The Mind Cannot Know Itself

The mind is a reference engine.

Actually, language is self-referential. It’s a web of “signifiers”; we can only explain one “thing” by using a bunch of “signifiers” to explain it; and we can only explain signifiers by using other signifiers. It’s even how we learn a language.

And we haven’t found out whether language comes at the same time a thought arises, or after the thought.

But it’s probably safe to say that the mind is a reference engine, or system. It is constantly comparing things. I like/don’t like/remember/want/have/did/did not. Knowledge is built on comparison or categorisation.

Our internal chatter is self-referential too. “But I didn’t do this, or I wanted this”. It continually energises the illusion of a self.

When you tell someone that they are “like” a particular characteristic, or “not like” something, you see their eyes go off to an angle. “Am I?!!?!” ┬áTheir mind starts calculating. “How much of that statement is true? How much of it false? What does it mean for my social status right now? If it is true, what does it tell me about myself that I didn’t already know? And if I didn’t already know it – why didn’t I know it? How infuriating that others can see me better than I can see myself!”

The illusion of the self has to be believed as absolute. But really it is a mental construct. So the mind is easily perturbed by anything that offers to revise it. Self-revision or self-recreation on the other hand is OK as far as the ego is concerned. (And it’s a further illusion.)

In our ‘everyday minds’, we cannot know ourselves. We cannot fully objectively understand our ‘self’ because our selves are simply constructs of our minds – and our minds cannot step outside of themselves to look at themselves, so we never have a complete picture of the construct of ‘self’ which we believe ourselves to be.

Only One Mind, Big Mind, the All aspect of consciousness can be at peace with Knowing. From this dimension of consciousness the perturbations abate. We are no longer flustered by the fact that we can’t objectively know what we believe to be our objective self; because we see it as a construct; because we know it is not who we are.

The consciousness of the universe that every living being shares is at peace with itself; it is peace. That inner peace within us does not question itself. That inner peace within us looks at our mental preoccupations with a smile.

My mind might be bothered about its limitations. How can I master myself if I don’t understand myself? It’s true that if I have self-mastery I can “win at the game of life” and also that I can know others better. So it’s something my ego yearns for ┬ábut can never have. The All within me knows this to be just a self-referential game.

Mastering my ‘self’ by letting my ‘self’ melt away, I have mastered myself. I am a winner with life and Life Itself smiles. And only when I have mastered myself can I truly understand others, and smile at that. No more game.



There is no death

There is no death.

Not really. Or, not in the way we might commonly think of death.

Time, for example, is much stranger than our everyday minds allow for. The only moment that is real, is this precise moment – ‘the now’. So, who I was in the previous moment – the one just gone – has already passed away. And the being I am to be in the future moment is not yet. The only being I am, the only place life is to be experienced really, and all reality, is just in the unfolding moment right now. Codependent origination; everything unfolding all at once, and disappearing as quickly as it has gone.

But what about memory? The sense of continuum? A personal journey? A story? Well, yes. This is part of experience. But memory itself is quite a weak force. We are prone to misremember, to elaborate on memories to suit something happening in the present. Or simply to get material facts wrong at our subconscious choosing. It is a part of experience.

When we fear dying, what we really fear could do with a little more study. Perhaps we fear pain. If I cut my finger, it can really hurt. And that’s just my finger! What about an experience which extinguishes all of me! That must really hurt! Yes, but some may pass away quietly in their sleep.

Perhaps we find not existing too strange to comprehend. Of course. But it is our ego thinking this. Everyday mind. The ego cannot imagine itself not being, because the ego exists to preseve the vital prerogative to persist. To continue. And so not existing is counter to the purpose of the ego. But when we practice meditation we come to understand that the ego is not everything that we are – it is just one necessary function of our being.

The rest of our self, our being, is shared with all being; is One. And we know from experience that One persists beyond time – before, during, after, without, within time-space-movement.

We know Oneness has no death. The Source. Buddha-nature. No death there. No birth. No not-death. No not-birth. And so on.

If it is our fear of pain, fear of losing memories, fear of losing free will (is there free will? whose will?), missing habits – all of this comes from the small self – the individuated self.

Death and time are very strange. But, it’s not really death itself or time itself we fear or dislike.

Life is beautiful when we are ready to die. When we have nothing to fear.

Will we carry our karma into space, too?

I’ve heard friends say it. I’ve heard a top business advisor in my area say it, and I’ve heard people I meditate with say it. ‘One day, we will have to go into space’.

The thinking is that one planet will not be enough. Aware that our lifestyles already require between 3 and 5 planets to be sustained at their current rate, or aware of overpopulation, or vaguely alluding to environmental crisis, or a combination of these things with a look to the future, people seem convinced that ‘space will be the only way to go’ if humanity is to have a future.

I have to take deep breaths when I hear it!

When I meditate, what I recognise with a non-dual mind is that everythingness and I are indivisible. Indivisible from the trees, the grass, the stones, the birds, the cats, the worms.

Knowing this changes my behaviour towards everything ‘else’, because it is indivisible from ‘me’.

It is human centric to think that if there are not enough resources for our preferences (actually, our insatiability) on one planet – we must get off this rock (in whole or in part) to pull in more.

Imagine we did find other planets to seed and inhabit. Imagine we did successfully exploit more of known space. Would we be happier?

Couples retire and sometimes buy property in warmer climates. Where I live, that’s usually in Spain. A few years ago there were stories of angry retirees selling up in Spain because of heat waves, recession, and in some cases simply divorce.

Wherever we go, our karma follows us like our shadow. It never fully leaves us. All we can do is gradually lessen the extent to which it governs and dictates who we are. Through practice. Mindfulness. Paying attention. Going to the still point of inner peace, and taking decisions from that place.

Karma will follow us to our new life in a hot country. And it will follow us to our new life on planet Mars.

When I’m walking on the pavement, I sometimes keep my eyes down, making sure to tread on as few beings by accident as possible. Last Autumn, because of climate change and a wetter weather pattern, there were tremendous amounts of snails. I tried to make sure I didn’t stand on them when walking past.

The snail on the pavement has as much right to its life as I have to mine, and Oneness teaches me this.

Oneness also teaches me that I really don’t need 5 planets to live happily. It is more important to extinguish my passion of insatiability. When I do, there is incalculable wealth in poverty waiting for me.

We must wake up quickly, I think, and understand that being at the top of the food chain does not mean we will always be there, deserve to be there, or have a right to be there. If we do not love our bees, or tend our trees, we will make the future very hard for ourselves.

Every being is important, and meditation teaches me this. If I do not take it to heart, then, I have not learnt a thing!

Incoherency of Self, and the Amnesiacal Echoes of PTSD

The Buddhist notion of the Self is that it is not as coherent as we would like to think. We create a self image with a story, a drama, about itself. But we even forget this story and where we were taking it. It changes in such a way from day to day that a film director would sack his continuity error man if our lives were films in production. Our image of ourselves is not who we are. It doesn’t even get close.

There’s lots on the web about Buddhism and the Self. It’s quite a meaty subject, and I don’t want to go into it here.

I’ve recently been reflecting upon the way Buddha explains the Self, leading me out of attachment to my own whims and fancies of who I am. And whilst I’ve been doing that something else has been happening too. A sense of something going on mental health wise. On the surface this looked like a kind of amnesia – an echo of having had PTSD. But on closer examination I realised this feeling was a short-hand message from somewhere deep within for something coming from several sources. One was the amount of times I kept finding things that I did or wrote or documented whilst I DID have PTSD or was on anti-depressants, and noticing that I’d completely forgotten those things until seeing them again. And another was a sort of jumpiness which has come about from having, unfortunately, been surrounded by at least two people with anxiety issues of their own; this bringing back some PTSD-like behaviours for myself. In the jumping, there was no sense of time to dwell on specifics – and so some information (often unimportant) in the recent past would be lost.

So on the one hand I’ve been reflecting on letting go of self-made images and reflections of a self identity, and on another hand I’ve been troubled about incoherency from another angle.

This has not been a pleasant phase. But it has been useful and, in its own way, intriguing. Then, as if to bring closure to this moment, I read the following paragraphs in Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Icehenge’ novel:

“Memory is the weak link. This year I will be three hundred and ten years old, but most of my life is lost to me, buried in the years. I might as well be a creature of incarnations, moving from life to life, ignorant of my own past. Oh, I “know” that once I climbed Olympus Mons, that once I visited the Earth, and so on; I can check the record like anyone else; but to recall none of the detail, to feel nothing for this knowledge, is not to have done it.

It isn’t as simple as that, I admit. Certain events, moments scattered here and there in my life, exist in my memory like artifacts in the layers of an excatavion: fragments of meaning on the debris of time, left in a pattern of deposition that I fail to understand. On occasion I will stumble on one of these artifacts – a trolley bell in the sreet, and i see an Alexandrian’s smile – a whiff of ammonia, and suddenly I am reacquainted with my first daughter’s birth – but the process of deposition, the process of recovery, both are mysteries to me. And each little epiphany reminds me that there are things I have forgotten forever – things that might explain me to myself, which explanation I sorely need – and I clutch at the fragment knowing I might never stumble across it again.

So I have decided to collect these artifacts, with the idea that I had better try to understand them now, while they are still within my reach – working as the archaeologists of old did so often, against rising waters in haste, while the chance yet exists: hurrying to invent a new archaeology of the self.

What we feel most, we remember best.”

The point of life, is life

The point of life, is life. It is a gift. That is all. Make the most of it. Make as much or as little of it as you can, or want.

Running in circles between being in form, and knowing formlessness,
between attaching to frivolous things, and knowing that frivolous things (samsara) are momentary and therefore sources of pain and dissatisfaction, can lead to a sense of nihilism.

Why live? Why do anything? Does anything matter? Why work hard? Why work at all? Why try to do good? Why try to change things? Why care so much about climate change that it is wounding the soul?

Because life matters very much, and not at all.

Because climate change matters tremendously, and not at all.

Because everything matters, and nothing matters.

Because everything that exists is momentary, and this is just how it is right now. Tomorrow, in a thousand years, it will all change.

All of this has happened before. All of it will happen again.

So, here’s life. A cosmic joke: we exist, we are caught up in existence’s own projection of an idea of permanence where none exists. It’s a paradox. Existence is not permanent, therefore it does not exist. It is only ever a momentary dream.

And so with life.

You can bury yourself in that hole of nihilism.

Or you can see that ultimately what really matters does not matter at all.

Holding every care lightly, having sincerity but no care in the world. Jesus’ birds of the field.

The point of life is just life. Enjoy it, and enjoy the joke.