There is only one principle behind consciousness – we may venture to say – and that is the principle of freedom. We may equivalently venture to say that there is only one principle behind unconsciousness and that is the principle of compulsion.
Freedom means – in the most basic terms – that ‘everything is allowed to be exactly what it already is’. What could be simpler than this? What could be easier to understand than this? This essential principle is the gateway to all sorts of wonders – this remarkably simple principle is the gateway to everything!
Compulsion on the other hand means that ‘everything has to be the way it is supposed to be’. Everything has to be the way it is supposed to be and that is the only way it is allowed to be. End of story. There is no possibility of discussion; there is no room for negotiation. And with a compulsion what happens if everything isn’t the way it is supposed to be then we are made to feel bad; we will be made to feel bad until we can manage to get things to be the way that they are supposed to be…
In the mechanical system of compulsive living there is only one way to feel OK and that is to successfully obey whatever compulsions are acting on us at the time! There are only the two possibilities here – either I do not manage to successfully obey the compulsion in which case I will be punished by the system for not conforming, or else I will be able to successfully obey and in this case I will be rewarded for ‘getting it right’.
When we are living in the mechanical system (which is to say, when we are in the unconscious state of being) this has the effect of making us very weak in ourselves. We are ‘weak’ because we can only conform, because we are frightened not to conform, because we can’t find the strength within us to tolerate the pain that the system subjects us to if we don’t conform. Any pain, any discomfort at all and we have to obey – we have to do whatever it is the system wants us to do. Not obeying is not an option. Even the thought of not obeying, or not being able to obey, becomes frightening.
Because we are always ‘automatically obeying’ (i.e. obeying without knowing that we are obeying) we are never exercising any strength. We are not exercise the precious muscle that we would need to stay in a difficult place without straightaway caving in, without straightaway thinking about how best to exit it. As is always the case, if we don’t ever use a muscle then it atrophies – in fact we end up forgetting that we ever had the muscle in the first place! When we forget that we ever had the option or capability of not obeying whatever compulsion comes along then we become totally ‘weak’, totally passive. We lose all autonomy whatsoever.
What this means is that the system – the established structure – gets to supply everything for us. It tells us what to do, how to do it, and why! It supplies the total package. In one way we can see this as being very handy because I can just go along for the ride, I can just hop onto the bus as a passenger – someone who has no responsibilities – and let it take me wherever it is going. In this case the system functions as a kind of ready-made entertainment package which I can just sit back and enjoy (or not enjoy, as the case may be).
In another way of course this isn’t such a great state of affairs at all. As soon as we reflect on matters we can see that it is actually an utterly appalling state of affairs since there is precisely zero freedom in the set up. The only way that this wouldn’t be a disaster would be if freedom were something that we don’t really need, something that we can get on just fine without! But the question is, without freedom, what exactly are we? Can we get along without it?
Because I am – when I am in the state of psychological unconsciousness – totally weak, totally passive, I absolutely need some kind of structure, some kind of ‘external authority’ to tell me how to see things and how I ought to behave in the world. I can’t really afford to be fussy and when it comes down to it I’m not – whatever comes my way, that’ll do! Whatever sort of structure everyone else is using, whatever sort of system everyone else happens to be going along with, that’ll do just fine for me…
Although being ‘unconscious’ in this psychological sense means that I have been made entirely weak and entirely dependent on whatever external structure happens to be there for me to latch onto, this is not at all how I experience the situation. Although I am completely unfree, completely reliant upon the system I have bought into to tell me how to see the world, how to think about the world, how to behave in the world, and so on, the perception that this is in fact the case is the last thing I am ever going to be aware of. That’s the last thing I’m ever going to see. I can after all only see what my conditioning allows me to see and according to my conditioning I am free – I am free to see whatever my conditioning shows me and because I don’t see my conditioning as ‘conditioning’ I don’t see that there is any limitation there.
My ‘conditioning’ is the set of invisible assumptions which I am using as a basis to evaluate reality from. Because I don’t see these assumptions but simply use them as a basis for seeing the world I am not ‘using’ them so much as they are using me! My conditioning operates me therefore, rather than vice versa. I am an extension of it rather than it being an extension of me. This is inevitably going to be the case given that my perception of myself, my idea of myself, my understanding of myself has been provided for me by the conditioning, so when I supposedly ‘act on my own basis’ I am in reality always going to be acting on the basis of who the conditioning says I am!
My invisible assumptions determine everything by virtue of the fact that they are invisible. I am only free to see what they allow me to see and the one thing they most definitely do not allow me to see is that I am being controlled by them, that my identity is being defined by them, that my reality is being determined by them. Reality is supposed to be a certain way, according to my unconscious assumptions, according to my conditioning, according to my programming, and so because I have zero autonomy this is the way I perceive it to be…
Whatever thoughts or ideas or beliefs I have about the world I see as being an expression of my own way of understanding things – I do not see them as being compulsions that I am subject to. I do not experience these viewpoints as being arbitrarily imposed upon me, but rather I experience them as being the ‘right’ way to see the world. This is because I have no autonomy, this is because I have aligned myself with the compulsions so unreservedly that I cannot imagine seeing things any other way. I have ‘agreed’ with them so thoroughly that I can no longer see that there was ‘an act of agreement’ there in the first place! I simply understand the specific way of seeing things that the compulsion provides me with as being the ‘right way’, or ‘the only possible way’.
Because I have given away my capability to question my own viewpoint this means that I am a slave to that viewpoint. No other possibilities interest me; I have given away my interest in all other possibilities of seeing things and so whatever sense of perspective I would have had beforehand has now been gotten rid of and what I have instead is an absolutely colossal amount of pure ‘inertia’. It doesn’t matter to me what idea of things I have latched onto, or how abysmally crude my world-view might now be – it is now absolutely real to me in the sense that it is absolutely unquestionable. I have given away all possibilities of seeing things differently, which means that what I have traded for this false ‘inertial’ sense of security is my actual awareness, my actual consciousness…
Giving away my freedom to the mechanical rules that govern my perception of reality is the same thing as giving away my consciousness, just as I might give away a birthday present I didn’t really want. Even more to the point, it is like throwing away a gift that I have never even bothered to open! I don’t know what I have given away – I’m not interested. The only thing I’m interested in is the numbing sense of ontological security that comes when I uncritically accept whatever structure is provided for me, whatever system it is that happens to be already established around me.
What I am actually giving up here is more than I might think – when I fall into the state of unconsciousness I not only give away my freedom to see reality as it is in itself, I also give away my freedom to be in reality. Because I have become infinitely weak, infinitely passive, all I can do is adhere faithfully to whatever defined ‘surface’ it is that I have been provided with – the defined surface or template that tells me how to perceive reality, how to understand reality. This surface (i.e. ‘my concrete thoughts about the world’) could tell me anything and I would have to go along with it, I would have to believe it. I can’t help believing my own thinking because I am in the state of ‘passive identification’, which basically means that my reality is defined for me by my thoughts…
This is such an astonishing thing, if only I could pause in all my on-going helter-skelter never-ceasing compulsion-driven activity long enough to reflect on it. My reality is defined for me by my thinking! My thoughts about the world are the world, as far as I am concerned. And similarly, when I am ‘psychologically unconscious’ – when I am in the state of passive identification – then my identity is defined for me by my thinking! I am my thoughts about myself, and it doesn’t matter what those thoughts are…
Out of pure stubbornness I might of course ask what exactly is so very wrong or so very bad about ‘me taking my thoughts about the world to be the same thing as the world’, or ‘me taking my thoughts about myself to be the same thing as myself’. Suppose my thoughts about the world are an accurate enough description of the world? Suppose my thoughts about myself are an accurate enough description of myself? It is of course true that if my thinking is ‘accurate’ enough in the sense of corresponding sufficiently with the tangible or surface-level aspects of the world around me then – generally speaking – I will be able to get on just fine with my day-to-day business, and so from this purely pragmatic perspective there would be no real need for me to revise or review my theory of the world in any radical way. So in this case we might argue that there is nothing ‘so very bad’ about taking my thinking about the world to be the same as the world.
The same argument might be applied to me thinking about myself – if the set of ideas that I have about ‘who I am’ corresponds well enough with everyone else’s ideas about who I am (and about who they are, and about what we are all supposed to be doing in life) then there is without any doubt every chance that I would get on very well indeed, at least in terms of the collectively-validated framework regarding who or what we are and what life is all about. I might get to be ‘successful’ and if I am successful then what possible need is there to radically question my idea of myself?
The disaster in all this however is of course that reality so much bigger than our descriptions of it! Reality is astonishingly greater than our descriptions of it; it is unthinkably vaster and deeper and subtler than our descriptions of it…
To pat ourselves on the back for ‘getting along just fine’ therefore – as we are very much prone to doing (empty self-validation being second nature to us!) – is fantastically, bizarrely ridiculous. The defined surface of our thoughts is as we have said a thoroughly ‘unfree’ domain and this is why when I fall into the thought-defined realm of psychological unconsciousness I no longer exist in reality. I still have the perception that I am real, the idea that I’m real, the belief that I am real, but I’m not, and so what the hell is it that I am congratulating myself for? What am I feeling so good about if I am feeling good? And conversely, what am I feeling so bad about, if I am feeling bad?
The reason we can say that the realm of the mind is unreal is very straightforward indeed – the nature of reality (like the nature of consciousness) is essentially that of freedom. There is nothing else we can say about reality (or consciousness) other than this! The idea of defining freedom, describing freedom, categorizing freedom, analyzing freedom – saying anything genuinely meaningful about freedom at all – is quite crazy. All definitions, all descriptions, all categorizations, etc are limitations, they are all infringements of freedom, and so the idea that we can use limitation to say something about the state of no limitation is obviously nonsensical!
As Samuel Liddell Mathers (1887) says in Kabbala Denudata (‘The Kabbalah Unveiled’) –
The idea of negative existence can then exist as an idea, but it will not bear definition, since the idea of definition is utterly incompatible with its nature.
Mathers relates what he calls ‘negative existence’ to the three negative veils in the Kabbalistic tradition: Ain, Ain Soph, and Ain Soph Aur. Ain Soph Aur means ‘the illimitable Light’, and is the innermost negative veil –
To define negative existence clearly is impossible, for when it is distinctly defined it ceases to be negative existence; it is then negative existence passing into static condition. Therefore wisely have the Qabalists shut out from mortal comprehension the primal Ain, the negatively existent One, and the Ain Soph, the limitless Expansion; while of even the Ain Soph Aur, the illimitable Light, only a dim conception can be formed.
There is nothing in the defined or determinate surface which is the system of thought that is not limited, that has not as Samuel Mathers puts it passed into a ‘static condition’. There is nothing in the system of thought that is not ‘fixed and final’, that has not been categorized, digitalized, fully convertible into unambiguous YES/NO data, and there is nothing in reality that is limited…
Reality is, in mathematical terms, something akin to ‘an n-dimensional hypervolume’ – which is really nothing more than a fancy way of saying that it is unlimited (or ‘open’) with regard to dimensionality. The system of thought however is not unlimited or open with regard to dimensionality – it is fixed so that whatever dimensions or axes of measurement it is that are there are the ones we are going to be stuck with forever and ever! The world created by the rational mind is as we have been saying no more than a ‘defined surface’. To retreat out of reality into a defined or determinate surface is therefore to escape out of what is real into a game, into a flat, literal version of life, into a formal system, into a mere ticker tape ‘abstraction’.
If something is an n-dimensional hypervolume then it can’t be pinned down, it can’t be surrounded by an all-determining static framework, it can’t be held up for comparison with a static framework. Whenever we do try to measure or conceptual what is going on all we are doing is shaving off a two-dimensional (or three-dimensional) abstraction from the n-dimension whole – which means that we are converting reality into a game, into a digital analogue, into a sketch, into a cartoon, into a flat surface. We are degrading the unique event into a repeating or regular pattern, into a logical system, into a dry, substance-less formality.
Just as Morgan Scott Peck says in The Road Less Travelled that love is effortful, requiring risk, requiring the extending of oneself beyond one’s boundaries, one’s habitual limits, so too genuine existence (or being) is effortful, requiring risk, requiring the extending of oneself beyond all limits. Existence is not a static condition. Within the logical continuum, however, there is no risk, no extending of oneself beyond established boundaries, beyond the defined remit of the framework. Within the static condition which is the logical continuum, therefore, there is no actual being.
Within the formal system which is the continuum of logic things are not allowed to be ‘what they already are’, but rather everything is compelled to be what the assumptions coded into the system say it must be.
Logic always approaches everything from the standpoint of its own unacknowledged bias (just as ideology does) and there is no way that this could be any different since logic is not logic unless its starts off on the basis of some sort of bias or other. If there is no ‘bias’ then there is no structure, only ‘symmetry’. So if the logical mind is to model something (i.e. think about something) it must do so on its own terms, and yet what these terms actually are is something that it itself is necessarily blind to.
These terms are – in essence – ‘the system’s necessary ignorance’. They are what the system can’t know about, what the system is disallowed from knowing about, and so everything we ‘know’ on the basis of rationality is essentially a statement (or restatement) of our underlying ignorance! We create the positive world out of an invisible restriction, out of our blind-spot, and so what we see when we look at this world is this blind-spot, this restriction, this limitation reflected back at us in the guise of actual ‘reality’!
To put this in a simpler way, there is no freedom in our thinking and so we can never ‘know’ reality with our thinking because reality is freedom, because reality the absence of limitation.
The state of being in which our awareness is determined by the laws of logic is therefore what we have been calling unconsciousness. ‘Unconsciousness’ is therefore when we are restricted to an unreal formal system, a unreal world which we cannot know to be unreal. ‘Consciousness’ on the other hand, is when our awareness is not restricted or predetermined in any way, and we are free to see that the formal world that has been created by our thoughts is entirely unreal.
The principle behind unconsciousness is compulsion therefore, and compulsion always creates a world that is made up of illusions or falsehoods.
The principle behind consciousness is freedom, and freedom is the gateway to all sorts of marvels – unlike compulsion, freedom is the gateway not to illusion but to 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.