You are probably reading this article while seated comfortably in a fairly secure environment. Most likely, you believe that you enjoy certain freedoms, including accessing this article or any other material that you wish to read. Even if you live in a land ruled by religious or political extremism, you feel that you are at least free in the privacy of your own home to speak, or perhaps whisper, and think as you wish.
But what does it mean to be free? To shop wherever you like? To read whichever book you like? To eat whatever you like? To worship whichever god you choose? Does the freedom to think whatever you like constitute the most basic right? What if you are not free to think as you wish and your other freedoms are mere illusions? What if you are enslaved by something that you cannot see, hear or touch? Would you want to know? What if your very perception of the world is a mirage that has been created in your mind? What if that which rules over you is not a person, government or even a god? Would you want to know? If you think you are free, then think about this...
There was a time when you could look out onto the landscape from any point on Earth and see the vast domain of nature everywhere, comprised of trees, plants, mountains, rivers, oceans, and animals. Now, much of that has been harvested and processed into dwellings, shopping malls, plastic bottles, magazines, gold jewelry, glass windows, metal cabinets, clothing and a host of other synthesized or processed material. This is our "modern" landscape. It is no secret that the earth's natural resources are being rapidly depleted as the world population grows and confronts this fact with a paradoxical sense of shock and catatonic apathy. Just like these materials scraped from the breast of the earth, our food is now also harvested in a grotesque, unnatural fashion. Once free to grow or roam the plains, rivers and oceans, to be born and to die according to the whims of nature, animals and plants are now manipulated and altered in their physiology to produce a certain desired effect by humans. Salmon, for example, has become scarce enough that much of it is currently farmed through a process called aquaculture. The caged salmon's entire existence revolves around being grown and harvested in large numbers, crowded in water tanks that are a far cry from their natural or normal environment. Aquaculture farming releases parasites, disease and antibiotics into the natural surrounding environment with devastating consequences to wild species. Other industries that employ this Frankenstein-ish method include poultry and cattle. It is now common to find these food sources injected with hormones to make them grow more quickly and with antibiotics to counteract the horrendous effects of the hormones. But the practice doesn't stop at animals. It has also reached plants and crops with the advent of bioengineering or genetic modification. In short, nature is no longer born free; rather, it is now captured, grown, measured and altered on a large scale to serve the voracious consumer appetite or something even more sinister. Welcome to the Insane Asylum.
The human world is not immune from this horror. Enter an average, synthetically-lit classroom and you will see rows upon rows of desks arranged like programming pods for students. The conditioning, breeding and harvesting begin at a young age in our institutions, which are supported by our parents and demanded and regulated by governments. The idea of competition, success and planning for a future is injected like a hormone into our children's brains from the very first day and has been growing in importance over time. American school programs, for example, are required to meet a certain standard for courses and exams set by the federal government. And what is this standard? It is nothing less than the preparation of students for achievement or success in a career sewn in the competitive, global markets of the world. The United States for one admits that its educational programs need such focus if the country is to retain an economically competitive edge on the global stage. Meanwhile, children are becoming less active than ever with schools curtailing the amount of physical activity required on school grounds. Creative outlets such as art and music classes are also being cut. Education is no longer focused in part on the fundamental qualities of being human, such as creativity, relationships, self-expression, and interconnectedness but is now mainly concerned with the sharpening of the analytical or intellectual mind for personal or economic gain. Many teachers recognize the dangers of such a program and warn us about the impending disaster at our doors, but they are often silenced or become too jaded to fight.
For better or for worse, primary education prepares and delivers our students upon graduation to another facet of the system, so-called higher education. Those who resist the system and cause trouble are sent to "correctional facilities" while those who cannot afford or who choose not to pursue higher learning are often relegated to low-paying jobs that involve back-breaking physical labor or mind-numbing, repetitive tasks. Those who go on to higher education are permitted to do so at a cost and fall deeper into the rabbit hole. They must not only pay substantial sums of money, often with the help of their parents or by taking on the burden of student loans, but also entrust their minds to a system that weighs, measures and tests their intellectual worth. Once they graduate, they are delivered fresh to the competitive career market, an extension of that same system, which turns them into "professionals" and lures them with promises of respectable positions with an economically rewarding future. For many, their profession becomes the pivot point of their lives or identity. They become part of a world that is fast moving, highly competitive and stressful. They spend perhaps thirty or forty years living in a bubble of sorts, worrying about "getting ahead" as they constantly monitor their bank accounts and retirement funds. Once they are no longer useful to the system, they are expelled from it and are often sent to some retirement community to pass the time medicating the impotent remnants of their former selves. They become food for yet another system, the lucrative medical and pharmaceutical industries. But that is not the real horror. The most chilling effect is a sense of meaninglessness in life that is often masked by the need to "keep busy", through a yearly Caribbean cruise or an occasional round of golf, perhaps only for the privileged minority. But there is an underlying sense of despair to which most will not admit. They cannot escape the thought that they are passing the time until that fateful hour when death comes knocking. “Is this it?” they secretly wonder. From the beginning, we are all unknowingly commandeered by a paradigm of a grotesque nature that processes and converts the vast majority of us into a mechanism, a piece of its own machinery, to serve in the name of social progress and prosperity. Moreover, to ensure the survival of this paradigm, most children at least in the West are raised to know no other and to vehemently protect it and uphold it as gospel, often at any cost. Those who try to pull back the curtain and speak out against the horrors of the paradigm are often ridiculed, ostracized, imprisoned, or killed by those who are enslaved.
You may say that this is overly dramatic and a rather dismal and horrific view to take of our culture. While I do think that life is a matter of perspective, the increasing, tangible effects of our modern world on all of us are undeniable. Our environment reflects this horror through the oppressive "civilized" ways we live and treat each other, the way our food is grown and consumed, the amount of waste we produce, the boredom and restlessness that we often feel and the medication that we religiously take to calm our nerves and put us to sleep. You may say that throughout human history, we have always had these problems with some amount of violence, wars, racism, famines and other human-created pestilences. That may be true to some extent but our modern world is accentuating a rapidly growing imbalance between us and our environment that is openly magnified through these human-created pestilences. The crises that were once out there are increasingly becoming conspicuous symbols for our existential or internal crises. The civilized, modern world is collapsing under the weight of its own overhyped illusion, which begins in the mind. I believe the root cause can be traced back to our mental fragmentation of life. The mess that we are in is the result of having eaten metaphorically of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We have separated, ordered and categorized life into bits and pieces, good and bad, this and that, and this has given rise to our illusory sense of the world, of time, and of ourselves. Our intellect is a symbol-interpreting instrument; but these symbols are taken literally. What we call "tree" for example is a symbol for a complex, dynamic phenomenon. But when we take "tree" to be literal and substitute the concept for that dynamic phenomenon and order our real and dynamic lives by the static concept, then we have missed the point and divided reality. As a result, alienation, fear and insecurity come into play. We feel that we must protect this little concept or unit called "I" and survive at any cost, even if it results in the misery or annihilation of the other. Our dividing intellect, which studies and measures and analyzes, also brings with it the sense of linear time and breaks it up into past, present and future and into birth, aging and death. History, which is the accumulation, ordering and analysis of events over time, is really a reflection of the fragmentation of the higher operations of the mind. As adults, we are defined and graded by our ability to responsibly divide our days and hours into work, chores, leisure, sleep, etc. If we could even control the timing of the movement of our bowels, we would surely do it (actually, there are some medicines that permit this to some extent). Children on the other hand do not have that sense of time. They do not live by the clock. They eat when they're hungry and sleep when they're tired. The rest of their time is spent at play, which they do not measure through minutes, hours and days. They live in a phantasmagorical Garden of Eden, until we subject them to our intellect and send them off to school. Ironically, we believe that children live in a world of illusion and fantasy while we live in "the real world." I am certainly not advocating the annihilation of our intellectual faculty, for it is necessary to live in this world. Our intellect has also given us the most wondrous technological advancements. Rather, I am suggesting that our dire situation stems from an imbalance in our minds and perceptions that is edging us closer to self-annihilation. While our intellect is a necessary faculty, it has grown to overshadow the totality of the human being, which includes the realms of emotion, imagination and other unexplored faculties.
This imbalance has led us to our current state of bondage. When we mention slavery, we immediately think of forced physical labor and perhaps of the multitudes of Africans who were abducted and sold as slaves. All of these unfortunate human beings were well aware of their enslaved situation. The slavery under which most of us operate today is more onerous than that because we are unaware of it. Despite having the choice to live as we see fit, including the choice of food, shopping malls and gods to worship, we do not understand why many of us are always forsaking the present and looking to the future. We do not understand why we often feel inadequate, frustrated, joyless, anxious, lonely, bored, depressed, tired, etc. Many of us resort to medication, sold to us at a tidy profit, to numb these uneasy feelings. If at all possible, we brush off these feelings as being part of the normal course of life as we continue to believe that we live in a free world. What is touted as modern freedom is nothing but a clever form of mental slavery, to which we have unknowingly consented. But who’s to blame? Who's responsible for this horrendous conspiracy? It would be a mistake to trace our enslavement back to our parents, our government, our society or our gods. Certainly all of these people or institutions can and often do exhibit the characteristics of a tyrannical master but they are only expressions of the problem and not the cause. They act as symbols for the root cause of our bondage, which can be traced back to the individual, or better yet, to the concept of the individual, to you and me. We have somehow awoken to the feeling of a private, individual self, which allows us to take up the sword of intellect and slice through everything within the field of our perception. We have cut everything into fragments, named it all, and categorized it. Our environment is no longer a part of us. Rather it is something to be divided, conquered and controlled.
As a result of this fragmentation, we have naturally lost our sense of interconnectedness with nature and with each other. We beat nature and each other into submission and call this "civilized" relationships and business dealings for the sake of progress. We have deadened our sensitivity to and disconnected from the inherent unity in the web of life to the point where most of us do not recognize our alarming situation. In my opinion, this is a clear explanation for the breakdown in authentic relationships and for our inability to naturally feel real compassion for others without the use of mind-altering methods such as religion, psychedelics and other aids. Most of us think that we should feel compassion for that beggar on the side of the road but the truth is that we do not. Rather, we often use our intellect to justify her unfortunate position as the consequences of bad choices that she has made in life, for which she is solely responsible. We may even throw her some loose change to appease our guilt or to do our social duty, which is yet another form of enslavement by the intellectual mind. But we are thankful that we are not in that beggar's situation and go about our business. Because of my assertion of the inherent and fundamental unity of life, you may accuse me of suffering from some mystical sensibility or delusion. I would ask you to revisit your accusation. After all, many of the most scientifically-minded rationalists or materialists or atheists generally accept the scientific view of the Big Bang theory of the Universe. This theory suggests that our Universe began as a unified, unimaginably dense, hot and infinitely small ball of energy that exploded and grew exponentially into all that we see today and more. How much more inherently unified could something be? Is this not the stuff of psychedelic fantasy, the mother of all miracles? We certainly do not carry out our daily lives with this sense of mystery and awe over the psychedelic nature of our existence. Our conceptualizing, intellectual minds have fundamentally disconnected us from reality.
Most of our relationships today are a form of a bartering system presided over by our intellectual faculty. We are related to each other through charades and putting on an act to protect ourselves and to achieve a benefit for us as individuals. We are trapped in a theatre drama of sorts where the story line happens to the characters and not the actors behind the masks. Our reactions are premeditated. Our speech is often scripted. Our emotions are simulated. We take our lives to be a stylized drama projected on the virtual screen of the world. In fact we unconsciously play out scenes from films or television programs that have become normal fixtures in our lives. But these actions and relationships are mostly based in fear and insecurity and they define us. Who are we really when our children have grown and left us, when our careers have ended, and when we have lost our ability to paint, compose music or philosophize with a sharp mind? Who are we when the play is over and the audience has gone home? When we are no longer the parent, the employee, the artist, musician or philosopher, we are left undefined with no edges or borders and this causes great fear. To mask this fear, each of us builds an image of our friend or spouse or whomever to fill our needs as individuals. And if that person should act in a way that does not correspond with our image of him or her, we reevaluate the relationship. We readjust our image of that person as long as he or she does not negatively disturb the image we have of ourselves; otherwise, we react with an array of emotions, depending on which of our hot buttons was pressed, and change or dissolve the relationship.
These dynamics operate in most relationships without our awareness. We are terrified to come face to face with ourselves as we really are, to break the image that we have lived for and nurtured our entire lives. Why? Because to do so would lead to the discovery that there is no one behind the image. The "I" is only an illusion, nothing more than a static concept, a symbol for the dynamic, interdependent happening that we call "I". Scientific research into neurology and the nature of the brain suggests that there is really no one, no "driver" operating this thing that we call "I". It is simply a ghost in the machine. So, how could an illusion or a concept called "I" have an authentic relationship with another illusion? It is impossible. Sages, mystics and many scientists have been pointing to the idea of fundamental unity or wholeness behind all of the multiplicity that we see before us; however, we have been conditioned to perceive life as a fragmented, time-bound, linear process made up of separate parts and individuals. We have learned to think this way back in our first school days. Does this suggest that it is impossible to have authentic relationships? Asking this question actually misses the point. Rather, this suggests that you and your neighbor - or your enemy for that matter - are fundamentally one and that what you do to your fellow human being, you do to yourself. This is not some moral musing or spiritual truth but an existential fact. When we go out into the world, what do we see? Businesspeople, beggars, criminals, priests, politicians, judges, saints, rebels, "crazy" people, etc. We see them as individuals, as separate from each one of us. In the paradigm that we operate, they are fundamentally our competitors. Rather, we convince ourselves that they are our fellow civilians, our family and our friends. But what if all of these people are the different faces and races of our most basic self? What if all of these people are different characters that are really played by one master actor? Surely in each one of us there is a beggar, a criminal, a businessperson, a priest, a rebel, a saint, etc. When we enter the temple to pray, are we not acting as beggars for some spiritual loose change in the form of personal favors from some supposed higher power? When we marry or befriend another, are we not entering into a personal contract of sorts? When we justify an action of ours that may go against the norms, beliefs or laws of our family or community, are we not acting as criminals and judges? Are we not supporting and living in an insane asylum that we call the world? And our psychotics and criminals, are they not fundamentally the prophets of our world? Are they not a sign from the very core of our society representing the imbalance that is in the mind of every single individual?
At the very crucial point in time when we are devastating the Earth with our fragmented view of life, we are discovering collectively that we are all connected, that we are fundamentally one. For better or for worse, we move toward our destiny together as one, with everything on this planet. This universal truth is not only supported by our discoveries in science, ecology and other empirical methods but also by our own current psychological experience with our environment. Perhaps it takes suffering to bring us out of our mental or intellectual exile and into the real world and to truly sense that we cannot survive on our own, as independent units seeking individual protection and benefit. "United we stand, divided we fall" is the ever-present motto for humanity, and indeed for all of life. Given all of this, how then can we begin to have authentic relationships in a disjointed world? You must understand that this question is being asked by a conceptualizing ego that, as we have just said, does not really exist. Our only hope is to recognize this fact honestly and effortlessly and to see that our alienation, fear and conditioning is a result of living and thinking of ourselves and of nature as fragments, disconnected from the whole of life. Once we wholeheartedly realize that we are all fakes, we start to become genuine. There is no "thinking" to be done about this. There is no action to be taken out there. There is no method or cure to be followed. Rather, the perception within must change somehow. Once the characters in the theatre play realize that they are relegated to the stage and cannot go home, that they are mere illusions put on by the actors, the masks fall off and the lights come on.
To fight or change "the system" would be a mistake because our struggle just reinforces the system. To completely do away with it would simply allow for a replacement of yet another system. In other words, to think of a way to defy and beat this slavery is to keep hacking the world into pieces with our intellectual sword, which is itself the root of the problem. Any system of belief or ideology will eventually fail, whether it is communism, socialism, and yes even capitalism, because it is based on the conceptualization or ideation of a way of life, of compartmentalizing and ordering society. Living by a method or ideology requires dismemberment (dis-member-ment = to no longer be a member or part of something), which does not exist in the realm of nature and reality. We certainly cannot go back to more innocent times, before our manipulation of nature and remain there. We know too much. Nor can we dig our way out of this mess solely with our intellect. As mentioned previously, the Universe is not necessarily rational but dynamic and psychedelic. It is constantly unfolding. We cannot invent or think our way out with more science or technology. While science and technology have prolonged life and provided us with many wondrous conveniences, they have also been escorting us down a rabbit hole of sorts, which leads to further dismemberment. As we explore the Universe more deeply with our instruments, it seems to be getting away from us both on a cosmic as well as a subatomic scale and revealing more paradoxes and mysteries. Our intellectual capacity can never seem to take hold of the Universe and to grasp it by its most fundamental substance. We can never "wrap our head" around the vastness of it all because we are trying to create a theory or impose a static, analyzable picture on our dynamic Universe. It is impossible to capture a dynamic phenomenon in an image that can be described and studied. We are always left with more questions than answers and an uncanny sense of living in a dream. Why? Because everything that we perceive with our intellect is an illusion, a puff of smoke. As such, life as we know it IS a dream. As I mentioned earlier, our intellect serves as a kind of symbol interpreter and our tendency is to take these interpretations literally. Therefore science, religion, the concepts of time, fate, free will, cause and effect and all the gods that humanity has ever conjured up and even death itself, are all illusions, a product of the mind. They are symbols that are not to be taken literally.
If it is true, as I have said, that our overarching intellect has enslaved life and that there is no escape through any kind of mentation or further study, then we are in a double bind. What are we to do? How can we overcome this (i.e. take control) without the use of our rational intellect? This paradox reveals something very fundamental about the nature of our reality, the Universe and our minds. Nothing can be done about this because there really is no problem, there is nothing to be "controlled" and there is no one there to fix it. So the double bind is also an illusion because it is a conflict created by the intellect. Life or the Universe has its own impulse expressed through all of nature including our actions, for better or worse. Regardless of how we see it or conceptualize it, life is a dynamic process that cannot be stopped. You and I as organisms continue to live! Despite what we may think about our fight for or against war or art or global warming or abortion, the blood continues to flow through our veins, our lungs continue to process the air we breathe, the tides continue to come in and out, and the Earth continues to rotate around the Sun without our intellectual intervention. And if we bring about our own annihilation someday, life will most certainly continue elsewhere. I am not suggesting that we should throw up our hands and do nothing to stop hunger or genocide or poverty. I am suggesting that there is a peculiar sense that despite all that we can or cannot do, this Universe or reality or whatever it may be is an integrated movement the processes of which are beyond our ability to understand and hence manipulate. Some scientists believe that, through our technology, one day we will be able to understand all of the workings of the Universe. These are the people who would, as observers, keep hacking at it, dissect it and study it as a thing separate from us. Perhaps in the future we will be able to control the way our blood flows through our veins or to control the tides or even to change the spin of the Earth around the sun; but if our past dealings with our environment are any indication of our future, I am not too optimistic about these possible achievements.
To the extent that we think we are currently "in control" of a tiny corner in this phantasmagorical happening and that we must "do something", perhaps our focus should be on our need to control. We should perhaps make this need transparent to its own effects, which we have brought upon ourselves and our environment. This recognition though will require something beyond our intellectual faculty. It will require us to exercise our somewhat dormant imagination, the power of emotion and other faculties. Only recently, some of the discoveries in science have been converging with many of the proclamations of the sages and shamans throughout history about the nature of life and the Universe. Scientists have been using technology to desperately poke, probe, reach into and slice through the Universe while it has been quietly and secretly visiting these sages in their most humble and personal spaces, offering itself and revealing its mystery and oneness right in the crucible of their minds. Perhaps when each individual absolutely feels that he or she is deeply connected to and operates in concert or in true relationship or in resonance with the other, this integrated whole that we call life may reveal itself as a movement that is much greater than its perceived parts. But until then, the drama will continue to play out through our literal interpretation of its magnificent symbols. What appears to be a life in an insane asylum may turn out, in the end, to be an unfolding drama on a cosmic stage toward a colossal crescendo of psychedelic proportions, transcendent of pleasure and pain, freedom and slavery, birth and death.
© 2009 The Forbidden Heights