The most likely (and least favourable) possibility in life for all of us is that we will fall into alignment with ‘the equilibrium point’ and then not ever be able to move away from that sterile position. The equilibrium point is what we might call a ‘dead spot’ – it is a location from which no free or meaningful action can ever come out of, only dead, mechanical, or ‘cycling’ action. In the general course of events, what happens is that we unfailingly gravitate to this dead spot, and that is the reason we are all caught up in ‘the turning wheel of illusion’ or ‘the turning wheel of ignorance’ (as it is referred to in the East). Life defeats itself when we are locked into this dead position – nothing ever goes anywhere, nothing ever comes to anything. This is movement that is ‘going, yet never wandering, fixed, yet in motion’, according to D. H. Lawrence in his poem, Death is not evil, evil is mechanical. “Motion that is circular is the deadest form of the universe” says Philip K Dick in A Scanner Darkly. The ‘equilibrium point’ that we are talking about is the hub of that self-defeating circular movement, and it is this hub that we so easily fall into alignment with in everyday life, and from which we can’t escape.
We can try to explain this dead (or ‘terminally uncreative’) mechanical position a bit better by saying that it is where we find ourselves when we get locked into trying to ‘obtain the advantage’ in any situation. This is the position in which I am one-up on everything else, or where I seem to have the possibility of getting one-up if I play my cards right. What this is all about is me trying to optimize my performance – I am in a situation which I see in terms of ‘winning and losing’ and I engage myself fully in the demanding attempt to win rather than lose. Basically, I am trying to gain the advantage, and this is actually what practically everyone is trying to do practically all of the time!
We are all trying to gain the upper had in whatever is going on, and this can involve anything from physical force, cleverness in arguments, sneaky underhand manipulation, emotional blackmail, right down to certain snide comments that we might make to ourselves in the privacy of our own minds. Gaining the advantage doesn’t just mean ‘successful external controlling’, therefore, it also includes ‘having the last word on the subject’, which we are all prone to doing when we can’t get things to go our own way. If things don’t go my way, and I am thoroughly defeated, I still avoid acknowledging ‘total defeat’ by having the last word. This could involve anything from thinking “That’s terrible the way that happened…” to “That’s not fair!” to “What have I done to deserve that?” All these are classic examples of having the last word, i.e. refusing to accept defeat gracefully.
The thing about struggling to gain advantage is that it is very much an ‘all consuming task’. When we give ourselves over to the task of optimizing our performance with regard to certain all-important goals and agendas, then there is nothing of us left over for anything else. Our attention is wholly absorbed with the task and there is none left over – this is like a computer which is so ‘busy’ with whatever it is doing that it can no longer take on board any additional tasks. It is ‘dead to the world’. A good example of what we are talking about here is a person taking part in a TV quiz game for a very substantial sum of money. The focus is all on him – the quiz master is asking him questions, the audience is watching with bated breath, and every question answered correctly is winning the lucky contestant more and more cash, and bringing him closer and closer to the jackpot, with a two week holiday in Florida and a brand new Honda Civic thrown in for good measure. If he gets the next question right he is there! Now at this particular point in time our man is wholly absorbed, as we can plainly see. He is thinking about the Big Prize, and he is busy optimizing his performance with respect to answering the questions.
To someone who is watching all this from the outside (and is not caught up in the fever themselves) it is apparent that there is something rather bizarre about all this. The contestant is an a fixed mind state – he is totally fixated on his mental goal, on the thought of the big cash prize, and he is quite simply not thinking about anything else at all. Nothing else comes into it. At this point in time our man is in ‘the dead spot’ (the spot from which no creativity will ever come) and he has no time for anything other than the goal in his head. But the point about all this is that any sort of a basic questioning attitude (as regards the mystery of life and existence in general) has gone right out of the window. Any sense of how remarkable and marvellous it is to be alive in the first place has been annihilated by the thought of how great it would be to win the money. Thus, the Great Gift of life itself is forgotten about, in the humourless attempt to obtain the paltry (and ultimately quite meaningless) gift of money. Curiosity is set at ‘zero’, greed at ‘maximum’, and this is the way things are when we get drawn into the dead-spot slap-bang in the centre of every situation. Out of this mechanical frame of mind, no good can ever come.
What we very rarely seem able to understand is that we win the real advantage by not being preoccupied with winning the advantage. Not being preoccupied with winning (within the narrow terms of our game) is like ‘moving with reality’ rather than ‘moving with what we think reality is’ or ‘moving with what we want reality to be’. Yet this is not a deliberate thing – it is a grace that descends upon us. We are already ‘moving with reality’ –we were right from the beginning – and all that is needed is to actually see this, rather than being distracted with other matters the whole time. When we move with reality we are free from the mechanical forces that pin us down otherwise, and the result of this freedom is that we find ourselves moving constantly into the unknown. Life is a true marvel, a delight, not a foregone conclusion.
As the Taoist sages have observed, when we do not attempt to overcome anything, there is nothing that cannot be overcome. Through not-overcoming, all things are over-come. At the very moment of defeat, when we are at our most weak and most vulnerable, we are actually one with the strongest force there is, the Tao. In Corinthians 2, the Lord says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”
This movement with reality (this dance) is a ‘thoughtless’ thing because as soon as I think ‘I am doing it!’ then it is no longer happening. The reason for this is of course because the thought in question is ‘an attempt to attain the superior position’, which is ‘contending’. Actually, when there is no thought that ‘I am doing it’ there is simply no ‘me’, and that is the secret, so to speak. There is action but no author of that action. The ‘me’ is the contender and so when there is no contending, there is no ‘me’. If there is a ‘me doing it’ then this is ‘life defeating itself’. When there is no ‘me’ (which is the ‘dead point’ that we are talking about) then there is only the fathomless harmony of the universe – perfect strength in perfect weakness, perfect balance without any trying.