‘Maybe I’m nothing but a shadow on the wall’ sings David Thomas in Heart of Darkness, echoing (after a fashion) Plato’s words from some two thousand years earlier. This of course sounds all rather depressing to most of us – who wants to be a shadow on the wall? It sounds like a real downer. There aren’t exactly a lot of possibilities open for a shadow; we can’t – on such a basis – really expect things to develop very much. What after all can a shadow lead to except more shadows (or except perhaps to darker shadows)?
Very clearly there aren’t ANY possibilities in store for us if we’re only a bunch of shadows on the wall. We can’t expect anything at all if this is the case, for the simple reason that shadows aren’t really there. Shadows are only shadows – they’re not real things, they don’t have any actual existence. There’s no mileage to be had out of such a shadowy pseudo-existence – we can never move on from this even by a millimetre, even by a nanometre, even by a picometre. There’s just no ‘moving on’ from unreality…
Given our starting-off point, we really can’t (legitimately) hope for anything. We can only illegitimately hope (which we do, on a regular basis). We’re starting off from a starting-off point that isn’t a starting-off point. To say that we haven’t a hope in hell of getting anywhere is a ridiculous understatement; it’s not just that saying that ‘there is zero possibility of us ever getting anywhere’ isn’t correct, that it is far from correct, but rather that the possibility of there even being a possibility of getting somewhere never existed in the first place. The hopes cannot get anywhere because the one who hopes never existed in the first place.
This is the ultimate rebuttal, therefore. This is the ultimate slap in the face. It is a slap in the face like no other. What we are talking about here is the complete negation there is – it is a super-negation. Even our position as ‘the one who is being rebutted’ or ‘the one who is being negated’ is negated. Whatever pretentions for ‘future progress’ we might have had for ourselves, whatever possibilities we might have imagined to be ours, could not have been more misplaced. Our hopes could not have been more forlorn.
To hear that we are no more than shadows on the wall would represent – without any doubt – the worst news we could ever receive. As we have just said, nothing could be more ‘negative’. What could be more negative than finding out that we are only shadows of the actual event, and not the real event at all? We have placed our hopes very solidly indeed in something that could not have been more doomed as a venture; we have put all our money on a horse with no legs and yet we nevertheless insist on telling ourselves that we still have every chance of success. This is the nature of the denial that we are caught up in.
With a situation like this there is of course a very significant disincentive to see the mistake we have made. It is so much easier to go on placing our hope in the horse coming in than it is for us to see the truth, which is that we have got it completely wrong right from the very beginning. What we’re talking about here is needless to say a very familiar type of phenomenon – this sort of thing happens all the time in life. Who has not got caught in a lie that keeps on getting bigger, and which – as it gets bigger and bigger – becomes harder and harder to own up to? We couldn’t own up to it when it was only a little lie, so how are ever going to bite the bullet now that it has grown so big that it is now the whole of our world?
So the point that we are making over and over again here is that the news (which the only news that matters really, never mind what you might see on TV) that we are only shadows on the wall and not any part of the real deal is news that is ‘maximally unwelcome’. News like this is reacted to with ‘maximum prejudice’. No prejudice could be greater, in fact! This is news that really doesn’t fit with our agenda. It is – we could say – the worst possible form to go around coming out with such stuff; we don’t in fact even give it enough credence to bother seeing it as ‘bad form’ – we dismiss it instantly as pure gibberish, we dismiss so quickly that we don’t even know that we’re dismissing it. We dismiss it not just without a second thought, but without a ‘first thought’ either.
The thing is however – the thing that we never get around to seeing – that the news that we are nothing more than shadows on the wall is bad news only from the point of view of the shadow, and the shadow’s point of view is not a real one! When we are in full-scale denial the thing that we are in denial of only seems so unspeakably, unthinkably terrible because we ARE in denial of it. It is our denial that gives the fear we are experiencing its power over us; to deny a fear makes that fear stronger, as we all know. This is what denial does – it makes what we are in denial of real, when it otherwise would not be…
This is a great irony: the thing that we are in denial of is only as terrible as it is because we are relating to it with ‘the mind of denial’, and yet this ‘mind of denial’ is not itself a real thing. It is only there because we are in denial, because we are maximally resisting it. So the irony is that by unreflectively acting on our fear we create the very thing that we are afraid of. If we are in out-and-out denial then the thing that we are, in our fear, denying becomes subjectively real to us. As we have just said, we give what we are afraid of power over us by resisting it (or by running away from it).
Life has (we might say) this ‘property’ to it – the property of irreversibility. This property means that just as soon as we start moving in a certain direction (the direction of moving away from the truth) we get caught up in the need to continue moving in this direction, the need to ‘continue what we are started’. As Shakespeare famously has Macbeth say in Act 3, Scene 4 of the play of that name,
I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.
At the very moment we make that first movement we create fear, we give fear its power over us, and from this point on ‘our fate is sealed’. From this point on we are locked into a deterministic game – a game in which there is no free will at all.
Fear is not free will! The urge to run (or fight) is not free will. Fear – as J.G. Bennett says – is ‘a negative state of will’. It is inverted will (or ‘negative freedom’). Inverted will is where we perceive ourselves to have true volition when really that ‘volition’ is just fear. Through unreflectively obeying fear we create the plausible illusion of free will, in other words, and this ‘plausible illusion of free will’ is what gives rise to what we call ‘the self’. The self and the closed world it lives in are made up out of the illusion of free will.
From the point of view of the mind of denial the news that we are nothing but shadows on the wall is maximally unwelcome and for this reason it is dismissed instantly and irrevocably. But this doesn’t mean that it really is ‘bad news’! It is bad news only to that mind – the mind of denial – and that mind doesn’t exist. It only exists when we ‘choose’ for it to exist (even though we are not aware of making any choice since it all happens so quickly). This so-called ‘bad news’ is as we have said bad news only to the unreal mind, the mind which cherishes / fears illusions. It is – as any wider understanding would show us – totally mistaken in its hasty evaluation. Actually, the so-called ‘bad news’ is the best possible news. It is better news than any news we could possibly imagine… This is the good news not the bad news!
This news means that there is a whole unexplored world out there, a vast and mysterious universe whose existence we never suspected. We thought we knew reality but we didn’t – all we knew were shadows. All we ever knew was the unfree ‘shadow realm’, along with the occasional glimpse of something greater, something timeless, something we didn’t have a concept for, something which we dared not allow ourselves to believe in. Shadows may fear the light but who we are in our essence is not a shadow. The shadow is the illusion, the shadow is the phantom creation of the rational mind, but who we really are is the light…