The answer to this question isn’t self-evident. As contemporary physics says, you are not living in a material world; and you are not a material girl (or boy, as the case may be). I think I read somewhere that you not only exist in an infinite number of past and future lives, but you are also infinitely ramified in all the probable realities which branch off from this present lifetime. Not only that, but within the confines of a single probable reality of a single lifetime, which is all you normally pay attention to or consider to be ‘yourself’, you are still a multiple personality. That is to say, you are not the same person from moment to moment, but in fact shift from one to another subpersonalities, or thought forms, in response to this or that changing stimulus. You are a not solid, continuing, individual being, but rather are a flux of thought forms (images, opinions, beliefs, and expectations learned from your parents and society) being urged this way and that by spirit forces.
In other words, the illusion that you are a solid, self-existing, continuing being separated (standing apart) from the world around you and the things that happen to you, is just that: an illusion. Just as when you look at a color-blindness test up close it makes no sense – but when you step back (separate yourself) from it you can see a recognizable (familiar) order and pattern in it – so too with everyday life: the way an infant apprehends it is completely chaotic and ineffable, but with some distance (separatedness, which the infant has to learn) it gives the appearance of familiarity and making sense. It is the conditioning which infants receive at the hands of the adults around them which enables them to solidify their sense of being a discrete self separated from the world around it; and to be able to operate in the midst of complete chaos by making that chaos appear sensible (and defensible). This is the basic lie which makes human society possible. However (as the Buddhists point out), it is also the source of all your unhappiness because it is – after all – a lie. You are not separated from the world “outside” yourself; nor are things as “real” (self-existent) as you believe them to be.
What maintains the illusion of things being familiar and making sense is your internal dialogue – the constant thinking thinking thinking every minute you are awake all day long. This is what adults teach infants how to do: as long as moment-to-moment attention is held rigidly focused, then it appears as if there is some separated, self-existing being who is doing the focusing, and some “real” world out there on which attention is being focused. This process of rigid focusing of attention culminates at toilet training, as Freud pointed out – the moment-to-moment attention needed not to soil yourself (and thereby incur your mother’s wrath) becomes the basis for your incessant, compulsive moment-to-moment thinking in adulthood which keeps you “sane”.
The moment-to-moment attention is like a kaleidoscope or psychedelic light show of thoughts-sensations-feelings (sensory and conceptual thought forms) which saccade from object to object from instant to instant, blown hither and thither by the astrological winds of the time (this point is easiest to appreciate when you begin trying to control your moment-to-moment attention intentionally through some sort of mind-training technique such as Vipassana, which reveals the Herculean effort necessary to turn back that tide of incessant mental babble). It is the interplay of all these staccato impressions which produces the subjective sense of a separated self. As the attention flickers from thing to thing to thing, it creates a sense of a non-flickering, separated “ME” there which is paying attention. In fact, that sense of a separated, self-existent “ME” which is watching what’s happening, is death. When the stroboscopic flickering slows down (due to shock, or mind training, or psychedelic drugs) death moves to the forefront; and when the flickering stops, that’s all she wrote.
In other words, “you” have no more substance than a motion picture – a series of still images which give the impression of motion and life – except where a motion picture is pre-scripted and filmed, “you” are an ongoing piece of work, with the next scene more or less randomly dictated by whatever you consider to be familiar and sensible at that moment, unless death suddenly pops up in the midst of the show and says “Surprise!”
As Roshi Philip Kapleau put it (in Three Pillars of Zen): “All thoughts, whether ennobling or debasing, are mutable and impermanent; they have a beginning and an end even as they are fleetingly with us, and this is as true of the thought of an era [social conditioning] as of an individual. In Buddhism thought [the kaleidoscope] is referred to as ‘the stream of life-and-death.’ It is important in this connection to distinguish the role of transitory thoughts from that of fixed concepts. Random ideas [spontaneous impulses] are relatively innocuous, but ideologies, beliefs, opinions, and points of view social conditioning, not to mention the factual knowledge accumulated since birth (to which we attach ourselves) are the shadows which obscure the light of truth.”
Buddhists seek to still the inexorable tide of constant thinking which imprisons the attention by making a direct attack on it – deliberately intending it away by one form or another of concentration / mindfulness exercises. Magicians go about the task in a more indirect fashion: on the one hand they analyze the contents of the stream of thinking to detach themselves from it (instead of being wholly in thrall to it – taking it completely for granted); and on the other hand they “borrow” the calmness of nature spirits to dissolve it by calling upon the sun, trees, etc. for help in relaxing into the feeling of ineffability (instead of fortifying the sense of a solid, separated self which constant thinking creates). In other words, magical training reverses social conditioning by turning it upside down: magical practitioners separate themselves from their thinking by self-analysis (just as they separated themselves from the world around them when they learned to think); and they relax into not-focusing with the aid of nature spirits (just as they learned to become uptight in order to focus on constant thinking with the aid of the adults around them).
Different schools of magic advocate different techniques of self-analysis. For example, Franz Bardon (in Initiation into Hermetics, posted in the Magical Almanac Other Authors folder) uses the scheme of the four elements to classify and balance one’s psychic energies. The techniques given in my own books (which derive from Freud and Jung by way of Castaneda) advocate taking a hard look at all of the assumptions which you are taking for granted. This basically dismantles the social conditioning you have received from infancy by objectifying it – making it “not you” – instead of mindlessly clinging to it and defending it as being part and parcel of who “you” are.
The basic assumption or building block underlying your social conditioning is the supposition that you are “awake”; and that there is an external “reality” out there which everyone shares. This is the Big Lie; or as Carlos Castaneda put it (in The Power of Silence): “We share a metaphorical dagger: the concerns of our self-reflection. With this dagger, we cut ourselves and bleed; and the job of our chains of self-reflection is to give us the feeling that we are bleeding together, that we are sharing something wonderful: our humanity. But if we were to examine it, we would discover that we are bleeding alone; that we are not sharing anything; that all we are doing is toying with our manageable, unreal, man-made reflection.
“Sorcerers are no longer in the world of daily affairs," don Juan went on, "because they are no longer prey to their self-reflection."
It is your social conditioning – drummed into you from birth by the adults around you – which defines what is popularly considered “real” vs. “unreal”, “praiseworthy” vs. “improper”, “normalcy” vs. “insanity” – as this varies substantially from culture to culture and even from family to family.
Your social conditioning is not so much a matter of intellectualized beliefs as it is a sense of emotional allegiance and anchoring – the sum of your loyalties and what you stand for and cling to. This encompasses the ingroup / outgroup shibboleths of your culture and social class; and the particular professions, pastimes, proclivities, prejudices, proscriptions, psychoses, and patterns of dysfunction which “run in families” from generation to generation. For example, to understand the problems in a marriage it is necessary to examine not only how each person blames the other for their dashed hopes and dreams; and the past lives that the two people have had with one another; but also the marital patterns which obtained between the respective partners’ parents, their grandparents, and their great-grandparents, since these are the mold in which present patterns of dysfunction have been cast.
Social conditioning is not, ipso facto, evil; after all, infants may be pure of heart, but they’re not very capable of acting on their own. True social conditioning embraces the ideas and ideals which inspire and uplift people, which bring out the best in them; whereas false social conditioning is a matter of comparing yourself to other people – looking up to those you envy and down on those whose vulnerability you fear. It is people’s false social conditioning which is the basis of their attitudes of snobbishness and superiority to others – the petty back-biting and calumny; the fear of what the neighbors might think or say; the threat of ostracism or violence for deviant thought or behavior – which must be eradicated by seeing and releasing all concern about what anybody whatsoever thinks about you. And this starts by analyzing exactly what assumptions you are defending.
According to Carlos Castaneda (in A Separate Reality), men of knowledge have eradicated their false social conditioning: “A man of knowledge has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country, but only a life to be lived, and under these circumstances his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly. Thus a man of knowledge endeavors, and sweats, and puffs, and if one looks at him he is just like any ordinary man, except that the folly of has life is under control. Nothing being more important than anything else, a man of knowledge chooses any act, and acts it out as if it matters to him. His controlled folly makes him say that what he does matters and makes him act as if it did, and yet he knows that it doesn’t; so when he fulfills his acts he retreats in peace, and whether his acts were good or bad, or worked or didn't, is in no way part of his concern.”
The point is that whatever cultural traditions exist in a person’s society – the social conditioning of that society – circumscribe the range of choices available to everyday, quotidian consciousness – thus narrowing the focus of the stream of thinking. The basic function of social conditioning is to separate the thinkable from the unthinkable – to substitute some sort of lie for thinking for oneself. It’s only when you are able to make the ultimate sacrifice of “who” you are (as e.g. Edward Snowden recently did) that you can become a true hero and fulfill your destiny. Let them offer you vinegar instead of water. Who cares? If YOU care, then you are sadly mistaken. Because there is no “you” – there is just a never-ending cascade of thoughts.
Thanks to Bob Makransky for allowing the republiction of his wondeful work.
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