If one is aware of the general social, political, and environmental disorder in the world, and of one’s own life and consciousness as integral to this disorder, it is easy to feel alone and dejected. The realization that this mess is chronic and that the application of traditional means will never solve it is especially isolating and disconcerting, for it makes experience and knowledge useless, and in doing so leaves one without a future. We can not think or wish ourselves out of the interconnected web of problems thought itself has created, that much is evident.
Millennia of cumulative social “progress” and personal “development” have led us to the rapidly deteriorating situation in which we find ourselves today. It is, therefore, mad to continue trusting that the revolution in human affairs that is urgently necessary will come from the same exhausted tradition of isolated, partial, and gradual reform, both institutional and personal. Sanity begins, in fact, with the devastating realization that what keeps the species as a whole trapped in rigidly predetermined and utterly dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns is the intensity of individual identification with particular forms of self-projective cultural and biographic experience.
Our ideological and psychological encapsulation and unwavering commitment to the realization of worldly and otherworldly fantasies of exclusive fulfillment makes us generally incapable of even considering the state and fate of humanity as a whole. Cultural provincialism and personal bias reduce and distort perception and that, in turn, further undermines the correctness of thought. In other words, strict affiliation to tribe, clan, family, and self, determines what is and is not worthy of attention and action, and the narrow and conflictive definitions of reality that emerge from identification result invariably in more of the same rigid separation and destructive antagonism we have always known and suffered. Continued and strained effort along multiple and contradictory forms of cultural and personal being and becoming, keeps us perceptually insensitive and mentally dull and so incapable of the level of caring cooperation without which all that ails us, individually and collectively, will only continue to get worse.
Keen and complete awareness of the thought patterns and actions that protect and sustain the existential conceit and destructive interests of particular groups and individuals is an absolute prerequisite to finding a way out of our perilous mental/global circumstances. Therefore, our most immediate challenge is that there is no access to this awareness unless one breaks away from everything one has ever known and desired. We resist seeing the truth about ourselves —our psychological and cultural reality— for the simple reason that a full insight into the fact and consequences of mental isolation ends, in a particular brain/mind, the false claim to a separate and evolving personal existence.
Finding a proper solution to any problem demands an accurate and complete consideration of its nature. This axiom is especially true of the all-important issue of human existence; therefore it is imperative to overcome whatever may be preventing us from coming directly in contact with the unending division, conflict, and suffering of humanity and, especially, with our specific (personal) responsibility for its untrammeled continuity.
A broad enough angle of view and freedom from the aberrant optics of limited experience and self-serving desire make instantly evident the fracturing of the species along cultural and psychological lines, and the attendant fact that its constituent fragments are eternally at odds among themselves and almost universally alienated from their common source in life.
Exclusive identification with different ideas and desires grants groups and individuals their particular identity, but it also creates the distance and the conflict and sorrow that afflicts most of their relationships. No one chooses their gender, race, age, and general physical appearance, and although these characteristics do make us somewhat different from one another, it is only our ascription of negative or positive psychological meaning and social value that makes them divisive and, hence, an endless source of strife and grief. Furthermore, we have created over millennia a high number of strictly cultural and psychological characteristics, roles, and behavior to which we have assigned particular significance to distinguish some identities while, through contrast, demeaning and subjugating others. Every human being is a peculiar, idiosyncratic mixture of these characteristics of which some are functionally necessary for the proper functioning of any society, and therefore good, while others are divisive and outright toxic. For example, there is nothing wrong with the distinction of being an electrician, a nurse, or a teacher, but identification with exclusive secular and religious ideologies and institutions is a real problem that splinters and conflicts every community, thus also afflicting the species as a whole.
Every child is born to parents who are already thoroughly conditioned by the norms and values of their respective groups of reference. They (the parents) know who they are only by reference to the meaning and value attributed to their physical appearance (again, gender, race, age, and general appearance), and their relationship to other, more strictly cultural and psychological attributions. Namely: temperament, character, nationality, religion (or lack thereof), ethnic background, language, economic standing, educational level, profession/occupation, sexual preference, entertainment choice, and affiliation with social organizations of different types and at different levels, etc. Children have no choice in any of this, their brains/minds are quite ruthlessly shaped, first, by the knowledge/beliefs, fears, aversions and preferences of their parents, teachers, peers and, soon enough, also by social forces (commercial interests and ideological persuasions) intent on gaining new clients, members, or adscripts.
By the age of six, the child is already a rather distinct psychological entity, in part because of its natural mental development, which includes a significant degree of differentiation, but mostly from the particular set of cultural definitions, norms and values progressively shoehorned into her brain. The fact that identification is comparative determines, in turn, that the sense of separate existence claimed by every individual is always associative and dissociative. And this means that every "one" has sympathy and close alliances with those identified with similar cultural/psychological influences, and antipathy or outright enmity with those whose identities are shaped and sustained by substantially different and perhaps opposed ones.
Throughout the lifespan of every human organism, every instance of pain and pleasure experienced within the relational boundaries established by its particular psycho-cultural configuration, further conditions the mind. Memory progressively and selectively records experience, and it is this accumulation that conceives an idealized future, ardently desires its realization, and willfully labors to attain it. The programming of the mind by particular experience breaks humanity up, brutally diminishing what may otherwise be a limitless potential for intelligence, love, and freedom.
All in all, we are generally incapable of attributing our existence and place in the cosmos to anything other than what we (individually and incorporated in groups large and small) think/feel makes us distinct and, therefore different from and, most likely, better than others.
Our overbearing sense of cultural and personal distinction generates lives of relative isolation that are hounded by a nearly permanent sense of insecurity. And this insecurity must be, in turn, continuously and laboriously assuaged by particular forms of feeling and thinking and exclusive relationships, all of which intensifies, rather than reduce the stress of separation. Conformity to the rules and beliefs of particular groups of reference, corroborates our sense of separate being and particular social status, thus also granting a modicum of physical and psychological security. Emotional and intellectual dependence from cultural forms inevitably makes us indifferent to the presence and fate of most other human beings and harshly competitive with many others in ways that, all too often, devolve into exploitation and worse. The division, insensitivity, and outright hostility and aggression that stems from separate identity generates a permanent state of instability, uncertainty, and insecurity for the species as a whole.
Some feel they do very well in this global reality cruelly fragmented by different and conflicting forms of identification, but the truth is that most human beings do live lives of quiet or bellicose desperation.
As already suggested, instances of pleasure, comfort, and security recorded in memory tend to confirm pre-established identity and strengthen ongoing relationships, whereas the cumulative recording of the traces of anxiety and pain, often leads the individual to pursue modifications of its given identity that typically include the renovation or dissolution of its associations. The memory of suffering may also lead to the gradual or sudden adoption of entire new cultural traits, tendencies, relationships, and behaviors. In extreme cases, maladaptation and grief lead to criminality or mental illness which are then treated according to the diagnostic norms, moral values, and rehabilitation methodologies of the particular cultural environments in which they occur.
Different societies, groups, institutions, families, and individual psyches allow for varying degrees of psychological change, but modifications in particular manifestations of the general phenomenon of mental conditioning never amount to liberation from its most restrictive and harmful aspects. In a nutshell, psychological programming can change, but only within the constraints that determine, not just its character, but its very existence; self-eradication is not an option. Thus, no form of nationalism or religious sectarianism can ever lead anyone to freedom from restrictive perception and biased thinking.
After millennia of so-called civilization, the human organism has yet to find its way out of false or unreliable security schemes, and something more profound than the pleasures and sorrows that come from personal identification with exclusive and conflicting cultural forms and an outright false claim to separate existence.
The attempt to gain an unconditioned vision of oneself and the world implies a de facto transgression of the restrictions imposed by the programming of consciousness by cultural and biographical experience. And this transgression may elicit severe social and psychological consequences even though it is a real act of love, and therefore the farthest thing from criminality or insanity. We do not realize how tight our bond to culture and an additive, constructed sense of self is until the otherwise simple act of looking strays beyond its preordained and self-protective myopia.
Clear seeing and lucid pondering about how we came to be the way we are and why we continue living as irrationally and dangerously as we do, brings about, at least initially, intense feelings of abandonment, fear, and insecurity. Feelings that are in no small part related to the punitive response this initiative may provoke from relatives, friends, and coworkers who, still fully identified with a given social context, can hardly relate with someone who has opted to face human existence, and not as it ought to be, but as it actually is. If vitally interested in freedom from perceptual constraints (both cultural and self-imposed), it is immensely valuable to realize early on that what holds together particular social and psychological instances of an all-encompassing phenomenon of divisive mental conditioning, is precisely fear of the reproach and ostracism that is promptly doled out to anyone who dares stray beyond what is considered "normal". What is more, if we continue sleep-waking through life, it is in no small part because we fear --darkly but correctly-- that the shock of owning up to the illusion of separate being and exclusive becoming and the ugly reality of its consequences, will put an end to the thought process that is all there is to "me."
These fears stop being an obstacle, however, when the connection between the harrowing state of the world and a separate, pre-programmed and self-sustaining personal identity becomes entirely evident.
Are you ready to challenge, not just your cultural beliefs and social position, but the very facticity of your particular claim to a separate and unique existence? And, if you are willing to engage in such unusual query, are you aware of the trials and consequences of contravening social convention and the tidal momentum of your habits and proclivities?
Radical self-inquiry means nothing to people who are culturally well-adapted, content with themselves, happy with their social position, and mostly unconcerned with the state of the world except, perhaps when indications arise of potential challenges to their well-being. Therefore, if you have come this far in reading this text, it may be safe to assume that you are profoundly discontent in every way, and therefore no longer willing to keep your eyes, heart, and mind shut. There are no two ways about it, a serious investigation about the self as the world and the world as the self necessarily involves a break with conformity at every level, and this undoubtedly requires the integrity and ingenuity necessary to survive the social and psychic discomfort that may come with it.
You are fully aware of the unspeakable suffering of humanity throughout its history and prehistory and as astonished as I am that, on our day, this sorrow is still being actively projected onto the future by the same identity-based separation that has forever been the source of every conceivable form of banality, injustice, and violence. You have somehow come to the shocking realization that nothing anyone has done or is likely to do from a given psychological reduct and cultural sanctuary, has a final effect on the physical and, especially, on the mental suffering of individuals and entire societies. You know full well that division, conflict, and sorrow go on despite, and all too often because of significant scientific and technological advances, intense religious practices and pieties of every stripe, and endless social reforms, counter-reforms, and revolutions. Some of these things admittedly make life better for some people, and for some time, but not without excluding others and, often enough making life hell for them.
You must also be keenly aware of the suffering you endure, the grief that permanently ebbs from bad relationships and constant frustrations and fears in the urge to maintain continuity and achieve fulfillment. You are no stranger to the claustrophobic limitations of what you know, own, experience, strive for, and are likely to be, have, and experience in the future. There is, indeed, something profoundly wrong with the human mind and the insane global reality that has emerged from its stubborn and increasingly dangerous alienation from its source in life. What if not this feeling could lead anyone to question everything radically, and oneself in particular, and also grant the willingness and the ability to move away from everything that seems limited, false or illusory, and therefore perniciously divisive?
Your perception of things has most assuredly broadened and sharpened. Every step away from the false has also affirmed the possibility of truth —not as yet another made-up, representational version of a particular truth existing in opposition to others, but as the subtle intuition of a vital actuality. A reality that is not within the grasp of the ever-limited experience and desire codified in the many different and contradictory languages created and employed by self-centered thought. This intuition has, in turn, made evident that the "one" you once thought you were and were meant to achieve and become is just an irrelevant set of images and ideas at odds with themselves and in conflict with those propping up the same fantasy of separation in others.
Personal identity wanes, and moment to moment attention blooms, as the crude claims of unique distinction dissolve under the light of an overwhelming insight. All possible combinations of gender, religion, race, ethnic background, sexual preference, social and economic class, nationality, age, physical appearance, educational level, occupation, and preferred source of distraction, amount to the same. A single, all-encompassing phenomenon of mental conditioning expressed in slightly different id-entities, each brandishing its own set of neurotic claims and suffering the obligations, conflicts, frustrations, and disappointments these claims impose.
Free of a stale, record of the past evaluating and instrumentalizing the living present on behalf of an imagined and equally private future (the constraints of psychological time), life now manifests as an indivisible and, therefore, impersonal movement. An infinitely profound and complex reality that the intellect cannot ever reduce to the type of knowledge that buttresses a personal identity that sustains itself by depending on others or exerting power over them.
In this extraordinary undoing of the memory-based persona, there is still a place for knowledge and its movement through thought and will, but restricted to practical matters. These mental functions no longer provide the artificial existential foundation of a separate and necessarily insecure entity perennially attempting to procure its own worldly or otherworldly realization at whatever cost to mind, others, and life itself.
The source and ground of the human presence is the mystery of life, and not culture and the dysfunctional psychology that has thus far sprung from its multiple and contradictory manifestations. The full realization of this generally undetected but incontrovertible fact implies the emptying of self-centered tribalism from the mind. And only this veritable mutation of consciousness can stop the suicidal trajectory of an insanely divided species permanently at odds with itself and every other expression of life.
An anxious question may still be troubling the mind. If the disappearance of the conditioned and isolated self is contingent on a complete realization of the nature of the human condition, who then is the agent procuring this realization and what the method best suited for its attainment? The answer to both these questions may already be evident from what has already been said. The thought presuming that agency, either personal or external (institutional or divine) and a predetermined set of steps are necessary to see the falseness of separate existence is clear indication that the self-centered and tribal mental process that is responsible for the chronic disorder in human affairs is still very much in place. What is necessary is the dissolution of the record of the personal past, and the concomitant abandonment of the pre-established cultural authority, both secular and religious, both of which lend the self a false sense of separate and continuous existence. It is the height of irrationality to imagine that “one” can ever become enlightened because what keeps humanity in the dark is precisely the steady presence of the personalized psychic field endlessly generated by the record of particular experience and the allure of the fantasy of self-realization.
The very perception that the culture and biography-based self cannot transit to anything other than a slightly modified iteration of the same mental programming is the shock that in disabling the powerful desire for self-fulfillment, terminates the fantasy of a separate existence. It is in this termination that enlightenment lies. Beware of false impressions, however, because no word is that to which it refers. When utilized irresponsibly (and, for all you know, this may be the case with this text), or misunderstood, the "idea" of enlightenment turns into a goal demanding personal effort or the intervention of an external agent, either of which effectively blocks the unthinkable mode of being to which it merely refers.
You are left then with nothing, except a silent invitation to examine the value and consequences of the mental and behavioral parameters determined by your particular cultural groups of reference and your own experience, learning, and yearning. The essence of this matter lies in the fact that your specific sense of unique identity and separate existence cannot withstand full awareness that what sustains it is a mere caricature of life. The self is only a set of evolving images and ideas, and the small private experiences and dreams they can afford, and when this revelation comes, it does so to no one in particular, because its impact dissolves the fantasy of separation.