No matter what it may like to think, the rational mind does not ‘rule’ the psyche! To be sure, it constantly tries to do so, and very often it may appear to be doing so with impunity, but this can never be more than a temporary illusion. It is an illusion that we avidly seek, an illusion that we invest an awful lot of effort in, an illusion that we take to be reality, but it’s an illusion nonetheless. It’s an illusion that we are very fond of.
Nothing rules the psyche. It has no ruler and – what’s more – it doesn’t need one. ‘Ruling’ means getting something (or someone) to do what they otherwise would not do; to rule is – in other words – to impose one’s own will on the situation and this, by definition, means going against anything that might happen to oppose you. Ruling is therefore only needed when things aren’t going to do what you want them to do (when things aren’t going to ‘do their job’, so to speak) if things (or people) were already going to do ‘the helpful or necessary thing’ then there would be absolutely no need for anyone to do any ‘ruling’! Control isn’t necessary when we trust what’s going on…
The psyche, then, doesn’t need anyone to rule it because it’s already doing the helpful or harmful needful thing. It’s inherently trustworthy. If we tried to make it do what we think the right thing is then we have straightaway knocked everything off course. We have straightaway deviated from the ‘natural’ path, the ‘harmonious’ path. The psyche doesn’t need to be told what to do because it’s a lot ‘smarter’ than we are (so to speak) and so our clumsy ill-advised intervention is not only is going to mess things up. We’re ‘acting against ourselves’ here – we’re going to waste our energy, create work for ourselves, and in addition we’re going to thoroughly banjax the whole thing!
The rational mind, of course, does not believe this! It is constitutionally incapable of believing that it is not needed; it is constitutionally incapable of believe being that they could be anything smarter or more reliable than it. It micromanages to the last! The rational mind does not delegate responsibility to spontaneously processes because it does not understand that there is such a thing. If you are so much smarter than me then prove it, says the rational mind. Where is your evidence? What’s your reasoning? Proof and reasoning are of course the territory of the thinking mind (they are what it’s all about) so this is a sneaky way of winning every argument. The rational mind can’t lose because it always plays by its own rules! If we would only manage to hold our tongue and just watch the psyche as it unfolds then we would see its wisdom, and it wouldn’t actually matter if we understood it or not. This however we do not do. We are much too impatient for that – the rational mind is nothing if not impatient! It is both impatient and ‘risk-averse’…
Nothing needs to be forced in the psyche – nothing needs to be forced because everything is already doing what it ‘wants’ to do (even though this isn’t really the right word to use of course). The very idea of ‘controlling’ of ‘ruling’ or ‘regulating’ it is utterly absurd. There is no resistance, no conflict in the system and so why on earth would anyone want to introduce the notion of ruling or making things ‘do what they do not themselves already want to do’? The reason we get to thinking this is of course because we are used to dealing with the physical world. If we have a big pile of bricks sitting there in front of us in a field then we have to ‘rule over them’ in order to in order to get them to arrange themselves in the shape of the house. If we let them just ‘do what they want to do’ then they’re just going to carry on sitting there in a pile and that’s no good for us! They’ll be happy sitting there in a pile on the field forever! The psyche isn’t like this however – the psyche isn’t made up of inert building blocks, it isn’t a ‘mechanical thing’ to be moulded any way we wish, however the win may take us. It’s not subject to our whims, to our half-baked notions about ‘how things should be’.
The rational mind however treats the whole world as if it were entirely made up of ‘building blocks’ waiting for some agency to come along and impose its will on them. The rational mind automatically assumes that ‘everything is a thing’ because it itself is a ‘thing’. It thinks that everything is mechanical because it itself is mechanical. It can’t see out of the box because it is the box. All it knows is control and so it brings control to every situation. All it knows control and so it has no other answer to any challenge that it might meet. The ontological challenge of existence itself – the biggest challenge of all, we might say – is met with ‘control’. Yet what does ‘control’ mean? It means ‘trying to make everything right’ within the very limited terms of reference that thought (i.e. ‘the ‘box’) provides us with by using the very limited set of tools that it also provides us with. And yet what exactly is this thing we call ‘right’? How do we really know anything, using a limited frame of reference? What is right and what is wrong? Suppose that its taken-for-granted frame of reference is itself unreliable? What good will all our obsessive controlling be to us then?
Alan Watt said somewhere that we can never really break with the universal harmony that is the Dao. On the one hand it is said by the Daoist sages that ‘the more we try to accord with the dowel the more we deviate from it’. And on the other hand it is also true – Alan Watts reminds us – that we can never truly deviate from the Dao. This is like ‘being unnatural’ – how can we be ‘unnatural’? Isn’t it natural to be unnatural, and doesn’t this mean that being unnatural isn’t unnatural after all? Nothing can be ‘unnatural’ since it isn’t really possible to do anything that is truly ‘against’ nature, no matter how hard we try…
A very practical and down-to-earth manifestation of the principle that says it is impossible to break the universal symmetry or universal harmony comes in the form of something that we might call the rebound principle. The ‘rebound principle’ is why the rational mind cannot rule the psyche in the way that it would so dearly love to. If the rational mind were able to carry out some ‘adjustment’ to the situation and if that mind-moderated adjustment were to stay in place, remain as thought intends it to, then this would mean that the ego is successfully ruling the psyche. This however – as we keep saying – never happens. If we think that it is then this is because we aren’t seeing things straight! There is a period of time – which may be long or short – in which we can if we want fool ourselves into thinking that we have ‘got our own way’ with regard to changing our thinking or behaviour in the way that we want to and whenever we get a flush of gratification or satisfaction this because we have managed to fool ourselves in this way. All euphoria is because we have managed to fool ourselves in this way; that’s where euphoria comes from – from imaging that that we have either successfully changed the world according to our design for it, or successfully changed ourselves according to the plans that we have for ourselves.
Whenever we ‘get our own way’ (or ‘control successfully’) we experience euphoria; this is only ever a prelude however to the dissatisfaction, the dysphoria of not things not going our way, the dissatisfaction of things not being the way we think they should be. When the rational mind/ego imagines that it is ‘the ruler’ this equals euphoria therefore, and when this cosy illusion is overthrown (as it must be) then this equals dysphoria. The ego has to be ‘the ruler’ in order to feel good! The idea that we can have the satisfaction of ‘having things go our way’ without this satisfaction being cancelled out later on by the reversed situation of having our will overturned again is utterly ludicrous, and yet we never see this. We persist most stubbornly in believing that we can have the former without the latter, the YES without the NO; this belief is essential to what we might call the ‘functional integrity’ of the ego self, which is the concrete sense of oneself that has been created by the rational mind. The concrete-purposeful self has to see itself as not being bound by the rebound principle.
This kind of understanding is therefore the most unwelcome news ever for the idea that we have of ourselves. This insight is like a kind of ‘metabolic poison for the ego’ – it can no longer function, it would no longer be able to ‘believe in itself’ if it were to take on board this insight. ‘What’s the point of doing anything if it is only going to be thrown right back in your face again?’ says the rational ego; the very point of life seems to be have been taken away from us. We aren’t actually able to permanently change anything in accordance with our ideas in accordance with our beliefs, so what is the point of life? If there controlling self cannot get its own way (in a permanent not a ‘rebounding’ way!) then where does this leave us? To say that this insight – if indeed we are prepared to accept it as such –‘takes the wind out of my sails’ is putting it very mildly indeed. The lack of permanence in the world is something that we very much don’t tend to focus on, for this precise reason. There is no validation for the concrete-purposeful self here because the only validation that works for it is the translation of its whims or wishes into some sort of permanent change to reality. If we can’t do this (or if we can’t imagine that we can do this, which is more to the point) then we simply can’t obtain a concrete sense of ourselves. The purposeful self has to have what it sees as ‘meaningful purposes’.
To understand this is to see something very interesting – something which has to do with a disconnected way in which the thinking mind perceives things. When this mind attempts to control or rule reality then what is really trying to do is to translate anything into its own very limited terms. It is, in effect, trying to downgrade reality to the level of an abstract representation which is – naturally enough – the only form of reality that it understands or is capable of understanding. It is of course inevitable that this should be the case – how could we ever control, and yet not be at the same time unconsciously attempting to get universe to fit in with our exact exemptions for it? It’s the same thing. And yet because of our mental picture of how things should be is abstract – as all mental pictures are – in trying to organise the word on this basis we doing something rather peculiar. It’s not just that our theory is incomplete – so that intervening on the basis of it is going to create unwanted side effects – we are acting out an abstract worldview that we don’t understand to be abstract. We’re trying to make an unreal thing be real.
What’s actually happening when we try (as we almost always do try) to get things to happen the way we want them to is that we are doing our best to create a frozen world, a static universe in place of their dynamically-flowing one. If the universe were a river then we are building a dam. When we control what we trying to do is to bring everything into alignment with our fixed viewpoint (the fixed viewpoint which is the rational mind. When this happens what we have therefore is a fixed pattern that’s exactly reflects a fixed point of view. What we are aiming for is therefore this exact correspondence, this exact reflection where ‘actual’ = ‘expected’. This is the bull’s-eye, this is the jackpot, this is ‘the perfect score’ and so something truly wonderful is definitely going to happen…When we have finally nailed this all-important correspondence into place, and ‘get what we want’, then what exactly is it that we have achieved? Our expectations are exactly matched by what we see, and so – very clearly – what we are striving for so determinedly is the annihilation of everything that has no correspondence with our own assumptions. Our own ‘assumptions’ are ourselves however (which is to say, ‘our assumptions’ equal ‘the concrete self’) and so what we are essentially doing here is ‘striving to annihilate everything that isn’t us’. We only want reality when it is in our own image, and this means that we don’t actually want reality at all. We are running away from it full pelt. In the same way therefore, when we try to ‘control’ or ‘manage’ the psyche we are really trying to get rid of it.
The ‘set of biases on the inside’ equal ‘the thinking mind’ and with this mind we are relating to a world on the outside that is a perfect reflection of its own biases. This isn’t an unusual situation either – it’s actually the default one, that’s how things are for us every day – we roll out of bed in the morning and that’s just the way things are. Reality itself isn’t merely a reflection of our own expectations, but as far as we are concerned it is. As far as we’re concerned it might as well be. The question is therefore ‘what does it mean when the world we expect to see equals the world that we do see?’ This is a very easy question to answer of course – it doesn’t mean anything at all! It’s a ‘null situation’, which is to say, it isn’t a situation! It is ‘the absence of a situation disguised as a situation’ and this is what everyday life comes down to for us! This null reality is what we are aiming at and consolidating every time we try to get things to accord with our fixed viewpoint – we are aiming at the nullity. The nullity is our way of escaping from reality; it is the only way that there is to ‘escape’ from reality. It is because the rational mind has a ruler that it is a nullity, and it is precisely because the psyche has none that it is not.