly in front of our noses) and this isn’t going to happen.  It could be said that we’re using the nominal prize or reward as a hook to hang all of our ill-defined hopes on. Or to put this another way, we’re using the designated goal as a hook to hang our projections on. We’re not really getting excited about the prize therefore but about our projections, and our projections are fuelled by everything we’re lacking in, everything we’re deficient in as a result of living our lives in the equilibrium state. And what we’re missing out on by living our lives wholly within in the equilibrium world (within what Joseph Campbell calls ‘the play-pen’) is simply life itself!

 

 

As we have said, there is nothing that is genuinely interesting or worthwhile in the E-world, and it is precisely this lack of anything genuinely interesting or worthwhile that fuels our positive projections. We don’t actually see the attractiveness of our projections as being an inverse measure of how dreadfully hollow our lives are, but this is of course exactly the case! This is the reason for example we find celebrities so interesting – it is an indication of the fact that we don’t find our own lives very interesting. If we were truly living our own lives (instead of being stuck in the bland social equilibrium state) then we obviously wouldn’t so very fascinated in reading about what the A-list celebrities had for breakfast or where they went on their holidays! The more entranced we are with displays of external glamour the more inwardly impoverished we must be and living in the E-world is all about being inwardly impoverished. Living in the E-world means living entirely on the outside (in the realm of ‘positive versus negative glamour’); it means that any sense of there being ‘an inside’, any sense of having some kind of interiority, is quite lost to us.

 

 

This gives us another way of talking about the ‘Great Adventure’ (or the ‘Hero’s Journey’) – we may simply say that the Hero’s Journey is the journey into that long-neglected hinterland known in less progressive times as ‘the soul’. Talk of the soul does not go down well these days – in this rationally enlightened era we all know every well that there’s no such thing as ‘a soul’. There are only atoms and molecules and brain-cells and neural pathways and synapses and neurotransmitters, and so on. This view of ourselves (of us being nothing but our DNA and the electrochemical colloidal machinery of our brains) is a perfect example of how we live in an ‘exteriorized version or analogue of reality’ – a ‘rational projection’, in other words. The cells and pathways that make up our brain aren’t really ‘on the inside’ – this is still the outside that we’re talking about here; it’s simply the rational process projected outwards onto a screen! The ‘inside’ – which is the unexplored Gondwanaland of the soul – is what’s really inside us; this genuine inside is the space between our thoughts, it’s the space from which our thoughts and concepts all arise in the first place. This realm of Intrinsic Space is the only ‘real place’ (i.e. it’s the only place that isn’t a mental construct), and it’s also the only place we aren’t interested in…

 

 

We could therefore say that the Great Adventure, the Hero’s Journey, begins when we first start to notice who we really are, how we really feel, under the smokescreen of the mind-created virtual reality. This doesn’t necessarily sound too hard but there’s a snag, there’s an obstacle that stands in our way before we even get started. The obstacle is that there are monsters guarding the interior – monsters that are fierce enough to send all but the bravest adventurer running back to safety in total disarray. This obstacle is of our own making – because we have neglected the interior, the inner life, this has created a thick fog of negativity, a thick fog of ‘denied or ignored pain’. As soon as we start checking in with ourselves to see who we really are underneath it all, how we really feel about things underneath it all, we run into this wall of denied pain. We run straight into our own ignored unhappiness. We run straight into an aspect of our reality that is both terribly grim, and completely unexpected, and this puts a different complexion on things entirely.

 

 

Perhaps we can say that not everyone has a dark personal shadow that they have to contend with before they can win self-knowledge. It’s possible that some people don’t. When we are constantly in touch with ourselves, in touch with who we really are underneath it all, then there is no build-up of denied pain. There aren’t any personal demons waiting to jump out at us, in other words. We’ve already faced them – we’ve already made our peace with them. The thing is however – as we have just said – that by far the usual way for us to be is without any interiority at all. It is not possible to be living safely within the equilibrium world of the rational mind and yet at the same time be in touch with the interior world – it’s not possible because the interior world is the NonE world, not the E-world! Inasmuch as we are rationally-orientated towards life we are oblivious to the inner life; inasmuch as the rational mind is king we are quite oblivious to the mysterious inner continent of the soul. Very clearly, if we do happen to be perceiving everything through our concepts, our ideas, our ideas, our thoughts, then we will not know the inner world…

 

 

So it is exactly as Jung says, if we are to become aware of the unconscious life, that richly-fertile life that we know nothing about, the first part of this unconscious that we must encounter is the shadow. Only when we have slowly and patiently worked our way through the shadow can we pass through the door and into the magical realm of the unconscious. This, in practice, turns out to be a very good ‘additional’ reason why we should not ‘answer the call’ and strike off on life’s adventure. As if the social sanctions alone were not enough to put the kybosh on this journey, there are personal demons to face – the demons that represent the very things about ourselves that we least want to look at, the very things that we most want to carry on ignoring… Who on earth would be hero enough for this? Who amongst us is going to feel ready to take on not just one but two monsters – the monster of society and the monster of our own personal demons?

 

 

This brings us to one last point in our discussion and that point – which we have already touched upon – is that when we don’t go looking for the adventure then the adventure comes looking for us, only in reversed aspect. It comes unwanted upon us in the aspect of what Joseph Campbell refers to as ‘the negative adventure’-

 

Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative.

 

We’re buried alive, we’re ‘walled in boredom’, we’re entombed in a reality which – when it comes right down to it – we don’t actually even like. This is like the relationship of an addict with his addiction. If I develop an alcohol addiction (or an addiction to some other drug or behaviour) as my way of escaping from the challenge of life, as my way of ‘checking out’, I will definitely find myself in the position of being totally dependent upon whatever release (whatever buzz) it is that I am using to escape life, but this does not mean that I will like it. In the early stages I will most probably think that I like it, I will probably feel that I like it, but once I get past the honeymoon phase of the relationship I will discover that he addiction is simply a mechanical routine that is controlling me. And as Heraclitus says, “It is weariness upon the same things to labour, and by them be controlled’.

 

 

The equilibrium system that has become our world was only ever there because it was serving a function for us. It was offering us a type of a deal, and the fulfilment of this deal is the reason that we value it, the reason that we are committed to it. The function the E-system serves is to enable us to avoid the challenge of life and at the same time allow us to avoid seeing that we are avoiding anything. Because the E-system has now taken the place of life, has substituted itself for life, there can be no more talk of us having avoided life! How can I be accused of running away from life when the equilibrium system that I am embracing has taken the place of life, when the system I am faithfully adhering to now is life? I’m not a scoundrel, I’m a veritable pillar of society!

 

 

So the scam works very well in to start off with – in fact it works superlatively well – but as is the case with all addictions, the velvet glove is sooner or later taken off to reveal the uncompromising reality that lies beneath. The reality in question is that the equilibrium system which I thought was helping me is actually controlling me to its own ends. It controls me by offering me rewards if I do what it wants and punishments if I don’t and just as long as I can believe that the rewards are actually worth it this deal doesn’t seem so bad. I can (and do) very easily fool myself that this is (or could be) working to my advantage, not the system’s. This illusion soon wears thin however. The rewards start to pale after a while and are gradually revealed for what they are – promises that are never kept. Eventually, all that is left is the ‘unadorned treadmill’, and the infinite weariness of always having to keep pace with it…

 

 

So that’s the negative adventure and it’s not exactly what one might call a barrel of laughs. Life gets transformed into a dry joyless chore – it gets turned into a punishing bureaucratic exercise. And just in case we forget, not only are we locked into the negative adventure, but also there is the matter of the shadow, which – as we have said earlier  – grows bigger and bigger the more we ignore the inner life, the life of the soul. The shadow eventually has a way of making itself known to us in the most difficult way and when this happens (if it happens) catapulted into a world we never knew existed, a world of mental suffering which we never could have imagined. This – needless to say – is seen by one and all as a wholly negative event. Seen from a wider perspective however, we can say that there is a strange kind of ‘redeeming factor’ at work here – as soon as we get plunged into a world that is at stark variance with the experience of everyone else in the commonplace world, we have of course ‘moved out equilibrium’. We have moved out of the mental equilibrium that we were unwittingly stuck in and – strange as it may sound – when we move out of equilibrium (no matter what the circumstances) this means that we have actually started to live. When things tip out of equilibrium like this then – whether we like it or not – we have started out on the Hero’s Journey…

 

 

 

 


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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