Every day we are confronted with myriad problems, and every conceivable source of opinion, including our own accumulated personal experience, sees fit to bombard us with stern or mild suggestions about how to solve personal, social, geopolitical and environmental problems or, at least, how to diminish the stress they produce. Humanity is now more at odds with itself and its natural environment than it has ever been before and yet, our endemic cultural fragmentation and psychological isolation predisposes us to respond to this dangerous global situation by denying its existence or by projecting blame outwardly while simultaneously hoping for a magical solution. A solution that does not undermine provincial worldviews or question socio-economic, religious, political, and scientistic belief and power structures by demanding the integration of the species by way of the reconnection of the alienated human psyche to its source in life. Despite the problems and the immense suffering it has generated throughout human history, the tribal and self-centered mind has remained fundamentally the same because truly relevant change would not just disturb the domineering self at its center, it would dissolve it.
A powerful sense of tribal distinction and separate and unique personal existence permeates every aspect of culture and therefore determines to a great extent, the range and quality of perception, thought, and behavior of the individual. A key example of this predetermination lies in the different languages we utilize to open certain aspects of life to our understanding. Whether verbally or nonverbally, languages fragment and codify being so that the resulting representational plurality may be stored in memory, where it remains available for the recognition and assessment of present experience and the projection of future experience, along with the intermediary steps necessary for its realization. We owe our survival and much of our well-being to the knowledge and understanding embodied in language. However, far too much of this representational content has become toxic by establishing a false sense of separate personal existence that is a bottomless source of relational problems between individual human organisms and the different cultural groups with which they identify. Pronouns are perhaps the most immediate and telling example of how this dysfunctional splintering of human existence is intrinsic to language and thought. The existential distance implicit in “you” and “I”, “he and she,” “us” and “them,” and “me” and “it” blocks perception of fundamental similarities and profound connections, and in doing so justifies and sustains rigid and often dangerous forms of association and dis-association (attraction and animosity) between individuals and groups.
The wholeness of life is not a popular topic in any of our many languages for the simple reason that it is an actuality that does not fit inside the realm of symbolic representation. It is not a thing among all the others that can be readily identified, understood, possessed, and instrumentalized by the categories of knowledge/thought. What is more, the cosmic stream of existence seems indifferent to the portentous presence of the thinker and is unrelated to the systems of secular and religious knowledge and thought that grant every thinker its distinct identity. Relatively early on in our evolutionary process and for reasons that are hard to determine, we started to trace our being, not to its actual source, sustaining force, and ultimate common destination, but to the cumulative and unfolding stories we like to weave about who we are and are most likely to become both culturally and personally. From that point on, we continued to evolve technologically and logistically, but while remaining stuck all along in a state of mental stagnation that has us still collectively disregarding our joint and seamless participation in the indivisible unfoldment of being. Paradoxically, we go on turning our collective back to our vital source, so that we may continue identifying with and defending whatever mental content makes up our separate psyches and fastens them to particular groups and tribes, thus endlessly feeding a dangerous propensity to conflict and violence. Our mental, social, and environmental problems stem, without exception, from the divisive thought and behavior of countless actors encapsulated in particular, rigid, and contradictory forms of knowledge and belief.
The uniquely human capacity to develop and apply specialized knowledge to solve a multitude of different practical problems that had been essential to our survival and first stages of development gradually became the source of self-identification and self-projection and, with it, the fuel for interminable division, conflict, and sorrow. Furthermore, the extension of the animal instinct of physical preservation to the protection of made-up mental entities made it extremely difficult to bridge cultural and psychological schisms and thus prevent further instances of disorder, hostility, and suffering.
Few people doubt that they are anything other than the particular body of knowledge each has gathered from specific cultural indoctrination and “personal” experience, and consequently do not much care that this mental accumulation dictates how they think and behave during what most everyone calls “my” life 一my personal past, present, and future: me. Every manifestation of cumulative and self- projecting separate identity encapsulates the mind making it hypersensitive to the self’s physical needs and, especially, to its acquired psychological demands and, consequently, rather insensitive to most everything else and, particularly, to the needs, desires, and fears of other similar organisms conditioned by different cultural traditions and their own private experience.
Humanity is unique among all other species in its capacity to perceive, learn, and think, however, our chronic cultural and psychological fragmentation has made us quite unwilling, if not outright incapable of using these faculties to serve the species as a whole. This sustained reluctance to see ourselves primarily as biological equals has, in turn, lead us to transgress fundamental aspects of the complex harmony of planetary life in ways that are becoming, in our day, an almost certain path to intolerable physical and social circumstances, if not outright extinction. Even as this threat becomes harder to ignore, we remain paradoxically loyal to our provincial and egocentric ways. The remedies proposed by different groups and individuals continue to be timid, partial, and gradual, and therefore largely ineffective. Uncertainty and the fear uncertainty elicits, trigger our primitive propensity to take care first of “me and mine” and this, of course only reinforces personal insensitivity and the mental distance and interpersonal and inter-group animosity that are the problem in the first place. Brute nationalism and religious dogmatism are on the rise all around the planet, and discrimination along occupational, racial, gender, ethnic, and economic lines continue to be common. The threat of war is constant, making the use of thermonuclear weapons ever more possible, and this threat, along with that posed by our ongoing disruption of the planet’s ecology put in jeopardy not just our species, but the entire biosphere.
The challenge posed by this global crisis is difficult, but not because we lack the economic means and the technological capacity necessary to deal with it, but because the ability to see it clearly and then respond accordingly, that is, sanely, involves a radical transgression of ideological norms and values and a net loss of personal identity. No one wants to suffer an identity crisis, but that is precisely what is involved in seeing correctly and coming to terms with the fact that our central problem is a species-wide alienation from the actuality of life. An ongoing collective mental rupture that manifests in almost eight billion different, contradictory, and highly defended representational interpretations of life that are equally prone to faulty perception and irrational thought and action. Everything depends then on how prompt, accurate, and complete is the awareness of being a willing participant in a general mindset that is turning more deadly with every day that passes.
Our collective alienation from life and its fragmenting social and psychological effect is one with the degradation of the natural perceptual capacity of the human organism by the particular ideologies and exclusive desires that grant the self its very sense of existence. Thus, when a person conditioned by tradition and experience becomes somehow able to see herself as the locus and agent of the general phenomenon of alienation, that very perception brushes aside the aberrant representational optics that have all along given her a sense of separate and distinct existence. In other words, in this context, proper seeing is, for the self encapsulated in and propelled by symbolic representation, tantamount to dying.
Humanity may well be able to overcome this existential crisis, but only if a critical number of individuals somehow become willing and able to shed the cultural and personal blinders that have all along made them a contributing part of the problem, and therefore blind to its solution. Intelligence is directly related to independence (freedom from mental and self-projective predetermination) and an intensely caring attitude, both of which are inimical to traditional ideologies and the organized groups and institutions that embody and carry them forward. Nations and all political, religious, economic, and cultural organizations (including groups of friends and, yes, the family as well) generally exist to protect and extend themselves in time, along with the mental hold they have on the individuals whose identities they help configure and buttress. Therefore no significant integrative change can be expected to come from cultural superstructures that are inherently divisive and therefore myopic, unintelligent, and uncaring.
It is only the particular human organism that can awaken to the fact that the cultural context in which it was born and raised has mercilessly conditioned the mind, and that this initial programming has only been superficially modified by subsequent experience in close and distant relationship with other individuals equally, or differently, programmed by recorded experience.
Like most human beings, “I” have spent a lifetime trying to improve myself and my circumstances, often desperately and at a high cost to myself and others. Finding myself insufficient on several psychological counts and social measures, I have spent much time and enormous energy trying to be and act more like others whom I have been led to admire for their talent, looks, virtue, or wealth. “I” have taken on the ideologies that sponsor my heroes and have tried very hard to follow their example or their overt methodological recommendations. However, in doing so, I have grown more and more conflicted with myself and with others. My level of stress has not diminished and, despite occasional pleasures and joys, I still suffer from resisting personal change as much as I want it. I continue to be at odds with others, either because they resent my having left behind what is familiar and dear to them, or because, while having adopted their manner of thinking and of doing things, I have failed to comply with their expectations. Happiness is elusive, and so I cannot stop striving to change my attitude and improve my thoughts and circumstances. I look around me, and I see that most people are caught in the same personal and relational strife. At the level of the psyche, this process is called development or becoming; at the level of groups, institutions, and entire societies, it is called progress. We have already had fifty thousand years of this strife, and judging by the present levels of mental suffering and the chaotic state of human affairs, much of the effort lent to personal and social advance has been, not just ineffective, but outright counterproductive. The permanent struggle to become is all we know and care about and so, regardless of the frustration, conflict, and heartbreak it entails, we go on and on mindlessly wishing and laboring to improve ourselves and our lot, while blocking others who are doing the same but in a different place or direction. We are, in fact, no different from the mental and social effort we make intending to assuage the distress and suffering we inflict on ourselves and others.
However darkly, we sense how socially and mentally disruptive it would be to abandon this separative mindset and leave the vicious cycle it enforces, and so we generally do not let ourselves to even conceive of the possibility. To stop being insane is not an option for the insane. We have turned the world into an immense mental asylum, where all we can think of doing is change the decoration of our private rooms, and very gradually and superficially alter the norms ruling the operation of the particular ideological wards in which we live and die. The most intrepid inmates among us, move from one secular or religious demarcation to another, but only to continue there with the same routine of attempting to become more and better, to own more, to love more and hate better.
What occurs when this general madness becomes shockingly evident? More to the point, what happens to the mind that realizes that there is no point in attempting to become something other than the sack of self-projective memories it already is? From this side of the fence of mental programming, it is impossible to know what would occur to a human organism that somehow frees itself from the preordained process of tribal and psychological becoming that has forever ruled the human mind and determined its cultural expression at every social level and at every point of time and space.
Despite the biting uncertainty, there have always been some individuals whose level of discontent has been high enough to break their cultural allegiance and by-pass the fear that the end of their psychological becoming may well be madness or death. This point of radical discontent comes with the realization that any “new” form of contentment that may beckon one from the inside or the outside comes from the same ancient ideological deposit and will, therefore, inevitably lead to further servings of the same frustration, disillusion, and sorrow we have always known. Given the present dire circumstances of the species, those whose discontent has stopped projecting further mind-made ideas of exclusive relief may well be far more numerous than they have ever been before.
The mind that is somehow able to independently and accurately realize the general and particular nature of its conditioning has no other recourse than to stop using up the present in the effort to attain pre-imagined idealizations of a better self enjoying greatly improved future circumstances (either worldly or otherworldly. At first sight, this terminal impotence may appear as no change at all given that it seems to leave all things intact, but the end of the process of psychological becoming has an extraordinary impact on the mind, one that is outside the realm of what is usually understood as change. The moment the mind conditioned by tradition and experience stops fighting itself and others to get what it thinks it must have, the enormous vital energy routinely wasted in the futile effort to change oneself and influence or utilize others, effortlessly and painlessly bursts the self-isolating time bubble of self-centered thought. All that is necessary and sufficient to deal with the problems of humanity is an ever unprecedented, and therefore impersonal act of attention that being free of the accumulated knowledge of the past, and consequently free of desire, is one with the indivisible actuality of life —the ever unknowable, the totality of what is.