‘Very few of us know the taste of authentic things’, says Ouspensky. We’re given substitutes and so – therefore – we never suspect that we have been short-changed. This isn’t to say that we’re doing well on these substitutes of course, because we’re not, but the source of our lingering malaise is unknown to us. We think we’re ‘living our best lives’ or, at least, that we stand a chance of doing so if we play our cards right; if we aren’t happy then this is our own failure, so we are given to understand. Responsibility for this is later to our own feet, which is odd since – in real terms – we have no autonomy in our lives. We’re ‘living a script’ – we’re copying from the societal template like good little copiers. We’re mimicking whatever stereotypes happen to be popular or mainstream.
Conditioned life is a jinx, therefore – it’s a jinx because it doesn’t actually work. It doesn’t actually work because it can’t replace what it’s supposed to replace, and yet the key point here is that we aren’t given any alternative. Because we haven’t been given any alternative we don’t know that there is anything else and because we don’t know that there is anything else we have to make do with what we’ve been given. More than this, because we don’t know that there is anything other than the conditioned life we take on its shortcomings ourselves and so we feel that if life doesn’t work out for us (which it can’t do) then there must be something wrong with us. Because we don’t see the problem where it belongs – which is in the system – we see it in ourselves. We’re trying to do an impossible thing, we’re trying to ‘live our lives in the simulation’, and rather than seeing that what we’re trying to do is impossible, is absurd, can’t be done, etc., we blame ourselves. We carry the failings of the conditioned life on our backs, and at the same time we are deeply envious of all those who seem to be enjoying what we cannot.
The conditioned life is ‘the life that takes place on the outside’ and the big flaw with this scheme is that there isn’t an outside; we’re ‘looking for happiness in the wrong place’, as it is said – we’re looking for happiness in the Consensus Reality, in the picture of the world that we have all tacitly agreed upon, and there isn’t any happiness there. There isn’t any happiness there because this isn’t a real place. Rather than being a real place it’s a game that we play and then get lost in. The advantage of the Consensus Reality is that it’s the same for all of us, which means that we have a shared understanding, but the downside of opting to partake in this shared understanding is the way what we’re understanding isn’t actually true, and so we don’t understand what we think we understand. The CR is made-up of generic ideas, ideas that are the same for everybody, and because they are the same for everybody we have to fit into them rather than vice versa. We have to fit in to the world that is made up of generic ideas and yet – ultimately – there is no such world. There’s no such world (and that means of course that we can’t fit into it).
This isn’t just a tricky situation therefore – it’s an untenable one. It’s ‘a situation that just doesn’t work’. We don’t see that it doesn’t work and so we keep on trying to get it to, which is why the Buddha famously said that ‘existence is suffering’ (which has never been a message that we have been particularly happy with in the West). ‘Existence’ – by which of course the Buddha meant conditioned existence – can never work out. Clearly Gautama Buddha didn’t mean that ‘unconditioned existence is suffering’ – there can’t be any such thing as ‘suffering in the unconditioned reality’ for the simple reason that there’s no self in unconditioned reality to suffer. As Wei Wu Wei says, ‘It is only the artificial ego that suffers.’ It’s only when the conditioned sense of ‘who we are’ is created (and we haplessly identify with it) that there is suffering. There is suffering in this case because (as we keep saying) living on the basis of the rickety old Mind-Created Identity just doesn’t work. It’s never going to pan out for us but because we can’t bring ourselves to confront this unpalatable truth we keep on trying, we keep on struggling and striving (and lying) to ourselves.
We’re trying to get life to happen on our own terms (because anything else is just too frightening for us) and ‘on our own terms’ means ‘on the terms of the unreal self or ego’ and so it doesn’t take too much to figure out that this approach doesn’t come with a particularly favourable prognosis. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that – far from being a recipe for getting on in life – this is the perfect recipe for endless suffering. The problem is however that we don’t want to become aware of this; we would rather not be aware of this particular truth and so – instead – we invest a lot of energy in telling ourselves that everything is OK, but everything is going to work out just fine for us. We become addicted to positive self-talk! We get trapped in ‘the Terrible Pit of Denial’ in other words, and once we have fallen down this abyss our will is subverted by the System of Denial, which misrepresents itself as some form of ‘escape’.
There is of course absolutely no need for this to happen, no need for us to go down this road; there’s no need because everything was already just fine before we barge into the scene trying to fix stuff. It’s not just fine afterwards however because ‘us trying to fix the problem’ is the problem (although we lack the subtlety to appreciate this). We’re approaching things backwards therefore – our approach is  to say that there is a problem, and then  intervene so as to solve matters so there’s no more problem. We can then get on with our lives where we left off, which is all that we want. Most of us would agree with this way of looking at things. In reality however – when it’s the Psychological Realm we’re talking about – it’s the other way around:  we start off with there being no problem (because in the Psychological Realm there is only a problem when we see there to be one) and then  we start trying to resolve matters on this basis – which means that there is a problem that will persist for just as long as we keep on trying to do something about it. We’re the problem, in other words; if we stayed out of it then everything would be fine.
The problem then becomes ‘How can we stop making everything into a problem?’ and just as soon as we ask this inevitable question we get locked into ‘the Artificial World’, the world that has been constructed for us by the eager beaver of thought. We no longer have any connection with life itself, all we know about is ‘life as it appears to be from the standpoint of the Mind-Created Identity. Life – as it appears from the conditioned standpoint – has an entirely secondary (or subsidiary) status – it’s only there to serve the identity, in other words. It’s only there for our pleasure, for our entertainment. We don’t want to own up to this (since such a way of looking at ourselves is less than inspirational) but that’s how it is. The Mind-Created Identity doesn’t care about anything apart from itself and it only cares about the world outside of itself insofar as there is something in it that it wants, something in it that is of potential advantage to it. This however is a distorted way of looking at things – it’s a distorted way of looking at things because the Mind-Created Identity isn’t a real thing. It’s a construct, it’s ‘an artificial thing’ and so it shouldn’t be ‘top dog’…
If only we could see this in a clear way so much nonsense would be shed, so much garbage would be released. But our unwillingness to confront the actual reality of our situation is absolute – rather than do this we twist and distort everything to prevent us from running the risk of catching a glimpse of the truth. As a result of our profound unwillingness to be aware of what’s going on we rig everything to make it look as if we’re not living life purely on a selfish or mechanical basis, with never a thought for anything apart from ourselves. We cover up our inner poverty by espousing ideals which we don’t really hold, by ascribing false motivations to ourselves, by claiming qualities that we don’t possess, and so on. In order to feel good about ourselves as we carry on with our daily mechanical business we have to make a break with the truth therefore, we have to tell ourselves a story that isn’t true and the essence of this story is that the Mind Created Identity possesses actual humanity when it doesn’t. The MCI doesn’t possess any humanity because it is just a humourless, self-serving mechanism – it’s only the tool and the tool shouldn’t be calling the shots. A humourless, self-serving mechanism shouldn’t be calling the shots…
The machine can never truly see itself therefore – the rules of its existence forbid this from ever happening. If the Machine Self (which is to say, the Mechanically Simulated Identity) did see itself as it is then the all-important illusion would be punctured. Alan Watts points out that society is founded upon a central prohibition, a central taboo, which is that we must never know who we actually are. The reason for this prohibition is that the game we’re all playing depends upon us not seeing that the game is a game (which is to say, it depends upon us not seeing that we aren’t who the game says we are). The other way of looking at this is to say that Society’s Number One Prohibition is that we should never be honest with ourselves. Honesty is not permitted. When we are identified with the Machine Mind (which is the same thing as the rational ego, or self-image) then to see that what we’re identified with (and believe ourselves to be) is a purely mechanical and inanimate thing is a terrible revelation that we will shy away from. This is – we might say – another way of talking about our encounter with the Shadow archetype, but with a somewhat different emphasis (the shadow here being our mechanical nature’, which is to say, that aspect of us which isn’t actually human).
The Shadow is a fearful thing and we will, as everyone knows, do our level best to avoid bumping into it in a dark alley (or anywhere else, for that matter); the irony here of course being that our tenacious avoidance of catching a glimpse of the Shadow is the very thing that is indefinitely prolonging our misery. If only we could stick with the revelation of the Shadow (which admittedly is a very hard thing to stick with) then we would eventually learn something completely unexpected – we would learn that ‘who we are underneath it all’ isn’t a machine, after all. We would learn that who we are isn’t a pretender or fake, isn’t ‘an artificial, phony or invented entity’, but just so long as we shy away from being honest with ourselves about our own insincerity, our own ‘artificiality’, we’re never going to find this out.
Image – playgroundai.com