The Pseudoself


When we struggle to protect who we think we are in the game then what this means is that we’re struggling to protect the game. We’re struggling to protect who the game says we are and so it’s not for our benefit that we struggling – it’s for the benefit of the game…


This might sound like an obscure enough point but it isn’t. Struggling to protect who the same says we are is what we do all the time – day in day out, often enough without a moment’s respite. If only we could see that what we are propping up the whole time is the game rather than ourselves, then we would save ourselves an awful lot of unnecessary suffering! When we struggle to protect who we think we are in the game we don’t know that it’s only ‘who we think we are in the game’ that we’re protecting and because of this lack of awareness the struggle gets to be very serious indeed. It couldn’t be more serious, in fact. Nothing gets more serious than this, nothing gets more grimly serious than protecting the idea of who we think we are when we don’t know that it’s only ‘the idea of who we are’…


If we could see that we are really only fighting on behalf of the idea of ourselves (which is to say, ‘who the game says we are’) then we would be able to see that we are actually fighting on behalf of the game, and what ‘fighting on behalf of the game’ actually comes down to is fighting to say that the game is not a game. This isn’t to say that there’s something wrong with fighting on behalf of the game, fighting to say that the game isn’t a game. This is after all how game work – by us saying that it isn’t a game, but that it’s real. We’re free to play the game, but at the same time – and this is what we don’t see – we’re also free not to play it! This is after all the whole point about a game – that we can ‘play it or not play it’. The whole thing about ‘being playful’ is that we’re doing what we’re doing out of freedom rather than grim necessity. It’s play! If we are ‘being playful’ then this means that we have a sense of humour about what we’re doing. We are aware of the ironic nature of our activities. In reality, everything is playful, everything is ‘ironic’. There are no ‘non-ironic’ truths. Even the statement that there are no non-ironic truths is ironic! All statements are ironic…When I do get caught up in protecting the game then this too is ultimately ironic – I can choose to protect the integrity of the game if I want but if I do so choose then this choice is in itself an ironic act. There is no necessity. My free choice to protect the integrity of a game is the same thing as ‘playing that game’ – as we have said, that’s what ‘a game’ is. Playing a game means protecting the idea that the game is not a game and this struggle can get extremely intense, extremely fraught, even if what we’re protecting isn’t real.


If we could understand this – if we could understand that no matter how grimly serious our struggle to protect who we think we are might get it is only ‘seriousness within a game’ – then we would save ourselves a tremendous amount of unnecessary suffering. We would save ourselves being subjected to an unending amount of unnecessary suffering. It is the fact that we manifestly don’t understand this that puts us in the position we find ourselves in, which is the thoroughly thankless position of having to defend an illusion on a full-time basis! Clearly, there are no advantages to be had from defending an illusion – if we seem to be doing well in the struggle then we feel pleased and if we seem not to be doing so well then we feel aggrieved. It’s either one way or another – either we feel stupidly and ridiculously pleased and gratified because we seem to be successfully defending an illusion that we don’t understand to be an illusion, or we feel stupidly and ridiculously aggrieved because we seem to be failing to defend an illusion that we don’t understand to be an illusion. Either way, we’re only getting deeper and deeper into the nonsense of it. Either way, we’re only delaying the moment of seeing the truth, which is that ‘illusions are only ever illusions’… As Meher Baba says,

Whether it manifests as Creation or disappears into the Oneness of reality, whether it is experienced as existing and real, or is perceived to be false or non-existent, illusion throughout is illusion. There is no end to it, just as there is no end to imagination.


Ram Dass talks about the way in which in which we have to dedicate energy to the ongoing job of ‘protecting the illusory self’. What we are essentially doing is guarding a non-existent ‘I’ – energy is tied up in this task, so that it now has the job of protecting mind-created self and nothing else. It isn’t that we are consciously allocating a portion of our energy or attention to protecting the nominated I-concept but rather that it has been ‘split-off’ in some way so that it carries on operating independently of our conscious intentions. It is even as if we had created some kind of autonomous life, some kind of independent self-hood, only we haven’t really because what we are protecting (what the split-off energy is protecting) isn’t anything real. There is no heart to it. What we’re talking about here isn’t ‘life’ therefore – it’s a type of split-off ‘half-life’, or ‘pseudo-life’. It can’t really be life because there’s nothing behind it; it is – we might say – a stagnant barrel of water as opposed to a running stream. The energy which we have dedicated to the job can’t give up its job, but what it can do is get very bitter about it, very narky, very toxic about it!


The difference between being ‘genuinely alive’ and being ‘pseudo-alive’ is (as we might imagine) of crucial importance. We dedicate an awful lot of energy towards nurturing, protecting and promoting the pseudo-self, but all of this energy is energy misplaced, energy misdirected, energy wasted. Even saying this isn’t putting it strongly enough. What we ought to be saying is this:

Energy that is dedicated towards nurturing, protecting and promoting the pseudo-self is energy that has been turned ‘against us’, energy that has become our enemy, energy that has somehow been conscripted over to ‘the dark side’.


This energy unfailingly acts to our detriment, not for our good. We are feeding ‘that which oppresses us’; we are nurturing the very thing that is shutting us down the whole time. We are supporting the very mechanism that is denying and imprisoning us, in other words…


How can we not be imprisoning ourselves when we are protecting an illusory idea of ourselves at the expense of who we really are? What else are we doing other than denying and imprisoning ourselves? We all know this very well, of course, on some level or other. We just mightn’t know that we know it. Anger for example is one very familiar way in which we get involved in ‘nurturing an illusory self’ – every time we get angry we are putting energy into a false version of ourselves! We don’t as a rule tend to notice this at the time because  we’re far too busy putting energy into it, far too busy standing up for the rights of this ‘made-up’ (or assumed) position but we can very easily see in others when it happens. It is very much as if the person we are observing has become possessed by some foreign agent or entity, some entity with a cruder, harsher, much less forgiving take on life than the original non-angry person. The ‘self-of-anger’ has taken over and the self of anger is a crude mechanical affair, a crass caricature of the real person. It is not sensitive or interactive or empathetic – on the contrary, it’s a ‘one-way street’, it’s simply aggression; what has taken over is merely ‘a mechanical reflex disguised as a human being’…


The ‘self-of-anger’ runs automatically just as an old-fashioned wind-up watch runs automatically, just as a computer programme runs automatically. It has no possibility of self-reflection, no possibility of ever seeing itself. It has no interest in seeing itself – it takes itself for granted. This, we might say, is its divine privilege – to take itself totally for granted! The reflex self is not therefore actually aware even though it gives the superficial appearance of being so – it can’t be aware because it isn’t taking in any new information! It’s running on ‘old information’; it’s running off a script, a programme, a fixed picture or definition of reality – it’s ‘reacting not acting’.  It just goes through its moves, its routine. We could therefore say that the reflex or conditioned self is frozen in time. It can’t ever change; it can’t ever grow or develop because it’s never receiving any new information. It’s closed not open…


This gives us another way of understanding the ‘pseudo-self’ – we said to start off with that when we identify with the pseudo-self we are involved in the perverse act of imprisoning ourselves and we can add to this by saying that the way we are doing this is by constructing ourselves in terms of the ‘RIGHT /WRONG, YES/NO, BLACK/WHITE’ framework of the static picture, which is the programme we’re running off. We are only ever feeding the self that is validated by the framework, authorized by the framework, approved by the framework. Feeding only the self that is approved by the FW is however the very same thing as ‘feeding the FW’. We are protecting the framework, nurturing the framework, promoting and glorifying the framework with everything we (purposefully) do. And yet this framework (which is ‘the game’) is the very thing that is imprisoning us, oppressing us, denying us…


The crucial thing to understand about the framework (or the fixed picture, or the script, or the programme, or whatever else we might want to call it) is – as we have been saying – that it is frozen in time.  It’s a static fixture, it doesn’t grow or develop or change in any meaningful way. It can (and generally does) develop itself in terms of ‘optimizing its performance’ but all that this means is that it’s getting better and better at protecting itself, better and better at promoting itself. It’s entrenching itself. ‘Optimization’ means in other words that we are getting better and better at not changing – it is ‘the appearance of change that masks the actual antithesis of change’. What we’re talking about here is the resistance to change, the ongoing war against change. But the very curious thing about this war is that what we are fighting against so resolutely (when we’re identified with the FW) isn’t just ‘change’, it is reality itself!


The present moment – we might fairly uncontroversially say – is always new. It is process in Alfred North Whitehead’s terms or becoming in Henri Bergson’s. It is an unfolding (out of nowhere) of the radically new, the radically unpredictable. The present moment is not therefore ‘a copy of something that has come before’ but a fully-fledged original in its own right. It is not a dry exercise in seriality or hyperreality – the indefinite extension of the rule, of the continuum, of the formal system – but rather it is a radical break from the rule, from the continuum, from the formal system. Breaks don’t come any more radical than this! The present moment is a discontinuity; reality is a discontinuity. What is continuous is unreal! What is predictable is unreal. This goes totally against what we imagine to be the case because we imagine that what we can know is real and that what we can’t know is unreal but because we can only know the generic and the serialized what we think we ‘know’ isn’t actually anything at all. The way that we have of making something knowable is simultaneously the way in which we make it unreal…


Reality – we may say – is newness, uniqueness. It is ‘the unprecedented occurrence’, so to speak. What after all could set the precedent for reality? Are we to expect or predict that there should be a reality, if we somehow did not already know that there was? Did there ever HAVE to be anything? Clearly, reality has to be a singularity rather than a regularity, a startlingly unexpected ‘one-off’ rather than the rule-based development of the established set-up. Reality is acausal – it is not something that is caused, it’s not just one more point on the linear time-line of cause and effect. Reality is not ‘logical’ it has no place within the framework of logic; it can’t in any way be acknowledged by the framework of logic. Rather than being some kind of ‘prescribed movement within the terms of a static framework’, it is as David Bohm says ‘one unitary undivided movement’ (or holomovement) – a movement no one can chart since no one can ever wangle things so that they are ‘not part of this movement’.


Having talked about reality in this way, the gist of what we have been saying about the ‘identified self ‘becomes clearer. When we say that the ‘pseudo-self’(or the ‘identified self’ or the ‘mechanical self’ or the ‘reflex self’ or whatever else we might want to call it) is ‘frozen in time’ this is actually just another way of saying that it is unreal, that it doesn’t exist. So when we struggle to protect who we think we are in the game we are indeed protecting the game but it is perhaps more to the point to say that we are protecting an illusion. When we successfully protect (or promote) who we think we are in the game then we feel good and when we fail to protect/promote who we think we are in the game (when we lose ground instead of gaining it) then we feel terrible. These are the two poles of what can happen in the game – we can do well or we can do badly, we can succeed or we can fail, we can gain ground or we can lose ground. What else could possibly happen in a game? What else would have any meaning in a game other than doing well or doing badly, succeeding or failing, gaining ground or losing it? And yet the point we are making here is that there never was any ground in the first place! There was never anything there to gain any more than there was anything there to lose – the game is completely and utterly sterile, in other words!


The pseudoself doesn’t exist. It doesn’t have any reality. It gives rise to all sorts of fuss, all sorts of turmoil, all sorts of strive and confusion, and yet it’s all in vain. Everything is being done for the sake of a self that doesn’t exist! It is – as William Shakespeare says in Macbeth– ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. We’re looking out at the world from the point of view of unreality, from the point of view of the unreal self, and everything we want is ultimately for the sake of somehow validating this unreality, compensating for it, making it somehow right. This is what we are absurdly tasked with when we are playing the game.


When we struggle to protect who we think we are in the game we are struggling to protect ourselves against reality. We are fighting against reality, defending ourselves against reality. Reality is the enemy we are constantly trying to overcome, although we are flatly incapable of seeing that this is the case. All we know is to keep on fighting, keep on struggling, as if sheer stubbornness, sheer obstinacy could somehow be enough for us to win through, to ultimately prevail. Can infinite stubbornness and nothing else suffice to ensure that unreality triumphs over reality? Will absolute obstinacy be enough to enable a handful of desperate lies to prevail over the truth? Clearly not, but one thing that we can say is this type of stubborn motivation (which is the motivation of denial) will suffice very well indeed to both create and perpetuate ad infinitum the inexhaustible empty dramas of the eternally-unsatisfied unreal pseudo-self…


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