Solving Newness

When we have a problem with newness (which we’re using here as a code-word for reality) that we cannot solve, then this ‘problem’ is generally known as psychosis. This is not a problem most of us have – most of us have already solved the problem of newness, the problem of reality. We have solved newness by representing it to ourselves in a standardized format that is already familiar to us, or can be made familiar. Reality has been tamed and ‘put into the appropriate box’, therefore and for this reason it doesn’t give us any trouble. It’s only when reality escapes its box, escapes its fetters, that there is trouble…

We might wish to ask why exactly it is that we have a big problem with newness. What’s the issue with it? The short answer is that we have a problem with newness because we’re not in it. The newness isn’t us, in other words – it’s not us and – furthermore – it has nothing whatsoever to do with us. Newness is the ‘radical other’. We don’t really need to say any more on the subject than this: newness is a big problem to us [1] Because we’re not in it and [2] Because newness is all there is.

In practice however, it does help to say a little bit more than just this because the above formulation will probably prove too succinct for us to make any use of it. We need to tease things out a bit more and we can do this very effectively by looking at what our basic assumptions in life are and questioning their actual validity – which is actually not a difficult thing to do! Our basic assumption in life is that we are this person or entity which is continuously moving forward in time, like a car driving down a long straight motorway, heading towards some future that is either glorious or terrible, and encountering various circumstances along the way that are either advantageous to us or disadvantageous. Our true situation however is there is no person or entity moving forward through time – that’s just a convention, that’s just our peculiarly biased way of looking at things. That’s just an odd kind of ‘clunky illusion’ that we happen to be afflicted with, much like the illusion of a wave travelling on an ocean where something seems to be moving forward whilst actually nothing is.

Nothing moves forwards in time – there is only the constant unfolding of newness. Newness is all there is, all there ever could be, and we could see this very clearly indeed if only we were to ‘open our eyes’ to what is going on right at this very moment. If we were to really pay attention to what is going on we would see that nothing ever stays the same, just as Heraclitus said; it’s just our thinking process – with its fixed categories – that makes things seem other word. We’re imposing a stasis where in reality there is none. The present moment is – we might say – nothing more than ‘pure newness’ – what else could it be? Do we really imagine that the old persists and is imported into the present?  Do we imagine that there really is such a thing as ‘the old’?

Actually – of course – we do imagine this. We imagine it on a full-time basis! Our fundamental way of perceiving things is view the viewpoint of this assumed self, this imagined person that is moving forward in a continuous fashion on a linear time-line. This is our most basic assumption – the assumption of a fixed point of reference that stays the same whilst everything else changes. This ‘fixed point of reference’ (which exists somehow, in some bizarre but totally unquestioned way, ‘external to everything else’) is the ‘self’ or ‘ego’. The bizarre illusion of the ‘fixed external point of reference’ is in other words who I think I am!

So – we might ask – what would life look like if we didn’t base our perceptions of things on this basic false assumption of the ‘unchanging external reference point’? Suppose we got rid of this artificial way of looking at everything, this thought-moderated mode of perception in which we conveniently ‘abstract ourselves from the totality of what is going on’? Clearly, our perception of things would be very different indeed if we could do this – we would lose the perception that we have of being a ‘clinically-removed onlooker’ to life and instead we’d be right in the thick of it, unable in the most fundamental way to separate ourselves from what is going on around us. There couldn’t be a bigger shift of viewpoint than this, therefore – there is nothing in our current thought-moderated experience of ‘what it means to be a person in the world’ that would in any way prepare us for this!

We normally operate by comparing everything to the fixed POR (or ‘framework) and this inverts our view of reality because when we convert the world to a fixed POR this necessarily causes it to be fixed too and it isn’t! We’re making reality be something that it totally isn’t, in other words. Anything that is seen from the viewpoint of a fixed POR is that POR; anything that is understood in terms of a static FW is that static FW. How can anyone argue with that? If our only way of understanding the world is in terms the framework we are imposing upon it then any aspects of that world that do not correspond to the FW will simply not register for us – they can’t register because we have nothing to ‘register’ them with! When we look at the world via the framework of thought we’re not actually seeing anything therefore. We imagine that we’re seeing and interacting with the real world but the truth is that we’re only seeing and interacting with our own projections – the world as it is in itself has nothing to do with our fixed POR, nothing to do with the static framework of the thinking mind…

So if we come back to our question as to what life looks like when we’re not referencing everything to the static framework we can only say that it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It bears no relationship whatsoever to our familiar picture of things and a nice simple way of putting this is to say that what we see – when we stop filtering everything through the reducing valve of the thinking mind – is pure undiluted newness. What’s ‘missing’ in newness is any form or possibility of ‘relating the new to the old’ – that’s the one operation we simply cannot perform. In one way, we can say that this is a terrible thing because this leaves us with absolutely no way of orientating ourselves and this makes every very disorientating, very confusing, to say the least! How terribly, terribly disorientating it must be (we might say) to have no way of understanding who we are, or what the world is, and what the difference between the two might be!

In another way however, we could (if we took the trouble to look into matters a little more closely) say that the situation of ‘not being able to relate the new to the old’ is not inherently a terrible thing at all since the new has no business being related to the old in the first place – that’s hardly its brief! The new is supposed to be new – it’s not supposed to be something that can be readily slotted into the existing framework. If we looked into things a bit more carefully we would see that our all-important ‘fixed point of reference’ never existed in the first place, and so any sense that we had of ‘being orientated’ wasn’t real anywhere. We would also see that the one who seeks to be orientated is not and never was real either, any more than the fixed FOR was. Furthermore (just to get things really straight) we would see the FPOR and ‘the one who seeks to be orientated’ are actually one and the same thing, so where would this leave us? What conclusions can we draw from these insights?

What we’re looking at here is an illusory problem, therefore. The problem is real to the one who is trying to solve it, but at the same time we have to recognize that the one who is trying to solve doesn’t really exist, which makes the question of ‘will we solve the problem or not’ rather redundant! The problem is only there because we want it to be there, so to speak. Not that we want there to be a problem of course but rather that we want there to be ‘a fixed point of reference’ and it is the fixed point of reference that is the problem, even though we can’t for the life of us see matters like this. We’re trying to solve problems as they are defined in relation to our framework, via methods that make sense in relation to this assumed FW, whilst aiming at goals that are defined by the assumed FW, whilst actually it was this assumed FW that was the problem all along (which is something that we are completely incapable of seeing). We’re incapable of seeing this because we’re taking the ‘correctness’ of the framework (which equals ‘our assumed point of view’) completely for granted. This whole business rests upon the act of us taking the FW completely for granted – this is our ‘necessary blind-spot’, so to speak…

Instead of talking about us not being able to ‘orientate ourselves’ we could equally well speak in terms of us not being able to understand the context within which we find ourselves. The world we live in has become manifestly more complex than the set of rules which we use to understand it, and this means that we are fighting a losing battle to make sense of it. When I feel that I know who I am and what my situation is then this constitutes my basic ‘orientation’ because neither my perception of myself or my perception of the context within which I exist are going to change in ways that cannot be understood in terms of the rules which I already have to understand things. We all take this very much for granted of course and that’s what allows us to carry on with our lives without ever encountering any major ontological challenge. The ‘story’ that we tell ourselves about ourselves remains essentially intact, no matter what events may unfold because those events fit into the story in a logical fashion. In reality however this narrative of ours is just a fiction – it is a very flimsy illusion that can be called into question at any moment. In reality, there is no way that we can know who we are and what our situation is and so the sense of orientation that we have in this regard is entirely spurious. When we talk about the terrible disaster of losing our sense of orientation in the world what we are really talking about is the ‘disaster’ of losing something that we never had!

Losing our fixed point of reference is therefore both ‘a problem’, and ‘not a problem’, at one and the same time. It’s a problem if we can’t let go of the idea that there absolutely has to be a fixed point of reference for us to make sense of the world with, and it’s not a problem if we can let go of the idea that we absolutely need an unreal point of reference to relate everything to! If we are happy to do so, then there is no problem at all letting go of the unreal FPOR that we use to make sense of everything, and there’s also no problem in getting on without it being such a supremely important thing to us. It may at this point sound as if we are making light of this issue of whether or not we can demote the illusory framework of the thinking mind from its position of being ‘something that we can never, ever do without’, but we’re not. There’s no issue bigger really – what could be a bigger issue than this? It’s not simply that it is a very difficult thing to ‘let go of the thinking mind’ either – it’s a pragmatic impossibility. The thinking mind and the world-view it creates is all we know so of course we can’t let go of it; when the static framework or fixed point of reference is the only thing that we know we’re stuck – we can’t take a step away from it because it is what guides our steps! So if we say that the fixed basis is the problem underlying all our other problems – the root problem – then we also have to say that it’s a problem that we can’t deliberately disengage from. It’s not that we actually want to either, as we have pointed out; what we want is to solve all the ‘knock-on problems’ that grow out of the root problem, without having to let go of this root problem, which is the fixed basis that we cling to.

Because letting go of the FPOR is not an option, when we are flooded with ‘newness’ (as we are in what is called ‘psychosis’) the only course of action that is left open to us is to try to solve the problem that this newness represents. We have to try to understand the newness in some way, in other words. We have to do our very best to turn this dangerous newness into something old, something familiar; we have to do our very best to find some way of incorporating it into the existing structure without destroying that existing structure in the process. What we are actually doing here is ‘fighting against newness’ and this means making something that we can’t and won’t ever understand (because it’s so much bigger and deeper than us) into an enemy and this – needless to say – is not a good idea at all!

This is why, when we’re fighting against the rising tide of newness in our everyday perception of the world, things move inexorably in the direction of paranoia. Paranoia is not just a perception that ‘people are out to get you’, it is the perception of a supremely intelligent, extremely well-organized and extremely well-resourced system that is out there and which implacably opposed to your existence in any shape or form. This system might be a secret service agency, an international criminal organization, or it might be a network of alien intelligences which has both the power of telepathy and highly-advanced means of hunting you down wherever you might be hiding. This system, possessed as it is of such vast resources and intelligence, is of course nothing other than reality itself. We have made reality into our ‘implacable enemy’ by the act of clinging unquestioningly to a false reality that is so very crude and so very simplistic in its formulation, and refusing therefore to have anything to do with the world (or with reality) as it actually is in itself. Everything we see and think and do is predicated upon this falsely-simplistic version of reality and so of course reality as it is in itself (which is so very much more than we give it credit for) is going to seem like an implacable enemy to us. We have turned everything on its head by embracing a crude caricature of reality and turning our back on the genuine article and yet somehow we expect to get away with this! We’ve turned ‘the new’ into ‘the old’ even though there isn’t really any such thing as ‘the old’ even though newness is all there is…

The amazing thing about this is – on reflection – that most of us never have any experience of reality being ‘reorganized’ in any radical way (which is of course the same thing as having our pragmatic or ‘relative’ reality cut away from under our feet). That just doesn’t seem to happen to most of us. We may experience it in little ways but we’re generally able to brush the anomaly away and relegate it to the appropriate mental ‘rubbish bin’. As Sogyal Rinpoche says in The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying, when we encounter the bardo in everyday life we always manage to gloss over it and skip on ahead to the next solid structure that comes our way without wondering what just happened to us. This of course makes us all the more unsympathetic (or uncomprehending) of the situation of people who can’t do this, who can’t just gloss over any anomalies. We don’t have the means of comprehending what they are going through and so we just rationalize their experience away. For the most part the sufferers of so-called ‘psychosis’ are trying to do this too but the thing is that they just can‘t. The technical experts on mental health in our society can successfully rationalize the experience of newness away however and do so all the time!

But all the same (despite all the denial) it remains true that we are all exactly in the same situation as a person who we would call ‘psychotic’ – we are just more effectively in denial, that’s all. We haven’t had our bluff called yet. We’re all in the same boat really but we just don’t recognize it – we don’t choose to recognize it. We’re hanging on a cobweb; we’re perched on a little ledge, suspended precariously over an abyss of radical uncertainty, surrounded on all sides (and above and below) by an Infinite Ocean of Inscrutable Mystery. We don’t know it (and most of us don’t want to know it either) but that is our situation…

Image: Josh Muir, Psychosis, from

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