There is one idea that is more difficult to put across than any other, without any exception at all, and this is the idea that the world we see and believe in is the perfect antithesis of the real world, which we know absolutely nothing about. We see reality upside down, in other words. This point can’t be over-stated: not only do we see the world in the ‘wrong way’, we couldn’t actually see it more wrong! We couldn’t get things more wrong if we tried…
The world is full of bizarre ideas and there is never any shortage of people to believe in them, so it seems, but no one will ever be queuing up to hear about the idea we have just mentioned. To say that the idea which we have just referred to is ‘universally unpopular’ a tremendous understatement – it is actually universally repellent, universally abhorred. It is anathema to us; it is heresy of the very worst and most dangerous sort.
We ought to qualify what we have just said – the idea that ‘we have got everything backwards’ would be deeply unpopular if anyone were to have heard of it but this is not the case. No one talks about this idea and no one hears of it – it’s not in currency. How often – after all – do people come up to you and start articulating the proposition that the world we see and believe in is actually the complete inverse of what the world really is? People often say all sorts of strange stuff but they never say this.
The thing about all ideas – no matter how laughably absurd they might – is that they always offer us some sort of security. They offer us something to latch onto, they offer us some sort of ‘purchase’. Every single bizarre (or perhaps seemingly non-bizarre) idea that people believe in comes complete with some sort of ‘pay-off’. This is a universal principle –
No one ever believed in an idea that didn’t come complete with a pay-off of some sort, no matter how bizarre, dysfunctional or counter-productive the idea in question might seem on the face of it to be.
It might sound as if we are claiming some sort of an exception for the idea that ‘we have everything backwards’, since we have rather implied that there is zero pay-off involved in believing in it. If there was, then the idea would have some sort of popularity for sure, and it doesn’t. Folk might believe that the world is going to end in five years or that we are being ruled by shape-shifting lizards but no one says that we’re seeing reality back-to-front. In order to explain why there is no pay-off associated with this ‘idea’ we first have to look at what we mean by ‘backwards’ or ‘back-to-front’.
Backwards doesn’t mean ‘the opposite’ or ‘the reverse’ or ‘the mirror-image’ – it means ‘the Inversion of Principles’, which is an entirely different sort of thing. Opposites don’t involve an inversion of principle; on the contrary, they are based on the very same principle – they agree with one another, as Alan Watts says. If we look at any two complementary opposites we’re really looking at the very same thing – ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are just the two sides of the same tiresome argument, like ‘you will / you won’t’ or ‘it is / it isn’t’ .There’s no inversion of principle here at all.
An ‘inversion of principle’ is what exists between polarity and non-polarity, or symmetry and dissymmetry. There is no way that ‘non-polarity’ is the opposite of polarity because opposites only exist in polarity; everything in the polar world of course has its opposite, its ‘other pole’ whereas non-polarity has no opposite, which is why it’s called non-polarity’. This is what ‘an inversion of principle’ means therefore – polarity doesn’t argue against non-polarity because it is constitutionally unable to acknowledge that there is such a thing and non-polarity doesn’t argue against polarity because its nature is such that it never takes sides! Polarity can’t understand that there could be such a thing as ‘no sides’ (or that there is such a thing as ‘no position’) whereas non-polarity never takes sides or never takes ‘a position’!
When we talk about the idea that ‘the world we see and believe in is the inverse of the world at it actually is’ therefore we’re not saying that everything is reversed in polarity but rather that the world as it is in itself is quintessentially inconceivable to us – it is quintessentially inconceivable to us because we can only understand things in terms of polarity (or ‘locality’) and the world ‘as it is in itself’ is non-polar. The non-polar (or the non-local) is profoundly meaningless to us – nothing was ever as far away from our understanding as this. We can get no purchase on it at all – needless to say, there’s nothing to grab hold of as far as non-polarity is concerned!
So the first point we’re making is that idea of ‘the reversal’ that we’re talking about isn’t a reversal of polarity but a reversal of principles and the second point we need to make is that what we talking about here isn’t really ‘an idea’ at all because ideas are always polar. That’s what ideas are after all – an idea (or a thought) is a definite position and definite positions always come paired with their opposites. Ideas always belong to the world of polarity and so very obviously they can never tell us about the world of non-polarity, or refer to it in any way. ‘Ideas’ equal polarity!
The idea that everything we see and believe in is actually the antithesis of reality (rather than being reality itself, which is what we take it to be) isn’t an idea at all – it’s actually an awareness, which is a different type of thing entirely. So if we go back to what we were saying earlier, we would have to say that this is the most unpopular awareness ever, the awareness that no one ever talks about, or shows any interest or curiosity in. This awareness is anathema to us – it’s something we will run away from and try to avoid at all costs.
Actually, all awareness is like this; all awareness is like this because all awareness is non-polar. Awareness is always non-polar in nature just as conditioned awareness (or thought) is always polar. Whilst all beliefs, or all ideas, come with a hidden pay-off, awareness does not and that’s why we don’t like it. We can’t exploit awareness, we can’t utilize it – we can’t make it serve our purposes. Why not? Simply because ‘the purpose’ we are interested in having served has to do with the confirmation that our position (or stance) is the right one and this is something awareness will never do.
Awareness cuts no deals, unlike thoughts, unlike ideas. Awareness just gives it to us ‘as it is’. Or as we could also say, awareness doesn’t let us pick sides, and this is what we don’t like about it. To say that ‘this is what we don’t like about it’ is putting it rather mildly – it would be better to say that this is what terrifies the life out of us! The self is ‘a side’ after all and so when we say that awareness doesn’t let is pick a side what we’re really saying is that awareness won’t let us pick a self. Is it any wonder we are so terrified by awareness, therefore? Is it any wonder that awareness is anathema to us? Thought provides us with the illusion of self, awareness doesn’t…
In awareness there are no sides, no positions. There are no stances in awareness. This is what ‘non-polar’ means – it means that there are no stances, no positions (and therefore no oppositions). Non-polar means perfect symmetry – there is no ‘here as opposed to there’, no ‘this as opposed to that’, no ‘me as opposed to you’. In awareness there are no selves, therefore. There is no ‘self’ anywhere to be found… This simple statement shows us exactly what exactly the ‘big difference’ (i.e. the reversal) is between the world we commonly see and believe in and the world as it actually is –
In the world we commonly see and believe in the self is the centre of everything, whilst in the world as it is in reality there IS no self…