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Trapped In the Pattern

We’re all trapped in some pattern or other and that’s why we exist – in the definite or defined way that we imagine ourselves to exist, at least. That’s how we get to be who (or what) we think we are – because we’re trapped in some sort of a mental category.

 

 

This comes across as a pretty confusing sort of a statement – being trapped is not seen as a good thing, it’s not what we want for ourselves, and yet ‘existing’ is generally seen as an advantageous state of affairs, as a ‘positive’ rather than a ‘negative’. So being trapped is a bad thing and yet – according to the statement we have just made – being trapped is how we get to exist, which (we would usually say) is a good thing. This is clearly a deeply contradictory kind of a situation – or at least we would find it so if we could be bothered to go into it.

 

 

The chances are that we don’t even see ourselves as being trapped in the first place, which makes the point that we are making here even more obscure. But the only reason we don’t see ourselves as being trapped – if indeed we don’t – is that we simply don’t care to look too deeply. We are content with the superficialities of life and as far as ‘the superficialities’ are concerned, we are already free. As far as ‘the superficialities’ are concerned, there is no problem – everything is hunky-dory…

 

 

The truth is that we’re all trapped in some sort of a repeating pattern. We may all have different styles of being imprisoned, but we’re all unfree all the same. And it is not so much that ‘to exist is to be trapped’ – it’s that we need to be trapped in order to exist. ‘Being trapped’ is the price we pay for existence as the defined (or limited) entities that we think we are…

 

 

‘Trapped’ means (as everyone knows) that we never get anywhere, that we aren’t allowed to escape from the leash. We’re tied down; we’re tethered like a dog to a post. Psychologically speaking however, being trapped doesn’t mean that we are absolutely denied all freedom of movement, it doesn’t mean that we are overtly nailed or fixed to the spot. The lack of freedom would in this case be blatantly obvious, far too obvious, and we just wouldn’t be able to put up with this. The basic psychological principle here is that when we can see that we have no freedom at all (i.e. when we can see that we’re trapped) then this perception in itself equals freedom. Freedom of course means ‘not being trapped’ so the principle that we’re looking at here is the principle that says when we can see that we’re trapped then we’re not trapped. Being able to see anything clearly is freedom!

 

 

This tends to sound rather peculiar (or at least it does from our normal point of view on things) but it is actually a variation on the ‘paradoxical theory of change’ (as it is referred to in Gestalt psychotherapy). This theory basically states that we can only change when we stop trying to change. This is not very hard to understand – change happens spontaneously or not at all and so when we try to force it (as we generally do!) we block the change that we want to see happening. We banjax ourselves by wanting it to happen. And we could add that because we spend so much time trying to force ourselves to be this way or that way (in accordance with what we want or our peers want or society wants) we effectively block all possibility of healthy psychological change (or ‘growth’) on a full-time basis. This then is the principle of ‘paradoxical change’ – we can only change when we aren’t trying to change. The principle of ‘paradoxical freedom’ that we have just mentioned is related and it (paradoxically) states that we become free through seeing that we aren’t free.

 

 

The thing about ‘seeing that we aren’t free’ (or ‘seeing that we are trapped’) is that it is a supremely difficult thing to do – so difficult in fact that in everyday life we are very unlikely ever to even approach seeing it. Perceiving our own lack of mental freedom is difficult just as it is difficult not to try to change our situation when we are suffering – in this case the easy thing to do is ‘keep on trying to change ourselves’ because just as long as we are trying to control the situation we can entertain the hope that we might somehow be successful! Controlling (or trying to control) is our comfort zone in this case but it is a comfort zone that substitutes for real change because just as long as we are straining to change we can’t. The attractive illusion that we might be able to avoid the pain that we are going though offers us some respite, but the price of this respite from the pain is that we are actually getting very effectively stuck in it. All that’s going to happen is that we’re going to get ‘stuck in a vibration’! We keep thinking we’re getting somewhere, but we’re not…

 

 

So in the very same way that ‘trying to change’ is the comfort zone that prevents us from changing, ‘not seeing that we are trapped’ is the comfort zone that very effectively prevents us from becoming genuinely free. ‘Not seeing that we have no mental freedom’ provides us a kind of relief or respite from the pain of seeing our true unfree situation, and the price or this relief or respite is that we stay unfree on an indefinite basis. As long as we are satisfied with the illusion that we are not trapped, the illusion that we have genuine freedom, then we will of course not let go of this illusion and the result of ‘not letting go of this illusion’ is that we will remain forever trapped, forever unfree. As Goethe says, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”. Having a comfort zone means that we are going to be satisfied whatever way we are, even though the way we are is crap…

 

 

The ‘illusion of being free’ works by providing us with a certain type of imaginary leeway. It works by offering us the possibility of a certain type of ‘virtual movement’, the possibility of a certain type of ‘virtual change’, but the proviso that goes with this is that at the same time we take up this offer we simultaneously lose all perspective on what is going on so that we are not able to see that the change or movement is only virtual in nature. As a result of this manoeuvre we are then perfectly happy to accept the superficial simulation of freedom in place of the real thing. We are content to make do with the illusion that we aren’t stuck, the illusion that we are ‘getting somewhere’ in place of any possibility of ever getting unstuck, any possibility of us genuinely ‘getting somewhere new’ with all our efforts.

 

 

When we say that we are ‘trapped in the pattern’ what we mean therefore is that we are trapped in the imaginary leeway that is provided for us by the pattern. Essentially, we have the leeway of being able to (temporarily) move in a ‘positive’ direction, away from what we are rejecting, but this apparent leeway is compensated for by the fact that we will later on be forced to move by an equal amount in a ‘negative’ direction, which is to say, back towards what we are rejecting. Clearly, this type of so-called ‘leeway’ isn’t really worth anything at all! We are given something only to have it taken away again later on…

 

 

The positive phase (or positive movement) therefore provides us with the possibility of a virtual type of change or progression, and  this highly seductive illusion is generated by the fact that the logical pattern appears to contain within it ‘the possibility of improvement’. We can ‘improve our situation’ – or so it seems  – by moving in a logically-prescribed fashion from ‘one square on the chess board to another’, by progressing from one part of the pattern to another. What makes a pattern into a ‘trap’ therefore is that it seems to be made up of a number of genuinely different states (or stages), some of which appear to be more desirable than others! The pattern contains the possibility of both movement in a positive direction, and movement in the corresponding negative direction. Things might be lousy here perhaps, but we can see that there is always the possibility of making a transition to the next stage of the game which is where things get better. And the fact that we have to go through this not-so-desirable stage in order to get to the stage that is desirable naturally validates the time we spend in the less desirable states. What the pattern (or game) as a whole provides us with therefore is the perception that we have the possibility of meaningful change or progression within it. This validates the pattern (or game) in question, and it also validates our activities within the pattern, within the game.

 

 

A pattern is what we might call a kind of virtual arena – it is an arena which appears to offer the possibility of meaningful change but which doesn’t. We have also said that pattern is ‘a logical sequence of stages where some stages are seen as more desirable than others’. And if this is what a pattern is, then clearly we spend most of our waking lives trapped in one sort of a pattern or another! This is not only true for our waking lives – a lot of our dreams are also spent in the futile enacting of static patterns. The only time we’re not absorbed in a logical pattern of one sort or another is when we’re not operating exclusively out of our rational minds (which is to say, when we’re living in the here and now and thus not obsessively preoccupied with either seeking advantage or evading disadvantage). This doesn’t happen very much however – as adults, the rational mind doesn’t grant us a holiday from its humourless rule very often, and when it does it does so purely by accident! As long as we have a goal or agenda in mind then we are caught up in ‘enacting a pattern’, and how often do we find that we’re not enacting some sort of agenda, either consciously or unconsciously?

 

 

The key thing about a pattern is as we have said that it contains what appear to be genuinely different possibilities, possibilities with regard to which we experience different degrees of preference. It is because of our preference for some of these ‘offered possibilities’ over the others that we get trapped in the pattern without knowing that we are trapped. As long as I can see that the grass in the neighbouring field seems to be greener (and as long as I believe that playing my cards right will enable me to progress to this greener field) then I am not going to experience myself as being trapped in the system. As long as I believe firstly in the existence of more advantageous states of being within the pattern, and secondly in my ability to (in time) avail of these advantageous states then I will be happy to accept this ‘conditioned’ version of freedom in place of genuine freedom (which would be ‘the freedom to move beyond the system, the freedom to ‘escape the pattern’).

 

 

With regard to the logic of the pattern itself the various elements or stages that make it up are indeed quite different, quite distinct, but when we take a wider view we can of course see that all the various parts or elements of the pattern (all the sequential stages of the progressively unfolding pattern) are all the same in that they are all ‘just the pattern’! The simplest example of ‘a pattern’ would consist of just two states, two nominally-different possibilities, one of which is designated as the preferred state, and the other as the not-preferred state. This set-up – crude as it is – perfectly demonstrates the type of ‘imaginary leeway’ that we have been talking about. Even a simple system such as this will provide us with the type of virtual freedom that will allow us to be trapped without knowing that we are trapped. What makes the trap work is (as we have said) that we think the two nominally-distinct states really are different, and the reason the trap is a trap is because both of these nominally-different states are the two sides of the very same coin!

 

 

All patterns continually recycle themselves – if they didn’t then we’d quickly know that we were stuck. A pattern (or a game) has to ‘keep us on the move’ – if it didn’t then and we got stuck in just the one possibility, in just the one defined state, then there would be no ‘virtual freedom’, no ‘imaginary leeway’. Even if the state in question were to be designated as being ‘the favourable one’ we would still know ourselves to be stuck, and any notion that ‘where we are is the good place to be’ would quickly start to lose credibility. Even if we know ourselves to have won, even though we know that we have achieved the desired outcome, we still can’t just sit there on our laurels forever! The moment of glory passes and becomes no more than a faded memory. The status of being a winner (or the status of having achieved the desired outcome) is only a nominal one after all – it’s only a winning position (or a desired outcome) because we have said it is! And since the designated advantageous state is ‘only advantageous because we have said it is’ then there is going to be a limit with regard to how much we can milk it!  We can milk it so far, and then after this point we can’t milk it any more. And when we have milked it as much as we can then the next thing that happens is that the good feeling is actually going to go sour on us. It’s going to flip over.

 

 

What appeared to be a straightforward logical movement from one category to another, one literally defined state to another, is thus revealed as circular. There is a twist in it. There’s a kink in it. When we push one opposite as far as we can then the next thing is that the reversal takes place – the concrete cause of our elation becomes the cause of our despair, just as a swinging pendulum moves unfailingly from one extreme of its swing to the other, and the harder I push it in the positive direction the harder it comes back to me in the reverse swing. The reason this reversal takes place in our binary (or two-state) pattern (where one state is the ‘favourable one’ and the other the ‘unfavourable’) is because saying that one state is the desired one, the favourable one is no more than a spin that we have put on it. The ‘winning position’ is only the winning position because we have designated it as such. Given that ‘I am a winner only because I have said that I am’ any good feeling that I derive out of this is bound to a very limited quantity! More then just being ‘a limited quantity’, the good feeling that I get when I get to be a winner rather than a loser in the game that I myself have invented is bound to contain a sting in its tail for the simple reason that it is all based on nothing!

 

 

Spin-doctoring (or ‘controlling what things mean’) is fine but because we are willfully pushing (or distorting) the system out of equilibrium it is always going to rebound on us in the next stage of the proceedings. Wilfulness always rebounds – that’s just the kind of a thing it is! And just as (as Jung says) wilful or ‘convulsive’ attempts to change ourselves will always backfire on us later on, so too willfully saying that ‘this is good’ and ‘that is bad’ (‘this is success’ and ‘this is failure’) will always backfire on us too. Spin-doctoring is like stretching a rubber band – we can stretch it alright but it’s going to snap back at some point. The ‘snap’ is in the ‘stretch’! What we can’t see about spin-doctoring (what we can’t see about stretching the rubber band) is that stretching equals rebounding! The positive distortion is the negative distortion. The positive spin is the negative spin. ‘Winning’ equals ‘losing’…

 

 

Arbitrarily designating ‘this as this’ and ‘that as that’ is fine, but it is empty, and this ‘emptiness’ will always manifest itself in terms of a logical reversal later on. As we have said, stretching always comes with a backlash, and the fact that wilful change always comes with a backlash is an expression of its inherent nullity. Of course arbitrarily designating one end of the stick as being ‘good’ and the other end ‘bad’ is a null act; of course saying that obtaining such and such an outcome is ‘winning’, and not obtaining such and such an outcome is ‘losing’ is a null act. And similarly, designating certain elements or stages of a pattern or logical structure as being ‘favourable’ one and others ‘unfavourable’ is also a null act. These are all null actions, and because they are null actions they are all bound to cancel themselves out later on, at some future point in the game. This ‘self-cancellation’, this ‘reversal of meaning’, is therefore an expression of the inherent nullity of the pattern or game, the inherent redundancy of the logical structure…

 

 

What this discussion shows therefore is that if we construct a simple system which is so very simple, so very basic, that it only has two states (one of which we call the favourable one and the other the unfavourable one) then it will naturally happen that the polarity of the system will keep switching over, all by itself, and this is all that is needed for our consciousness to be trapped by that pattern, to be trapped by that system.

 

 

The simplest possible pattern is then – just to make this point one more time – a pattern that consist of two halves, two complementary phases, one of which (by the rule that we have arbitrarily introduced in order to initiate the game) is ‘the one to be in’, and the other ‘the one not to be in’ (which is exactly as saying “the last one to jump in the lake is a dirty scumbag!”, or something to that effect). Because we have put a spin on the system by making one half the ‘good’ one and the other half the ‘bad’ one – thereby creating a difference or asymmetry that isn’t there in it at all really – the whole set up will now rotate, the polarity will periodically reverse. The system will go back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth until the energy that we have put into eventually goes out of it (i.e. until we stop playing the game, and the game winds down as a result)…

 

 

This of course sounds like a very familiar sort of an idea! What we’re talking about here is of course a wave or vibration – what we are talking about is simple harmonic motion. The fact that there is such a thing as a wave or vibration or oscillation and it consists of two apparently different ‘phases’ which nevertheless run into each other isn’t exactly earth-shattering news, but the idea that a wave or vibration can effectively trap our consciousness by creating what we have referred to as ‘imaginary leeway’ (which we utilize in order to escape from seeing that we don’t actually have any leeway or freedom at all) is most definitely not common knowledge! This idea is not a familiar one! Saying that our consciousness gets trapped in mental vibrations (in endlessly repeating mechanical patterns) because of the way in which these vibrations, these repeating mechanical patterns, offer us ‘imaginary leeway’ tends to sound very bizarre – it tends to sound rather peculiar. To further say that these vibrations, these repeating mechanical ‘YES’ / ‘NO’, ‘ON /OFF’ patterns are nothing other than our thoughts, sounds perhaps ever odder…

 

 

The way this ‘virtuality trap’ works is perfectly straightforward to explain however, as we have already indicated. The mechanism involved is very easy to understand. The vibration has two poles, two phases, and when I am in one phase then the other phase looks more attractive, more auspicious, more desirable to me; I therefore make a goal of attaining this state, which of course gives me a very solid focus in life, a very definite ‘direction to go in’. When I succeed in attaining the goal then this feels good at first, but as is the way of things before very long the glow wears off, the shine rubs off, and then where I am no longer seems so desirable, so auspicious, so advantageous. Somewhere else now seems like ‘the place to be’ and so I focus all my efforts in getting there instead. I start chasing the new goal, I start chasing the new prize, because that’s where the glow is, because that’s where the shine is…

 

 

So just to repeat one more time what we have just said, the very simplest ‘vibratory scenario’ is where there are only two states, one state (the one we’re in) seeming to be unfavourable and the other (the one we’re not in) seeming to be favourable. The game is kept moving by the fact that the polarity of ‘favourable’ and ‘unfavourable’ keeps getting reversed every time we do manage to reach the more advantageous-looking state. Although on the face of it this sounds incredibly frustrating it can be seen that as long as we are ‘short-sighted’ enough (i.e. as long as we are focussed exclusively on the goal that lies ahead of us) then we are going to keep on being motivated by the game. We won’t be getting anywhere but we will nevertheless be continually hypnotized by the illusion that we are actually getting somewhere (or the illusion that we at least stand a chance of getting somewhere soon). We will be continually intoxicated by the prospect of finally getting our hands on the coveted prize. This is the ‘mechanism of the vibration’ – the mechanism which traps our consciousness without us knowing that it has been trapped.

 

 

This ‘mechanism’ is easy enough to understand, but at the same time we might wonder if it is not perhaps too simple, too basic. When in life would we find ourselves in such a brutally simplistic and obviously futile ‘trap of the mind’? This may not – in the way that we have just described it, at least – sound like anything that we can relate to in terms of our everyday experience. It is clearly the case that in everyday life the type of patterns we get caught up in are vastly more complicated than the simple ‘back-and-forth vibration’ that we have just described. But at the same time it is also the case that very crude mental games (or ‘mind-traps’) do exist, and that we can fall into them. They are just states of mind that we don’t tend to be familiar with in everyday life. In The Myth of Freedom, Chogyam Trungpa (1975, p 5-6) talks about the lowest psychological realm or ‘loka’ which is the hell realm and in which can be found similarities to the binary (or ‘vibratory’) scenario that we have been describing –

 

We can begin with the realm of hell, which is the most intense. First there is a build-up of energies, of emotions, to a crescendo, so that at some stage we find it very confusing whether the energies are controlling us or we are controlling them. Then suddenly we lose track of this whole race, and our mind is put into a blank state which is the luminosity. From that blank state an intense temptation to fight begins to develop, and that paranoia also brings terror. Originally the paranoia and terror were supposed to fight against something, but one is not quite certain whom exactly one is fighting; and when the whole thing has developed, the terror begins to turn against oneself. When one tries to strike out, instead of fighting the projection one is striking inward.

 

It is like the story of the hermit who saw a leg of lamb in front of him, and wanted to pick it up and cook it. His teacher told him to mark it with a cross, then later he discovered that the cross was marked on his own chest. It is that kind of notion; you think there is something outside to attack or fight or win over. In most cases hatred is like that. You are angry with something and try to destroy it, but at the same time the process becomes self-destructive, it turns inward and you would like to run away from it; but then it seems too late, you are the anger itself, so there is nowhere to run away. You are haunting yourself constantly, and that is the development of hell.

 

In the situation Chogyam Trungpa is talking about here there are only two states – one is the state in which I lash out as violently as I can against my assumed aggressor, and the other state is the one in which this violence rebounds on me and causes me tremendous suffering, tremendous pain. The ‘striking out phase’ of the oscillation is obviously the apparently advantageous state but as soon as I engage in lashing out I find myself incurring the instantaneous ‘rebound’, which is the disadvantageous state. Because the unwanted or disadvantageous state is so unbearably painful this leaves me no choice but to lash out again, since this is the only way that I can get relief (no matter how momentary) and so I am locked into the cycle, locked into the oscillation. The whole thing is terribly compulsive, as Chogyam Trungpa says elsewhere – I am just not able to stop reacting in this way. I am quite powerless to refrain from playing the game, no matter how atrocious the suffering is that I am being caused by it…

 

 

This, according to Chogyam Trungpa’s account, is the realm of hell, which is the crudest game, the lowest level of consciousness and volition, the one involving the most suffering. There is nothing pleasurable about it at all, only the momentarily ‘hopeful’ (so to speak) lashing out phase of the game which is apparently advantageous, but actually not advantageous at all since it rebounds instantly on us (like the man in Chogyam Trungpa’s story of the hermit who finds that he has marked the cross on his own chest). The next level up, according to the scheme set out in Tibetan Buddhism, is the hungry ghost realm, the Preta Loka, and this too is a compulsive, suffering-producing game. In this game (in this crude repetitive pattern of thinking and behaving) the preferred phase is where we reach out for the food which we are so ravenously hungry for – this is the move, the ‘reaction’, the action-state which holds the promise (or at least the apparent promise) of immense gratificatory fulfilment. This gratification, this fulfilment never actually comes however – what looks from the outset to be the pleasurable state, the advantageous state, turns out to be nothing of the sort. It is quite hollow – it’s a cheat, it’s a disappointment. Phase 1 – the apparently euphoric state – dumps us straight into Phase 2 as soon as we enact it, and Phase 2 is a state of unbearable anguish, unbearable torment…

 

 

This therefore is another hell realm – the hell of neurotic suffering this time, which is less tormenting than the hell of rage, but which is an extreme form of suffering nonetheless. It is another ‘vibratory mind-state’ that we get caught up indefinitely in – a mind-state that the Tibetan Buddhist teachings says follows automatically in the after-death Bardo state if we are predisposed to it as a result of our activities whilst we are alive. Such mind-states are – it might be said – ‘exotic’ in the sense that we don’t come across them in the pure state in the world of our normal everyday experience. They might not serve as the best examples of what we are talking about here, therefore, since it is always possible to deny that such states exist! We can however see many familiar examples of ‘entrapping vibratory mental states’ if we look closely enough at neuroticism in daily life, which is what we will now proceed to do. If something happens to me that I find myself unable to accept (a loss, perhaps)  – then my non-acceptance is going to catapult me straight into a vibration – I will say to myself “That shouldn’t have happened!” (or “Why me?”) and then, immediately following this, I will realize afresh that it did happen and I will be plunged straightaway into renewed pain and anguish. This pain and suffering will of course be unacceptable to me and so I will start the whole thing all over again…

 

 

The ‘apparently advantageous’ state in this neurotic (or reality-avoiding) oscillation is the one where I protest that ‘it shouldn’t have happened’ and the ‘disadvantageous’ state is the one where I realize again that it actually has happened, which is the situation that I found so acceptable, and which provoked me to react in this counterproductive way in the first place. This is very obviously a merry-go-round that I can’t get off since to ‘get off’ would mean that I would have to start accepting reality! As is the case for the hell realm and the hungry ghost realm, Phase 1 here isn’t euphoric as such (i.e. it doesn’t provide any satisfaction or meaningful relief) but it does offer the promise of euphoria – no matter how weak or unrealistic that promise might be. Phase 2 on the other hand (the disillusioned phase) clearly is acutely dysphoric. It is undisguised misery. So the trap here is where we keep cycling around a ‘theatrical’ escape (an ‘escape’ that deep down we can’t help knowing to be entirely futile and meaningless) which dumps us straight into the renewed misery of having to confront the reality we are trying to get away from, with our ‘virtual’ hopes of escape cruelly dashed. Our absolute implacable refusal to countenance reality fuels a ‘perfectly elastic reverberation’, therefore. We just vibrate endlessly, getting nowhere.

 

 

Everyday anger provides us with another example of how we can get trapped in a vibratory thought-form – instead of thinking to myself “This shouldn’t have happened!” I think something like “He shouldn’t have done that!” (or “He shouldn’t have said that!”) and immediately after thinking this I realize that he did indeed do it (the he did indeed say it) and as a result of this realization I am plunged into renewed pain and indignation. This cycle then repeats, as it has nowhere else to go.

 

 

Complaining is another version of this same sort of thing only here the anger has cooled off into a kind of ongoing chronic rancour: I just keep on moaning or complaining or griping or bitching because every time I do so it seems that this offers me some kind of an advantage, but this so-called ‘advantageous’ proves to be very short-lived since the moan, the complaint, the gripe, merely serves to remind me of what I am unhappy about! The advantage is only virtual – the complaining simply exacerbates the misery, as everyone knows, and yet I keep on with it all the same because it is the only strategy in my repertory, no matter how wretchedly dysfunctional it might be…

 

 

Another very familiar vibration is anxiety. When I am caught up in anxious thinking I am ‘clutching at straws’, so to speak. My underlying base-line perception is of endemic, all-pervasive risk and this risk (which is the inherent unpredictability of life) is fundamentally unacceptable to me. I cannot make my peace with this riskiness, this inherent uncertainty, and so I am always looking for a way around it. I am always making futile forays into solving the perceived risk, fixing it, eradicating it, and so on. I might only be anticipating the risk, anticipating the problem, but even this represents the attempt to control what is going on, and so this too is trying to eradicate risk, even if I never even lift a finger, or never even come up with a single solution. My short-lived and abortive attempt to control backfires on me however and only serves to remind me that I am not in control and that I am not able to be in control and having my attention drawn all over again to my inability to control my situation exacerbates my distress all the more. I am immediately dumped right back into an awareness of insoluble risk, which instantaneously gives rise to a state of terrified apprehension with regard to the unanswerable question of ‘what might happen next’. This cycling can continue for hours, days, months or even for years, since there is no way out just so long as I am I rejecting the intrinsic uncertainty of reality.

 

 

As with all the examples that we have given, the advantageous (or attractive) phase of the cycle is only virtually euphoric – in anxiety there is only the most forlorn of hopes that my incessant attempts to ‘find a solution’ are actually going to work but I go through with them all the same because I don’t know what else to do. I don’t believe in my ability to effectively control at all, but I keep on trying since controlling seems to be my only option. Attempting to find a solution, attempting to control, is the only thing I know but because I also know (on a very deep level) that I am not going to be able to do this the real struggle is not for me to come up with the solution, for me to come up with a means of regaining control, but for me to temporarily manage to believe that I might have a chance of doing so. The advantageous phase in the anxiety cycle is therefore not ‘being in control’ but managing to convince myself (or fool myself) that I might stand a chance of being in control.

 

 

The disadvantageous (or dysphoric) phase – on the other hand – is where I immediately realize that I am only fooling myself in this regard. The euphoric state is thus where I am able to effectively deceive myself, but because my attempts to do so fail as soon as they are instigated this in only a virtually euphoric state, with no actual security or comfort or respite in it at all…

 

 

All of the examples that we have given are ‘tinged with the stink of failure’ and for this reason we can say that they all represent patterns whose dysfunctional nature (with regard to achieving what they are supposed to achieve) has become apparent to us, even though we are powerless to stop ourselves acting them out. We’re trapped, but we can feel that we’re trapped and what this means is that a degree of reality is starting to leak into the picture. All of the patterns mentioned are causing us huge amounts of pain – they are very clearly ‘net-providers of suffering and for this reason it has to be the case that we are in the process of becoming disillusioned with them. No matter how long drawn-out this process may be, we are eventually going to be free from the pattern since there is no ‘positive’ there to keep us hooked in. To be aware that we are unfree is the beginning of freedom, and when the pattern we’re stuck in can no longer provide us with a ‘fully-functioning euphoric phase’ there is no longer the illusion of freedom.

 

 

Most of the mind-created patterns that we are stuck in are not ‘obviously dysfunctional’ however. They are not obviously dysfunctional because they do come with a fully-functioning euphoric phase! Or we could say that they are not obviously traps because they appear to contain freedomthey contain the ‘analogue form’ of freedom which is the ‘freedom to pursue euphoria’.

 

 

Most of the patterns of thinking and behaving that we get trapped in don’t appear to be ‘net providers of suffering’ even though they are – these patterns seem to be getting us somewhere (or at the very least they appear to be potentially capable of getting us somewhere) but they aren’t, and they can’t. They can’t possibly be getting us anywhere since the pattern never leads to anywhere but itself! The one thing a logical pattern or sequence can never do is take us beyond itself – all it can do is to take us on a guided tour around itself, and bewitch us as it does so into thinking we are actually moving, into thinking that we’re actually getting somewhere. The one thing a logical (or mind-produced) pattern can never do is actually ‘take us anywhere’ because logical or mind-produced patterns are always inescapably self-cancelling – they are always inescapably self-cancelling (or null) because for every step in a PLUS direction that they contain, they must also contain a corresponding step in a MINUS direction. Who ever heard of a PLUS without a MINUS, after all? As we have said, games have to keep moving, they have to keep cycling around and around or else we wouldn’t be able to play them.

 

 

There is another angle we could take on this. There is another reason we can say that being trapped in the pattern of our own thoughts can’t ever get us anywhere and this has to do with the way in which the pattern of thinking provides us with a sense of self (or sense of identity) which is never at any time any more than a ‘static assumption’ or ‘abstract projection’.

 

 

This sense of self isn’t really there at all therefore – it’s just a function of the mechanism of thought. It is only a phantasm – a two-dimensional appearance that is manufactured by the thinking process. What creates this misleading impression of a ‘static self’ is our extrapolative thinking, so to speak. We could say that because I am always orientated towards a future imagined state of completion that will come about when I manage to win at the game I am playing everything that I do and see is done and seen on the basis of what it means in relation to this ‘imagined future state’. “I’m not here but I’m going to be here” is the motto for this state of affairs. “I’m not there yet but I’m getting there.” The ‘future’ self – which is the self that has attained the prize that comes with successful controlling – is the basis for all my calculations, the basis for my very way of seeing the world, in fact. It is the lynch-pin, the hook upon which everything is hung…

 

 

We can therefore say that the attainment of the desired state represents the actualization of the projected self. ‘Euphoria’ is thus the intensely gratifying feeling we get when we imagine this idealized self to have been realized! This is the moment of validation, the moment of vindication – the moment of pure unopposed, uncontested triumph. This is the winning moment – the moment the universe affirms our existence, the moment it says a resounding YES!!! to us. This is how I imagine myself to be, if I could be truly myself, if I could somehow manage to be myself in an ‘uncompromised’ way! This is the intense euphoria-flash of “YES” that comes when I finally get to prove that I am not an inconsequential loser, when I get to prove that I really am somebody. This is the me that I know I could be, the me that I have been waiting so long to be, the me that has never been allowed to exist because of circumstances (or other people) being against me. This is the ultimate fulfilment that has for so long eluded me…

 

 

It is this white-hot ‘euphoria-flash’ that drives the game, therefore. This memory that we are determined to repeat is what keeps driving us onwards – we are straining to reach the euphoric self, stretching out to reach the vindicated self, the validated self, the gloriously triumphant self. I have been waiting for this all my life – the hope of finally realizing this self is what has been keeping me going all this time. I haven’t got the words to say how much I want this!

 

 

The only problem is however that this self doesn’t exist! It is – as we have said – the purest fantasy! The supremely validated winner-self (the self whose triumph can never be contested) is a mere abstraction which is no sooner attained than it is lost. This self is like a line that has been drawn from the centre of a rotating disc to a single point on its circumference – it comes and it goes periodically but it has no real duration. The flash of euphoria that we are so assiduously chasing is real in a certain, very limited sort of a way therefore but because the disc always is rotating (which is a function of it existing in linear time, where all of its various aspects have to be expressed sequentially, one after another) it has to be the case that we have no sooner experienced it than it is gone again. It has to be the case that no sooner that we have experienced the coveted flash of euphoria than it is moving away from us again and the intensity of that moment has been converted into a memory – a memory that we are determined to repeat.

 

 

But not only does the glow of euphoria diminish as the disc rotates – it diminishes to zero and gets replaced by an ever-intensifying experience of dysphoria. Winter replaces summer. What was good now turns bad. And when the disc (or the wheel) has turned through 180 degrees we then get to experience the pure unmitigated flash of despair that is the dark counterpart of the euphoric peak that we keep on pursuing so stubbornly. Taken altogether therefore, the advantageous and the disadvantageous (the attractive and the repellent) phases of the cycle always cancel out, leaving the overall experience perfectly null.

 

 

The static self that I imagine myself to be is perfectly null too therefore, since it is made up of euphoria and dysphoria in equal parts. There’s nothing else to this assumed (or projected) self apart from euphoria or dysphoria – the only possibilities that exist for it are advantage or disadvantage, good luck or bad luck, succeeding or failing. All it consists of is ‘pleasure and pain’. All it consists of is ‘hope and fear’, ‘attraction and aversion’. What else could there ever be in a game other than winning and losing? What else could there ever be on a linear axis other than PLUS and MINUS? What else is there in a vibration, other than going UP and going DOWN?

 

 

When we’re not all bottled up between a PLUS and a MINUS, when we’re not trapped in a vibration, then we’re not anywhere and we’re not anything. We no longer have a defined or definite identity to be cooped up in. We are free from all limiting conditions.

 

 

When we’re not cooped up between one pole of the oscillation and the other, reverse pole, then we’re free from dualistic existence – we’re neither here nor there, we’re neither UP nor DOWN, we’re neither winners nor losers. We’re free from all that! We’re free from all categories of thought – we are neither one way nor the other…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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