Awareness of the long-standing disorder in human affairs and its nefarious impact on the ecological equilibrium of the planet leads one to seek relationship 一that is, mature dialogue一 with others who are equally conscious of the fact that there is something very wrong with the human mind; that is, with all of us. Despite all the readily available evidence pointing to a whole set of deeply interconnected mental and social variables that threaten the wellbeing and very survival of our species, this holistic awareness remains quite rare. As does the type of mature relationship, its presence would inevitably spawn. The dire mental, social, political, and environmental circumstances we face are, precisely, the net outcome of a permanent personal and collective disregard of the cumulative effects of who we think we are and the irrational ways in which we relate to one another and the biosphere.
Why is this mental dullness so persistent? Why has this species of ours that is so energetic, intelligent, and efficient in certain aspects of life been so persistently unable to become fully conscious of, and conclusively deal with its most evident problems and the endless suffering that stems from them? Paradoxically, the answer to this question can arise only from a clear, complete, and independent perception of the nature of the general problem: We remain incapable of perceiving, feeling, and thinking as a species because of our profound alienation from our source in life. Humanity as a whole is practically invisible to individuals who are blindly compliant with the mores and values of their regional/cultural groups of reference, who think of themselves as separate and unique and are primarily concerned with the satisfaction of their particular needs and desires.
It is evident that the origin of civilization lies in the emergence of self-protective groups physically distant from one another and, consequently, developing culturally in relatively different ways. What is not clear at all, is why as these groups met one another as a natural result of the growth of their respective populations and areas of influence, they so persistently failed to recognize the commonality of their origin and fate. They were not intelligent enough to opt for integration and cooperation instead of the brutality of violent conquest and the subsequent exploitation of the vanquished. Our methods are far more subtle today, but the same lack of caring intelligence remains; were it not so, we would not be so close to the edge of the existential abyss, as we are.
We have developed an extraordinary amount of empirical and theoretical knowledge, but far too much of it has gone to conquering, shaping, and harnessing the human energy necessary to extract the material wealth, and the sense of psychological and cultural superiority demanded by dominant particular groups and individuals at every point in space and time. Not enough of this enormous pool of knowledge and labor has gone to serve the wellbeing and integration of the species, and in our day, the same obtuse pattern of fragmented natural and human exploitation remains. We are currently acting as if the most reasonable path forward involves finishing off what is left of the resources of the Earth as fast as we can, while simultaneously preparing to launch some elite groups to a presumably better life in as yet unspoiled new worlds. That those left behind would suffer an unspeakable fate does not seem to be a matter of concern, at least not yet.
Again, we are supremely adaptable beings, and so, regardless of where and how we live today, we are getting quite rapidly used to the damaging pressure exerted by a whole host of interrelated demographic, social, economic, political, health, military, and environmental variables. We created all of them, and yet we are still largely unwilling to fully see them and our shared responsibility for them and to do so, together. For a significant portion of humanity, life has never been better, but even the most extravagant privilege is never enough. Wealth, power, and pleasure tend to generate an insatiable demand for ever more of the same, which puts enormous pressure on the rest of an utterly fragmented and conflicted humanity.
It has always been the same. The only difference now is that the recklessness of our ambitions is creating unsustainable, and for many, unbearable circumstances. Our growing social and economic inequality, our “progress” in the development of thermonuclear weapons, and the damage we continue to inflict on the planetary web of life are threatening the very survival of humanity.
There is, indeed a good chance that the mental, social, and environmental effects of our present level of cultural and psychological separation represent the last stage of the human presence in the cosmos. Some of those who are aware of this seem to find some peculiar emotional advantage in cutting themselves off even further from the general situation. There is no sense, they say, in resisting a fast approaching and inevitable tragic end; it is better to enjoy what we have while we still have it. However, for anyone not yet ready to condemn future generations to insufferable conditions and be complicit in the eventual self-inflicted collapse of the species, a radical change in human consciousness emerges as an absolute necessity. Not yet another idiotic and barren theory, but an actual mutation in consciousness 一yours and mine. What else could end the chronic state of division, conflict, violence, and sorrow of the species? What, if not a radical break with the self-projecting past could open the possibility of the emergence of an integrated and intelligent, and therefore also caring, just, and peaceful human culture on our home planet, and perhaps others as well.
What does it mean to stop being oneself? For this is, indeed, what the necessity of breaking with the barren past, and its equally worthless projections implies. It means, first of all, an immediate end to the externalization of blame and the generation of idealistic fantasies and, with it, the resolute setting aside of all forms of external or internal authority, either secular or religious. The disastrous situation we are in is, clearly, the net outcome of fifty-thousand years of mental programming dictated by different and often opposed traditions, as well as the authority of the “personal” experience (that each of these cultural contexts allows and supports). What are we fundamentally (and, again, meaning by this not some abstract self but you and I) if not the mental record of trans-personal, tribal, and personal experience responding mechanically to what is happening, on behalf of a preconceived and exclusive vision of the future? This accumulation of memories and its self-enhancing and self-isolating extension in mental and chronological time is what every human being alive knows as “myself”; and it is also what is most fundamentally wrong with humanity as a whole.
What we generally take to be real (as opposed to the false or imaginary) is the outcome of our persistent personal identification with a particular group or set of groups, and the consequent limitation of most everyone’s perception, thought, and action by specific ideological and experiential boundaries. The atomization, dissension, and sorrow permanently exhibited by this reality, plus its abysmal distance from anything that may be collectively perceived as the truth beg, however, for its re-classification as a chronic mental illness. A peculiar disease that is highly resistant to cure for it takes slightly different social and psychological form in countless infected entities, all of which claim to exist independently from one another and to be in the process of improving themselves and their lot.
The individual who dares look at the state of the world and the state of the human mind (her own) as they are (and not as they want to become) is, sooner or later shocked by an enormous realization. The world is what we (and our relationships) are; each one of us is a full-time participant in, and contributor to this correspondence and, consequently, not the unique and permanently evolving individuals we like to think we are.
We are all, fundamentally, the same, given that the body (including the brain, of course) is essentially the same for everyone, and that there is no personal exception to the life cycle of the organism. Every brain/mind is deeply programmed by the more primitive experience of the species and, more specifically, by the traditions and norms of the groups supplying a considerable portion of each person’s peculiar sense of self, and by the relatively more privately acquired ideas, beliefs, preferences, and aversions granting the rest. These more superficial layers of consciousness (cultural and personal) make us who we merely imagine we are: unique individuals existing in significant separation from one another. At the level of practical function, diversity of experience and specialized formally acquired knowledge is, of course, necessary and generally quite useful. However, knowledge and belief at the service of egotistical self-protection and self-aggrandizement are an endless source of bitter division, insecurity, insensitivity, reckless ambition, and destructive violence.
Why is it that we are so reluctant, or outright unable to put a definitive end to our participation in this divisive and limiting regime of predetermination if it is the cause of such dangerous mental, social, and environmental circumstances? The answer to this question is disarmingly simple and, to those who care to find it, further illuminates the character of our fundamental problem. We do not question why we want to continue living in such a stressful and destructive state of psychological and cultural separation because to do so puts in jeopardy our very sense of existence. What is more, the cultural and personal distinction with which individual human organisms stakes a claim to a separate existence and psycho-social identity, operates in necessary alliance with some, and in contrast or outright conflict with others, those whose identities are informed by even slightly different traditions, memories, and projections. The psychological distance that stretches between individuals mentally conditioned by privately recorded experience is created by the same representational opaqueness that blinds us collectively to our common source in life. We persist in thinking of ourselves as separate and unique individuals even though this implies, for everyone, living in an almost permanent and highly reactive state of insecurity, tension, frustration, and conflict.
Civilization has developed on the (false) premise that the source of our existence lies not in the actual unfoldment of life, but the particular conceptual interpretations that countless different secular and cultural groups and institutions have made of it. Made-up stories and theories about the nature of existence and how to best experience it regularly shoehorned into the minds of children guarantee the perdurability of the splintered alienation of the species. In other words, the generational persistence of the collective phenomenon of conceptual identification with private sources of separate and evolving existence/identity sustains the wholesale fragmentation of the species and its built-in reluctance/incapacity to rid itself from the distrust, tension, and animosity that exists among its disparate cultural and psychological components. The encapsulation and representational predetermination of the mind is, in itself, the negation of what may deserve the word “truth” precisely because it lies beyond the measure of the conditioned and separate self.
Our history as a species is the record of the great strides taken in the diversification and growth of knowledge and the development of the collaborative means necessary for social development, but also of the competitive enmity inherent to these always unequal and often wildly contradictory advances. Millions of people have been routinely utilized to, in one way or another, serve the process of material and intellectual development, and unjustly denied access to its benefits. Picture here all the innumerable historical instances of military and economic conquest, colonization, slavery, and all the current, subtle, and not-so-subtle forms and methods of mental manipulation and financial exploitation. All in all, despite evident progress in certain aspects of life benefiting some far more than others, humanity remains essentially primitive, permanently caught in a state of division, inequality, injustice, and conflict that is one with the insensitivity, distrust, animosity, fear, and violence characteristic of the conditioned and self-centered human mind.
While still young we may rebel against overly strict social parameters and the oppressive influence of secular or religious authorities, but we do so generally motivated by the desire to gain security and status through conformity to a new set of prescriptive norms and values dictated by, perhaps, very different but always limited and authoritarian sources of power. Those seeking to revamp their sense of themselves and to gain greater freedom, pleasure, and power are particularly vulnerable to the seduction of secular and religious ideologies working to harness naive, discontented minds to their yoke. Nations, institutions, cultural groups, and the billions of individuals who flesh them out exist in a constant state of improvement, but “new” reforms (and revolutions) always turn out to be as separative, partial, and contradictory as the ones that preceded and precipitated them. They never question, let alone do away with the false notion of existential separation that is ruthlessly imposed on everyone, albeit in so many different and hermetic forms and ways that it remains practically undetectable and, therefore, intact.
Nobody wants to be a simple, standard-issue, ephemeral, and anonymous manifestation of life, which is what, in truth, we are. We all want to be “somebody” in the process of becoming better or someone else altogether. A vast majority of human beings do not even accept that both body and mind come to a definitive end with death. Our insane collective desire for uninterrupted personal and tribal aggrandizement continues to feed on the fantasy of continuity in an afterlife procured through reincarnation, resurrection, or the indelible mark left in the memory of future generations by singular instances of worldly wealth, power, and fame. Fantasy, like all other forms of falsehood, are the enemies of what is sensitive and kind, and therefore intelligent.
There comes a time in which a very high level of discontent with the chaotic state of the world (and the mental conditioning that is at its source) rules out further chasing after the forms of security and self-fulfillment offered by old, refurbished, and new ideologies. In other words, a mind that is so fully aware of the futility of adding anything else to the rigid imprint already left on it by tradition, previous experience, and predetermined desire is no longer engaged in the traditional routines of psychologically becoming and social climbing. Now, is this state one of stagnant and morbose isolation? Or is it something else altogether; something that thought, being the mechanically reactive trace of previous experience that it is, cannot ever make out?
It is, indeed, useless to speculate about something that is not within the realm of experience, thought, and desire, and when this is absolutely clear, the ever limited, memory-based self is right back to the question of “what am “I” to do?”
Well, to begin with, since none of the secular and religious groups into which humanity has divided itself will ever be able to impose its ideology and methods over all others and thus bring about the integration of the species, why should one continue to identify with any nationality, any religion, or any other similarly divisive psycho-cultural enclave? As already suggested, it is necessary for most everyone to acquire and employ some specialized skills and do something particular to satisfy basic needs while contributing to society, but why should anyone’s profession or occupation, whatever it may be, feed any sense of superior (or inferior) personal significance/existence or be the means to procure the extravagant goods and the elevated social status that signal to others exclusive success and self-realization? It is definitely good and necessary to assume complete intellectual and emotional independence (not on technical matters, of course, if one needs a doctor, or a good plumber one should avail oneself of their services) so that the mind’s observation of itself and the world may be free of dependence on authority and bias, and therefore as comprehensive, accurate, and complete as possible. There are several reasons why it is far from easy for any mind to attain and then act with this level of independence, not the least of which is the resistance posed by the reformist rigidity of self-centered thought and the social reproach, if not outright retribution, it tends to set off.
We are extraordinarily resistant to come directly in touch with the limitations of personal experience and formally acquired knowledge of any kind, realizing, however darkly, that such contact uncovers the necessity to go beyond the self’s pleasurable familiarity, its arrogance and its imperative dreams of realization. Even a mild interest in casting a passive and unbiased look at the cumulative mind can trigger tremendous anxiety as the force of habit rises to defend the all-too-well-known conceptual and behavioral edifice of the self. Strong feelings of guilt and shame may also flood the mind embodied in thoughts like: “Who will “I” be if no longer able to think and behave like my friends, my family, and my co-workers do? And, worse yet, “If I were to cease being myself, will I not go mad and perhaps die?” “Who will care for me if “I” stop caring for who I have been in the past, who I presently am and may still be planning to become in the future?
However unpleasant these thoughts and feelings may be if passively and closely observed they further illuminate the false dichotomy between the “me” entity that poses the challenge of self-awareness and that presumably other entity 一” my” self一 that reacts defensively with these strong inhibitions and reservations. The ever dominant, chatty “me” is not at all separate and different from the aggregate contents of consciousness and their at times anxious and at times eager projection onto an imaginary future. The full-court defense that plays out whenever memories and desires are questioned or attacked (from outside or inside) is part of the same mental programming that begets all iterations of “me.” The notion that there are two of “me” 一the one who thinks and the one who is thought about; the one who acts and the one who resists being acted upon一 is false. However, that does not become apparent until the mind identified and conditioned by recorded experience is accurately, holistically, and impersonally (non-reactively) perceived. All there ever is a divisive stream of memory-based thought and desire permanently flowing through the mind of humanity, that is, “your” mind, “mine,” and everyone else’s.
The presence, collective nature, and negative consequences of this mental stream are obscured by the highly defended presence of the separate self and its many tribes; conversely, they are made instantly apparent by its absence. Unlike thought, perception is not conditioned by and does not occur in mental time. It is an actual, discontinuous (moment by moment) phenomenon that does not remember, record, want, or project anything. Thought, especially when self-centered (non-functional) is always the reaction, positive or negative, (and perpetually on behalf of a presumably better future state of being or circumstances) of some “thing” previously recorded to whatever may be actually occurring intra or extra psychically. Perception, on the other hand, is nothing in itself. It is unrelated to any representation of a particular past, present, and future and, therefore, knows nothing and wants nothing; it is always new. We could tentatively refer to it as the impersonal non-reactive screen in which thoughts (rational and irrational), feelings, emotions, and every “thing” else appear, play-out, and disappear. The highly perceptive mind can utilize thought when this mental function is appropriate and necessary, but not when dominated by a tribal and egotistic self, obsessed with itself, its relative social standing, and the future gain or ruin it respectively, and contradictorily, covets and fears.
The ability to perceive, to pay attention, the most basic faculty of the mind has, for millennia already been narrowed and dimmed down by the memories, evaluations, and projections of thought which, as we have seen, are for the most part related to the self
Herd mentality and self-absorption generate inattention in the individual that, multiplied by billions, is the source of all the disorder and cruelty of humanity. This, irrespective of individual cleverness and creativity and countless forms of charm and generally quite exclusive love. It is a pervasive vicious cycle: we do not care to look independently, deeply, and extensively at anything that matters because it would (we feel/think) detract from the effort we make to be ourselves and realize our private dreams and, burdened by this lack of vision, in the mad competitive race to get what each one of us craves for, we end up trampling one another, injuring the wellbeing of entire nations and, now, putting in jeopardy the very survival of our species. We got into this mess, by being provincial and insensitive, and unless a critical number of individuals overcome this chronic condition, human affairs and our relationship with the rest of the biosphere will inevitably continue to deteriorate until we reach a point of no return.
The question is, how does one go from being a brain-washed and self-centered tribal entity unable to see, feel, and think holistically, to being one in whom the record of past, private experience and the pressure of future and just as exclusive expectations are no longer marring perception, biasing thought, and therefore producing further divisive and destructive behavior?
Although seemingly reasonable, this question, as posed, can be quite misleading. First, because it presumes the continuity of the entity that would transit from one form of being to a presumably better one; and, second, because the “how” part of the question is the request for a method 一and an authority that can vouch for the appropriateness of this method一 that will take one from the conditioned mental stage to a far more desirable free, impersonal awareness. Method 一the orderly series of steps that if faithfully observed lead to the realization of a given goal一 is undoubtedly necessary for practical matters, but it is a dead-end when what is needed is mental freedom from the conditioning of experience and the “I” entity that is one with memory and thought and yet convinced to be separate from and in control of both. The time-bound accumulation of experience and the gradual, methodological extension of this accumulation onto the future is what damages the natural sensitivity of the mind, thus making it self-centered and hugely dependent on specific forms of authority, tradition, and ideology. Put differently, we are and generally remain reduced to who we were told we were and presently still think we are, because of our identification with stale experience, unreasonable and contradictory idealizations of our future selves, and the particular ideas and methods that fuel our laborious attempts to fulfill ourselves. Therefore, the implementation of any progressive plan invented or adopted to dethrone the conditioned self and substitute it with something better is only a further reinforcement and projection of the conditioned and self-centered process of thought that is the problem in the first place. We systematically refuse to see that, no matter how much time and effort we may invest in improving any given instance of conditioned self-centeredness and cultural chauvinism, they will continue to generate slightly modified forms of the same mental and social disorder that we have suffered forever.
Now, if the terminal impotence of the separate and conditioned mind is suddenly and fully realized --and not just as an idea, but as an insurmountable fact-- the process of self-centered thought and desire comes naturally to an end. When no longer straining to defend or achieve anything socially or psychologically the mind empties and quiets down, which makes it highly and extensively attentive, and therefore able to think and act reasonably, that is, based solely on the fundamental facts of human existence, and not mere ideas, wishes, and fears.
Humanity may yet recover from the collective and personal insanity of the last fifty thousand years, but only through a direct and complete non-representational insight that dissolves what “one” thinks about and desires by revealing the unfathomable movement of life and human beings as plain, standard-issue, ephemeral, and equally anonymous and glorious manifestations of it. We can only properly see and love one another as such and, at this point, the very survival of the species hinges on this impersonal, boundless attention.