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The Self-Distraction Game

“Drama” in the psychological sense of the word means ‘if it’s not one thing then it’s another’. Putting it like this makes it very clear that there isn’t really any point to this sort of thing  – there’s no point in getting caught up in psychological dramas, no point in investing our energy or time in them. There is no point in investing ourselves in whatever humdrum drama it is that happens to be coming up for us. Why would we bother? In a short while it will be all forgotten about and there will be some new drama to get excited about.

 

The problem is of course that we don’t see that the drama is just a drama. We don’t see that ‘if it’s not the one thing then it’s the other’.  Because we don’t see this all-important fact we do invest ourselves in whatever issue it is that has just come up, and then after that issue has come and gone we get caught up in the next, and the next, and the next, and the next one after that…

 

Each and every issue seems supremely important to us when it comes up and so it gets every last bit of our attention – there’s nothing at all ‘left over’, so to speak, for anything else. All of our awareness – at that point in time – is sucked up, soaked up, hoovered up by the all-important issue. The interesting thing about drama and issues is however that if we take the trouble to think back to them, and try to see what it was that we were getting so excited about, we can’t. In retrospect, we can clearly see that there was nothing urgent or all-important about them at all. We don’t as a rule look back in this way because we’re far too busy with the next thing and the next thing and the next thing after that, but when we do look back what stands out is that all the urgent issues of yesteryear seem astonishingly trivial, astonishingly unimportant. We can see that they really weren’t worth our attention, our time, and our energy. In retrospect, today’s burning issue will invariably be seen as being utterly banal, so its hard to see how we could ever have get so worked up about it!

 

We can therefore make two key points about issues or dramas –

 

Point [1] is that they seem very important at the time

 

Point [2] is that with hindsight (or perspective) we can see that they are in fact quite banal, or ‘empty’.

 

 

This is all we need to know about dramas and issues. These two points say it all! The whole point of ‘drama’ is revealed in this analysis – the whole point being that it is a never-ending exercise in time-wasting. Our energy (or our attention) gets used up, taken up, depleted on an ongoing basis, to absolutely no effect at all…

 

 

What we have here therefore is an absolutely fantastic exercise in time-wasting and futility! The whole thing is a pointless treadmill, an absurdity, a thoroughly meaningless merry-go-round.

 

 

So if I’m the sort of person who somehow gets sucked into one drama after another, with hardly ever a break in-between, then this is what is going on. This is the story. This is the name of the game – I am arranging for myself to be permanently and pointlessly distracted by an unremitting round of complete and utter nonsense…

 

 

There is nothing particularly revolutionary in suggesting that getting involved in ‘psychological dramas’ the whole time is a waste of time! We all know this very well anyway. But this is only a handy illustration of the principle of ‘self-distraction’, which has much wider ramifications. What we’re really getting at here is that inasmuch as we constantly thinking about this or that – if not one thing then the other – we are all playing the game of self-distraction.

 

 

Our everyday thoughts are psychological dramas, they are pointless issues that we get caught up in. Every thought that comes along seems somehow to be ‘supremely important’ – each thought is a prima donna, an attention grabber. Each wants to be ‘centre-stage’, the sole receiver of all the attention that is going. But then, when the thought passes, when it gets superseded by the ‘next in line’ then we instantly forget about it. Then it’s all about the new thought, ‘the latest sensation’… Such is the thinking process.

 

 

This is a truly remarkable thing to consider – that our thoughts are ‘instantly disposable’, like pop stars who are all the rage one year and completely forgotten about the next. Whoever gives a backwards glance at all the thoughts that they have thought, and then moved on from? We have no interest whatsoever in yesterday’s thoughts, and for a very good reason too – they simply aren’t worth being interested in! The thoughts we momentarily entertain every day are for the most part – not to put too fine a point on it – pure nonsense! This is why our relationship with them is so very fickle.

 

 

Seeing our normal, everyday thoughts as a procession of mini-dramas (or mini-issues) that go through our heads as if on an assembly-line in a factory brings us to the point where we can see the thinking process itself as being, for the most part, nothing more than an ongoing exercise in futile time-wasting, an on-going exercise in pointless ‘self-distraction’. This helps us to clearly see that thinking is for the most part not ‘functional’ at all, even though we assume that it is. It’s actually dysfunctional…

 

 

Not all thinking is of this nature – sometimes thought is eminently practical in its application and serves an actual function in the outside world, for example when we have to solve a specific problem or apply some protocol or procedure in order to obtain a result that we need (i.e. making a cup of tea for ourselves, or working out how to turn the electricity back on when the house fuse trips). We might also – on occasion – have a thought which is not practical in nature but which is valuable in another way, because it gives us a new way of looking at the world. This is something else again.

 

 

Genuinely creative thoughts – which are spontaneous flashes of insight rather than the usual type of deliberate (or ‘purposeful’) thinking – are not mere entertainment (or mere habit) but something infinitely more significant. Rather than distracting us from reality, as our everyday mundane or ‘mechanical’ thinking does, this type of ‘thought’ (if we can call it a thought) re-connects us to what is real.

 

 

The vast bulk of our everyday thinking however is neither of the ‘practically useful type’ nor of the ‘creative/insightful type’ – it is simply ‘thinking for the sake of thinking’. Anyone who doubts this need only practice mindfully witnessing the activity of their own mind for half an hour or so; the practice of meditation inevitably reveals that the majority of our thinking is pointless rumination, pointless mechanical activity, and not on this account of any genuine interest at all. This is why – as we have said – we don’t ever bother ourselves trying to remember what it is that we were thinking about last week, yesterday, or even twenty minutes ago. We don’t care because deep down we know very well that whatever it is that we were thinking about a week ago or a day ago or a minute ago is really not worth remembering…

 

 

The majority of our thinking is mere ‘head fodder’, in other words. It’s just there to keep the head busy, to keep our attention all tied up. It’s just there to keep us pre-occupied, to keep us tied up, to keep us safely distracted. It’s not that it has any value in itself, but rather that its value lies in temporarily diverting our attention, like a bit of tinsel or candy-floss that is dangled in front of our nose. This means that most of our mental activity is really no more than cheap or tacky entertainment, and the thing about cheap or tacky entertainment is that it was never meant to be subjected to careful scrutiny. It only works if we keep everything very superficial…

 

 

There is more to the conveyer belt of our everyday thinking than just superficial entertainment though. It serves another, much more ‘serious’ function – it allows us to maintain our image of ourselves, our concept or idea of ourselves by insulating us from any deeper or less superficial perception of reality. It might therefore be said that we actually construct ourselves through the dramas that we arrange for ourselves to get caught up in. So if something terrible is happening to me in my drama then I am the guy something terrible is happening to. Or if something great is happening to me then I am the guy that something great is happening to. If there is some kind of struggle or competition going on then I can define myself either as ‘a winner’ or ‘a loser’ depending upon whether I am doing well, or not so well, in it. Thus, whatever way it works out I have a way of constructing myself within the terms of the drama I am acting in, defining myself within the terms of the game that I am playing.

 

 

This of course means that the ‘pointless’ drama has a point after all! The point is that it enables me to construct a definite identity for myself…

 

 

In the same way that we can create our sense of ourselves in terms of the drama we are caught up in (whether it be in a ‘positive’/pleasurable sense or in a ‘negative’/miserable sense), we construct our definite (or ‘finite’) identity through the drama (or ‘game’) of our thoughts.

 

 

Even though this may not seem particularly obvious, all of our thoughts have to do with an over-all format or framework of ‘lose’ versus ‘gain’, ‘advance’ versus ‘recede’, ‘positive’ versus ‘negative’. The entire ‘system of thought’ is strung out like some kind of an abstract spider’s web between the two polar opposites, and everything that exists in this mental domain only does so because it has been exclusively defined within the terms of this overall polarity. Thus, it has to be the case that everything which happens within this abstract domain has to constructed with the terms of PLUS versus MINUS, YES versus NO, etc.

 

 

An alternative way of putting this is to say that there is only one form of movement (or change) that is possible within the continuum of thought and that it the movement from one pole to the other, either from the positive pole to the negative pole or vice versa. Extrapolating from this then, we can say that in everyday thinking we use the continuum of thought to construct a ‘definite’ (i.e. ‘totally defined’) identity for ourselves in terms of two opposed opposites, and so this becomes the hidden gain (the secret pay-off, so to speak) for engaging in the process of logical thought on a full time basis…

 

 

In simple terms, therefore, we can say that all of our thoughts have to do with either ‘win’ or ‘lose’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘advantage’ or ‘disadvantage’. It may not seem to us that this is the case, but a moment’s reflection will show that all rational thought is by its very nature ‘goal-orientated’, which inevitably means that it all comes down to ‘right versus wrong’, ‘hit versus miss’, ‘good versus bad’, and so on. If something does not have a place within the goal-oriented scheme of things then we will not think about it.

 

 

It is totally and utterly impossible for thought to think about something that doesn’t have place within its overall scheme of things, and its ‘overall scheme of things’ is to define all things in terms of whether they represent a possible advantage, or a possible disadvantage, with respect to the goals or purposes of the one who is doing the thinking!

 

 

There is no way that this cannot be the case. If I try for example to think about something that doesn’t have any relevance to my goals or purposes, then this itself becomes a goal or purpose. My new goal is to have no goal. My new goal is to think about something that is not connected to any goal that I might have, so this is goal-orientated thinking just like all the rest of my thinking. It is no different! As soon as I try to do this I am involved in an insoluble paradox, the paradox of ‘having a goal to have no goals’…

 

 

Another way of putting this is simply to say that I can’t escape myself with my thinking because whatever I think I am there behind it! I am there behind every single thought I think… And this is just a ‘backwards’ kind of way of saying that I construct myself with my thinking, which is the point that we have been making all along.

 

 

The point is then that all the so-called ‘pointless’ or ‘time-wasting’ thinking that goes on pretty much all the time in our heads isn’t as pointless as all that after all – the point of all our pointless thinking is to construct and maintain the self which does the thinking…

 

 

The game of self-distraction has a ‘serious’ function after all therefore and this ‘serious function’ is not so much to distract ourselves from the self, as it is to create the self! The point of thinking is to create the thinker, to maintain the thinker, to perpetuate the thinker.

 

 

What we are distracting ourselves from seeing with all our mind-created issues and dramas is not the self, but the fact that there is no self…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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