The key thing about life is that there’s no method for it. No matter how much we search or sit and scratch our heads the one thing that’s certain is that we will never find a method for life!
The one thing that we can be absolutely certain of – and there aren’t many of them – is that we will never find a method or strategy for living life, and yet – oddly – we all seem to think that there is! Either we think that we have already found it (and so we are going to stick with it) or we think that we haven’t yet found it (and so in this case we just have to carry on looking).
Religion (or beliefs in general, for that matter) are examples of how we think that we have hit upon the right method to live life. That may not be how we would put it to ourselves but that’s what it comes down to. A true religious zealot is so convinced that they’ve got the right method for living life that they want everyone else to take it up too; as we all know, a zealot only gets to be a zealot because of their fundamental intolerance to other ways of seeing things. That absolute rigidity (and the control that goes with it) is the very essence of zealotry – that’s fanaticism in a nutshell…
We don’t have to be a fundamentalist follower of a cult in order to be an example of someone who thinks that there is such a thing as ‘a correct method for living life’ however – we’re all in that camp, really. Almost all of us, anyway. The point is that’s every time we sink into an unreflective (or mechanical) mode of existing in the world we are acting as if there is an actual method for living life. We don’t consciously say that our mechanical pattern of functioning in the world is our ‘method for living life’ but of course it is – our routine response (or adaptation) to life is our ‘mechanical solution’ to the problem of existence.
The assumption we’re making here, without knowing that we are, is that the adaptation which we have made. I feel that this particular routine which I am so comfortably habituated to approximates life well enough that I don’t need to go looking for any other ‘answer’, when actually no habit or routine can ever ‘approximate’ (either accurately or inaccurately) life. A routine is only a routine and as such not only does not approximate life it is the very antithesis of it. My customary routine is an evasion not a solution. My predictable and familiar pattern of being in the world is ‘the denial of life’, not the authentic expression of it.
A routine is perfectly predictable, it’s the same thing repeated over and over again, whilst life itself is always fresh, always new, always unexpected; if we say that this isn’t so, or that our experience of life isn’t like this, then that’s because we’ve turned life into a habit without realizing that we have. We have unknowingly departed from life and headed down ‘some other road’, and this of course and this is – needless to say – what happens to just about all of us. ‘That’s life’, we say, only in this case of course it isn’t! It’s not life but only the sad parody thereof…
This is therefore a very good way of explaining why there can’t be any such thing as ‘the correct method for living life’ – no matter what method we might hit upon it’s only ever going to be a method and all methods come down to the avoidance of life. The point here is that the avoidance of life can’t be considered to be equivalent to life – our avoidance can hardly be considered as being the same as whatever it is that we’re trying to avoid, after all. The point is that there is something there which we feel we absolutely need to avoid (or which we feel we absolutely need to fix, which is the same thing), and our everyday mode of existence is the enactment of this perceived need. Our routine modality of living is the same thing as our avoidance of living in other words, which is most definitely not our usual way of looking at things; our usual way of looking at things being to assume that our collective mode of organizing ourselves is the righteous expression of life rather than the flagrant denial of it.
This would be more obvious to us if we were ‘going it alone,’ so to speak, and didn’t have the same style of avoidance as everyone else but what happens in practise is that we all copy each other with regard to this question of ‘how to avoid the challenge that life makes on us’ and the result of this mutual mimicry is what we call society! Because everyone else is adopting the same type of avoidance that we are this means that it has respectability – it doesn’t look as if we’re engaging in something as ignoble as ‘life-avoidance’ because ‘sixty million people (or whatever it is) can’t be wrong’! ‘I might be crazy, but the whole world can’t be’, we think to ourselves, and this line of reasoning very effectively stops us questioning the system that we are part of.
The bottom line is that any systematic response to life – whatever that response may be – is always going to be the denial of life and just all about we can ever do is try to find a systematic response to life that works for us. That’s our Number One Obsession; it’s our sole obsession when it comes down to it – the unpredictability of life is the problem that we are forever trying to solve. Whenever we try to get things to happen the way we want them to (i.e., whenever we try to ‘get our own way’) we are trying to find a systematic response to life and ‘trying to have things our own way’ is pretty much all we ever do! If we didn’t engage in continual self-assertion then – we imagine – we’ll end up being a regular old door mat and everyone (and everything) will simply walk all over us. Events will get the better of us if we’re not in control, we say…
We don’t put it quite like this of course, we don’t talk about ‘how good it is to always get our own way’ because this tends to sound somewhat suspect. What we talk about instead is ‘finding solutions’ (which sounds very positive) or ‘striving to attain our goals’ which, again, has a good sound to it (because it sounds inspirational rather than merely self-promoting). The reason ‘trying to get things to happen the way we want them to happen’ is the same thing as ‘trying to hit upon a systematic response to life’ is because our ideas about ‘what would be a good thing to happen’ come out of the thinking mind and everything that comes out to the thinking mind is necessarily systematic, necessarily generic – thought itself is a system, after all, just as David Bohm says. Thought cannot ever act in a ‘non-systematic’ way…
Why do we go to the extreme of saying that any systematic response to life is the avoidance of life (or the denial of life), however? This isn’t something that necessarily jumps out at us as being true after all. One answer to this question would be to say that life is essentially a spontaneous phenomenon rather than one that is purposeful or goal-driven; when we come across someone who is very spontaneous then there is clearly more life visible in them then there is in someone who is entirely calculated or entirely premeditated in the way they behave, someone for whom life has become little more than a routine or collection of habits. Being fluid and essentially unpredictable is clearly the crucial ingredient of life, and in the absence of this essential unpredictability what we are left with is a machine rather than a living being. Life is life only because it moves in an ‘anti-entropic direction’, in other words.
Another thing we could say here is that any response to the existential challenge of being in the world which is systematic (i.e., which follows rules or a pattern) is an escape (or at least an attempted escape) from that challenge; it is an escape because we are ‘copping out’ from the challenge of staying fresh, staying new, staying original and instead we are turning everything into a tedious matter of ‘merely following the rules’. Instead of creativity, we are putting all our money on ‘copying’, on ‘conforming’. We’re responding to the new with the old and this is a cheat. We respond to randomness (no pattern, no rules) with order, but order can never do justice to randomness – order doesn’t do justice to randomness any more than the fragment can do justice to the Whole. We speak of randomness or chaos in a dismissive way, but the unsuspected irony here is that we’re dismissing the deeper aspect of life in favour of its more trivial manifestations. We say that chaos or randomness is mere ‘noise’ or ‘error’ that can never give rise to anything interesting or worthwhile whilst the truth is that it is the source of everything. This is ironic therefore because what we call chaos is the Mother of All, the Great Enigma, the origin of the Cosmos itself.
We see chaos as a thoroughly destructive force but that is however only what it looks like from the point of view of thought. Actually, what we call ‘chaos’ is – as we have just said – Everything, the All, the Cosmos, or Reality Itself, whilst the viewpoint that we are coming from (which we cannot question or examine in any way) is an abstraction and as such it is something that cannot ever have any relationship with reality. The viewpoint we are coming from is most emphatically not part of reality and no matter what contortions or manipulations we may engage in it never will do. The efforts of the ‘extrinsic self’ to live life, or be part of life, or engage meaningfully in life (or however we want to put it) are not life and they never can be – they are, on the contrary, the attempt to escape from life (or escape from reality). Thought always takes us away from reality for the simple reason that it is a closed system whilst reality – on the other hand – is always open….
Methods are how we control (or attempt control) what is going on around us and – within the context of our lives – there are very many times when control is pragmatically useful and practical. When what we are trying to control is life itself however (which is what we are doing when we make everything into a system) then this is another thing entirely – when we insist on making everything into a system (into a rational construct) then this is simply because we are in full-blown avoidance mode’ and we don’t want to admit it. In our Western Rationalist culture we’re not celebrating life (as we say we are), we’re celebrating the avoidance of life….