The self is always ‘incorrigibly rigid’ in its nature; we can say that the self is ‘incorrigibly rigid’ because it is bound by its very nature to protect certain beliefs (or certain ‘values’) at any cost but this – as an explanation – is only halfway there. The best way of putting it to say that the self is always rigid because it is always it is bound by this very nature to protect the belief or ‘value’ that is itself. The self is its own value, its own belief.
We all understand that it is important to protect ourselves in a biological or practical sense. This – by definition – is a healthy kind of thing. If I were to sit in the path of a bunch of army ants and allow them to eat me this would not be particularly healthy, and so ‘self protection’ (in this biological sense) is unquestionably the helpful thing to do.
Protecting the concept we have of ourselves is an entirely different matter however – protecting the idea or image we have of ourselves isn’t just ‘unhelpful’, it’s the root cause of our suffering. The ‘rigidity’ that we are speaking of has to do with this type of self-protection and it has lots of ‘knock-on’ consequences that are not at all to our benefit. Rigidity of this sort benefits us not at all. We can see the unbeneficial consequences of rigidity in the form of our thinking; thinking, although we don’t see it as such, is resistance. It is in other words how we try to stop things being the way that they actually are, and because we are constantly having to defend the idea that we have of ourselves from all challenges and it is therefore because we are constantly having different to defend the idea that we have of ourselves against all challenges that we have to spend so much time thinking!
We don’t see ourselves as thinking for the purpose of ‘protecting an illusion’ but we are all the same – that is what we are doing with our thoughts, we’re protecting our core illusion. Another way of putting it is to say that the reason we think all the time is because we are treating life as a problem when it isn’t, and so we are always trying to figure it out or ‘second-guess’ it. We are always trying to ‘seek the advantage’. But the reason we see life as a problem to be solved (when it isn’t) is because life (or ‘reality’) will always challenge the ideas that we have about it. Life inevitably challenges the ideas we have about it, after all, and so if we are hanging on to our ‘idea of things’ (and our ‘idea of ourselves’) as we are doing, then we are always going to have to be fighting, we are always going to have to be struggling and straining. We trying to make something be true that isn’t true.
Instead of saying that ‘the self is always rigid’ we could equally well say that the thinking mind is always rigid. It comes down to the very same thing. What we are really talking about here is our attitude to life, the ‘posture’ that we take towards it. Our posture or attitude is rigid and we keep on having to think all the time both to protect (or ‘enforce’) this posture and to justify it to ourselves. We can’t just have a belief in other words – we also have to keep on saying that we are right to have it! We can’t just have ‘a theory’ – we have to say that our theory is the correct one. This validation of our position is an ‘unnecessary task’ however – it’s unnecessary because there is absolutely no real need to maintain or validate our fixed stance on life by saying that it is ‘the only right one’. The only ‘need’ or ‘necessity’ is that which that fixed stance itself assumes. This is like saying that there is no need to defend a belief structure, other than the need that the belief structure itself tells us there is.
Seeing the world as a problem that needs to be fixed (or brought into accord with our ideas about it) is a game that we started playing, and then got caught up in. According to the game, we have to keep on playing, but that’s only according to decay! When we play the game of treating the world as a problem, as something that needs to be controlled, then we are lured on by the thought of how great it would be when we finally solve the problem, how wonderful it will be when we finally get in the ‘winning position’. This is the attractor state that we are being continually drawn to, like moths to a candle. In practical terms this is as we have said an utterly absurd impossibility but in terms of ‘the motivation to continue playing the game’ it works very well! As long as we are ‘playing the game’ therefore we always going to be thinking, we are always going to be scheming. We are never going to have any peace until we succeed, but we never are going to succeed. This is the trap we are caught in.
So just to recap what we have so far said – the self is always rigid and controlling its attitude in its nature and this means that it can never rest (or ‘be content’) until it ‘gets its own way’. The ‘twist in the tale’ however is that the self never will get its own way’, or at least, only on a very temporary or superficial /make-believe basis. Getting our own way only in a very temporary basis isn’t any better than not getting it however, even though this might not be entirely obvious. All that is happening here is that we are ‘postponing the pain of not getting our own way’ and where is the benefit in that? What is gained by playing the game of postponement?
The suffering we have to go through is actually greater when we are able to postpone the outcome that we are afraid of – what we are actually talking about here in this case is of course the suffering associated with denial. The suffering associated with denial is very interesting and ‘counterintuitive’ because it manifests itself initially as pleasure. The pleasure comes about because we have convinced ourselves (however mistakenly) that we have ‘got our own way’. Having got our own way could mean that we have gained what we wanted to gain, or it could mean that we have avoided what we want to avoid – the pleasure is exactly the same in both cases. Pleasure always comes about when we think that we have got the world to permanently accord with our ideas for it. The pleasure fades all too quickly however – as we all know only too well – and then we are ushered unceremoniously into the next phase of the proceedings. The next phase of the proceedings is where the pleasure fades to reveal a ‘dull reality’. The pleasure or euphoria that we are experiencing was only serving to mask the dullness of the situation that we have secured for ourselves – which is an idea that we are all fairly familiar with. It’s like being tricked or conned, or it’s marrying someone because we are infatuated with them only to discover (once the infatuation has worn off) that we don’t actually like their personality very much. ‘Grief walks upon the heels of pleasure, married in haste, we repent at leisure,’ as William Congreve has said.
This scenario is inevitable given the nature of what we have just done; what we have done always comes down to ‘replacing reality with our inadequate idea of it’. What else can ‘getting our own way’ come down to apart from this? What else can ‘achieving our goal’ ever come down to apart from this? Whenever we ‘get what we want’ we are always buying into our own construct as if it were not merely ‘our own construct’; we can’t want what we don’t know or don’t understand after all, and anything we understand is bound to be our own construct, our own mental production . The problem with buying into our own construct as if it were somehow more than just ‘a construct’ (or somehow not ‘a construct’) is always the same therefore – we are replacing reality with a vastly inferior (or inadequate) version of it.
Whenever we control the situation so as to obtain the outcome we want we are inevitably ‘oversimplify reality’. In ‘unsimplified reality’ there is no goal and no one who wants to achieve the goal. This is straightforward enough – in the unsimplified reality there are no boundaries, no cut-off points, no separation between ‘here’ and ‘there’ and if there is no separation between ‘here’ and ‘there’ then there can be no goal and no seeker after the goal. We inhabit our construct (or model) of the world, which provides us with a sense of security because it is a version of reality that we can understand. We can understand it because it is entirely made up of boundaries and boundaries we can understand. A construct or model however, is a vastly oversimplified world; it is actually a version which has no real ‘content,’ and there is nothing duller than a world without any actual content, obviously! What could possibly be duller or more impoverished than ‘a null world’?
An awareness of this ‘dullness’ or ‘impoverishment’ is therefore the core element of the suffering that we encounter when the masking effect of euphoria wears thin, as it very quickly does. When euphoria wears thin it always reveals impoverishment – impoverishment being the underlying situation that we’re in, after all! As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 3) –
When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the (children) of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.
This awareness of our true situation comes about only very slowly, very gradually however – it comes about only very gradually because we have no means of perceiving the situation that we are locked into as being ‘sterile’ or ‘impoverished’. We don’t have the perspective to see that because the process by which we believe our own mental constructs to be ‘our own constructs’ is also – necessarily – the process by which we lose perspective!
We adapt to the impoverished reality quite automatically (we could say) by ‘reflecting its limitations in ourselves’ and because of this we don’t see that we are being cheated. We ‘downsize’ ourselves in step with our degraded form of reality. This happens, as we have said, quite automatically, since we always (or almost always) define ourselves in terms of our environment, in terms of the (inauthentic) reality we believe in. So whilst the impoverishment of the world we’re living in is suffering, it’s not suffering that we are immediately aware of. It is ‘invisible suffering’ so to speak. We still glimpse it from time to time, when our environment fails to stimulate or distract us enough, and one of the words we have for this glimpsing of the sterility of our reality is boredom. Boredom is a close cousin of depression, we might say, in that depression is not just when we are bored with our live (or what passes for our life, what we believe to be our life) but when we are actually appalled and repelled by it. Depression is more than just ‘a glimpse’, in other words.
This is an awkward situation since we have no way of knowing that this life that we have created for ourselves – which is in reality a mockery of life – is not the only type of life there is. We cannot conceive that they could be another way to live and another way for us to be in it; we can only believe in what we understand, and what we understand can never be life. If life is to come to us, therefore, that process has to be against our will, and in a way that we cannot understand. What this means – at a very straightforward terms – is that the process by which we are returned to live, or by which life is returned to us, is a process of suffering. It’s a process of suffering all the way – from the beginning to the end. It is a process of suffering because it’s against our will, as we have said. Our thinking is opposing it all the way, and we cannot help but ‘believe our thinking’ every step of the way, even though it is this automatic belief that is tormenting us. The process of ‘being returned to life’ occurs in opposition to thought, which is why ‘therapy’ can never be a deliberate (or ‘positive’) type of thing…
If we could in any way appreciate this then the suffering would of course not be suffering – suffering is only suffering because we see it as wholly and absolutely inimical to us – because we see it as ‘an absolute evil’. Because we see suffering as an absolute evil we resist it absolutely, we resist it to the very limit of our ability, we resist it to our very last breath. If we were to find it within ourselves to (in some part) not resist, i.e. to not ‘whole-heartedly’ resist, then we would be assenting to the process in which we are being returned to life and this ‘assenting’ is the only thing we need to do. It’s the same suffering when we are not resisting it (or not believing in our resistance to it) it, and yet it is profoundly different at the same time; it is profoundly different because we know longer believe it to be a process that is ‘wholly inimical’ to us. If we no longer see it this way, then the aspect of suffering that ‘makes suffering into suffering’ is no longer there…