Selected Correspondence Peter
RESPONDENT: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the psychological and emotional structure of ‘me’. I’ve never been a community minded person, always regarded nationalism, racism, religious affiliations etc as glorified tribalism (at best a joke, at worst, the cause of unspeakable suffering in the world). I thought I was immune to all of that crap. But just lately I’ve realised (with some surprise) that another kind of tribe (the family) is deeply embedded in me. For the last few weeks I’ve been trying to dissolve these webs of entanglement in my mind and emotions. Not walking out on the family, not abandoning friends, but refusing to carry them around with me, refusing to define myself (or others) in terms of our special relationships based on kinship or shared experiences. I’ve never thought of myself as a possessive or clannish person by nature, but it’s all there. This psychic network of family relationships and friendships is a large part of ‘me’.
PETER: What you write of reminds me of the time I first really became aware of not being free. I had been on the spiritual path for years but when my teenage son died I experienced that I was ‘bound’, as though I had invisible bands around my chest that I needed to break free of. Having someone so young die seemed such a waste, which made me realize that I also was wasting my life unless I became free of these bands before I died. It was then that I became really serious, as in sincere, about my spiritual search but all I found was that I had been gullible in that I had been suckered into being a religious fanatic, albeit Eastern religion instead of Western religion.
After I ditched the spiritual path, I have since done a good deal of practical work in dismantling my social identity – my identity as a father, a lover, a provider, a rational-thinking male, a SNAG, a WASP, a socialist, a pacifist, a creative person, a patriotic Australian, and so on. It’s a big list to go through because I wanted to get rid of – or at least reduce to the most miniscule that ‘I’ possibly could – the affective parts of my social identity such that I could be happy and harmless whilst in the company of my fellow human beings. And if I wasn’t, then I had something to look at, for I then knew that some bit or other of my social identity needed to be discarded.
About 3 years ago I was sitting on a grassy bank near where I live, looking out over the sea early one morning when I had an experience that was somewhat similar to that which I had had all those years before when I stood beside my son’s coffin. This time I experienced that the reason that I was not free was because I was tethered by long tentacles attached to my back, which trailed off into the distance behind me. I remember thinking at the time that these tentacles or strings are what attaches me to Humanity – to no one in particular, but to Humanity itself.
In hindsight – and I am only now trying to make sense of it in order to pass on some information that may be of some use to you – it could be said that the last years of the work I have done in dismantling my social identity has meant that the feeling of not being free has somewhat changed. The feeling of being bound around the chest could be said to be the obvious feeling of being bound and restrained by the rules of society – a feeling that has given rise to the commonly-held feeling that ‘if only I can break free of my social conditioning then ‘I’ am free’.
By the stage of my second experience of not being free I had by-and-large demolished my social conditioning – including the spiritual conditioning that insists that to become free of social conditioning is the meaning of life – which meant I was then able to experience that there is in fact another layer beneath one’s social conditioning that one needs to become free of, and that is the human condition itself. My experience of being tethered to Humanity made it clear that I would not be actually free whilst these invisible emotional tentacles – as in psychic ties – remained.
It also occurred to me at the time that ‘I’ only exist whilst these tentacles exist and if these tentacles disappeared then ‘I’ would cease to exist … because ‘I’, as an affective non-physical being, only exist as a member of an affective ‘big club’ we call Humanity, a ‘club’ that has no existence in actuality. The feeling I had was that if ‘I’ disappeared no-one would mourn ‘my’ passing because no-one would even know ‘I’ had died as ‘I’ have no existence as an actuality.
Again with the hindsight of my own experience, the reason I needed to do the necessary work to become free of my social conditioning – including my spiritual conditioning which was part and parcel of this conditioning – is that I was then able to become virtually free of malice and sorrow. I was then able to clearly see, and experience, that it is the human condition itself that I need to be free of in order that I become actually free of malice and sorrow.
RESPONDENT: The results of trying to dissolve all of this have been mixed.
Occasionally it feels liberating. Occasionally there’s a sense of guilt associated with disloyalty (and all the rest of the psychological and emotional baggage that goes with it).
PETER: I remember trying to tip-toe my way through the minefield of morals and ethics until I found I had to take a good look at whether they were sensible or not, i.e. whether or not they worked in practice. For example, as children we are told by our parents and teachers not to get angry and not to hit other children. If we do then we are told it is wrong and that we are being bad, we are punished in some way and then told to say sorry to whomever we got angry with or whomever we hit. Not only are we made to feel guilty for not being ‘good’ children but the let-off of saying sorry means we then demand of others that they have to forgive us for being angry at them in the first place.
When I started to understand why morals and ethics have been developed, and how they operate in practice, it became clear to me that the only sensible way to become free of them was for me to become free of the instinctual passions that the morals and ethics are designed to stifle and repress in the first place. If I do not get angry when Betty says, or Tom doesn’t do, or when ‘they’ don’t, or when ‘they’ do, or when life is ‘unfair’ and so on, then the compulsion to feel guilty and the need to gratuitously say sorry doesn’t even need to come into play.
Whilst I couldn’t sort these things out as a child – long before I was even capable of making sense of what was happening I was unwittingly programmed to think and feel this way – as a grown-up I now able to do this.
And just another comment that is relevant to the issue of morals and ethics – there is a tendency for some people who have some appreciation of the inherent restrictions of their social conditioning to discard their original moral and ethical conditioning in favour of adopting moral behaviour and ethical stances that are seen by society at large as being immoral and antisocial – thereby fondly imagining that by swapping camps they have somehow freed themselves from their societal conditioning. Many then form affiliations with like-minded ‘outcasts’ in order to feel kinship with others who also feel they have ‘seen the light’ or who ‘know the truth’, or who justify their malice towards others as being ‘honest’, as being ‘real’, as being ‘authentic’, or as being ‘true’ to themselves.
To me it made sense that the only way to actually become free of the binds of morals and ethics is to pull the plug on what they are there to keep a lid on – the savage instinctual passions. If you are harmless towards your fellow human beings then feelings of guilt do not arise and when others try to make you feel guilty their barbs will find nothing to hook on.
And to round the conversation back to your case, in my experience the ‘sense of guilt associated with disloyalty’ was eventually experienced as a diminishing side-effect of increasingly whittling away at my social identity in order that I could become more happy and less harmful towards others.
RESPONDENT: But in spite of the feelings of guilt, I find that I’m not in any way less caring. Instead of feeling that I’m part of a network of people whose fates are intertwined, I’m looking at my ‘near and dear ones’ as ordinary fellow human beings, and I find that compassion and loyalty are being replaced by simple, good-natured playfulness. (There is definitely still affection here, but not of a possessive kind).
PETER: I can relate to what you are saying because I have had the same experience myself, most particularly in relation to my son. I came to notice that whenever I regarded him as ‘my’ son then a whole lot of feelings stood in the way of the intimacy of experiencing him as being a fellow human being. I became aware that whenever I felt him to be ‘my’ son then I found that I was needlessly protective, compulsively possessive, demanding, interfering, dismissive, expectant, and so on, which meant that I felt proud, hopeful, despairing, loyal, disappointed, annoyed, jealous, controlling, frustrated, and so on. I also noticed that whenever I had these feelings I could not help but impose them on him – no matter how hard I tried not to there was always a subtle, and sometimes a not so subtle, leakage.
The only reason I stopped being a player in this game was because I came to my senses in that I saw that it was ‘my’ feelings that stopped me from simply sitting down with him when the opportunity arose and having a down-to-earth intimate chat about things of mutual interest, exactly as I am wont to do with any of my fellow human beings when the opportunity arises.
PETER: You wrote the following to Vineeto, but given that you have made mention of me, I thought to correct some misconceptions:
RESPONDENT: Some people choose beliefs according to their utility value. (What does it buy me? Does it make me happy? Is it reassuring? Will it bring me peace? Will it serve me well in a crisis? How can I use it? Who else believes it? Can I trust the person who’s telling me this? Do I like the person who’s telling me this? Do I want to BE like them? etc)
Other people examine ideas, statements, hypotheses, explanations, theories as provisional models which either do or don’t conform to objective reality. (You might have noticed that these two types of people have been in conflict for a couple of thousand years?)
PETER: Which only emphasises how silly it is hold to any beliefs whatsoever, be they religious, spiritual, metaphysical, mystical, humanistic, atheistic, materialistic or whatever. Beliefs are the bane of humankind.
RESPONDENT: I’m one of the latter, for better or worse. If an idea, thought, model, theory, whatever, is comforting, reassuring, beautiful, but most likely untrue, it is useless to me as a belief. It never becomes something I trust in, rely on, or defend. As a consequence, I have not been willing or able to believe in anything supernatural for a long, long time. Now, you and Peter, evidently being of the other type who select beliefs on the basis of their utility rather than their factuality, seem not to understand this.
PETER: No. The image you have concocted of me has no basis in fact and if you care to read my journal you will see that it is a fabrication. Before I became a spiritualist I would have described myself as being an atheist, as the notion of an omnipotent God was a nonsense to me as was the idea of a life-after-death. I came across spiritualism for the first time in my life about age 35 and the attraction was two-fold – the possibility of freedom before physical death and the idea of living in peaceful communes so as to prove that is possible for human beings to live together in peace and harmony. I also would have described myself as an atheist during this period as the notion of an omnipotent God was a nonsense to me as was the notion of a life-after-death.
The belief that spiritual people are capable of living together in peace and harmony was gradually dispelled as the dream faded and the ‘it’s every man and women for themselves’ reality set in. The other shocking thing was that when my guru died he had ‘Never born, never died, just visited the planet’ chiselled on his tombstone. In other words, I had been conned into believing that Eastern spiritualism had nothing to do with a life-after-death which is clearly wrong as all Eastern religion includes the belief in life-after-death.
The other relevant point to make is that I never ‘chose beliefs according to their utility value’ as you put it. I was born into a Western, Anglo-Saxon, Christian society which inevitably meant that I developed a social identity that was made up of the beliefs, values, morals, ethics, ideas and opinions of the parents, peers and society I was born into. Nobody is able to ‘choose beliefs according to their unity value’ as every other human being born on the planet inevitably imbibes a full set of beliefs, values, morals, ethics, ideas and opinions which become the very substance of their social identities. A social conscience is another way of describing this identity – a ‘someone’ who keeps the instinctual urges under control such that one is able to function as a fit and useful member of society.
There is a good deal written about this on the Actual Freedom Trust website if you are interested in following it up. The The Actual Freedom Trust Library topic ‘Social Identity’ is an apt place to start.
RESPONDENT: You (pl – especially Peter) automatically assume that other people are like you, and unfortunately you (pl – especially Peter) are largely deaf and blind to counter information.
PETER: I automatically assume that other people are essentially like me in that all human beings born inevitably develop a social identity that overlays the instinctual self or being that is genetically-encoded in each and every fertilized egg and which is fully formed by about age 2 years.
RESPONDENT: As I’ve explained, rather than having spiritual beliefs that I must let go, I was never able to acquire them in the first place. I just couldn’t convince myself that these comforting beliefs in supernatural entities were actually true/ correct/ factual. I couldn’t believe them if I tried (and I did try). So I find it ludicrous when someone who a few short years ago was shouting ‘yahooo!!!’ at an empty chair tells me how necessary and how difficult it is to lose those precious spiritual beliefs.
PETER: Swapping one’s beliefs or changing one’s beliefs or even rejecting beliefs is one thing but intentionally undertaking a process of deliberately exposing all of one’s own beliefs is quite another. When I was a normal bloke, I became very disillusioned with the materialistic beliefs that I was told were the way-it-is and when I came across Eastern spirituality and its beliefs they appeared to me to be ‘the truth’ because they pointed to the paucity of material beliefs and they pointed to the possibility of a freedom from these beliefs based on the experiential observation that one can become free of one’s personal identity.
Abandoning the spiritual path and turning around proved to be only the start of a long and intense process of exposing all of the beliefs I either held dear or had not previously bothered to investigate for lack of interest and intent. I was not only amazed at the extent to which Eastern spirituality has permeated Western philosophy, sociology, psychology, psychiatry, science, eduction and medicine, but also at the extent to which I still held many religious/ spiritual beliefs, values, morals, ethics, ideas and opinions as a result of my childhood social conditioning – the beliefs that I thought I had rejected or thought I had transcended still lay dormant for lack of the genuine intent to actively dismantle my social and instinctual identity.
RESPONDENT: The social identity stuff I discovered yesterday is an amazing stuff. When I ran Richard’s question ‘Can we emotionally accept that which is intellectually unacceptable’ it lead me to the guardian angel at the gate with chemical weapons – which uses these painful emotions to punish one for doing/having done/will do behaviour – much like the police but acting internally (and the punishment is always feeling bad, fearful etc. – iow feeling unhappy). Probably I learnt to do this in my childhood – I am always controlling myself with the shoulds and nots – though a lot of the values I picked up later and seem to be not so run of the mill – albeit working on general principles of wanting to be ‘an ideal member of the society’.
PETER: It’s good to hear that your investigations are bearing fruit. Just a comment – it’s not that ‘probably I learnt to do this in my childhood’, every human born on the planet is taught by a process of carrot and stick to control the emergence of the instinctual passions. Indeed the whole notion of good and bad and right and wrong comes from this childhood training.
RESPONDENT: What a relief not be doing so – having a clear intent to be happy and harmless, it is now possible to live without controlling oneself – I am not talking about expressing, but about ‘not repressing/suppressing’.
PETER: I remember having had a similar feeling myself and it was a very palpable sense of freedom. This is how I described it soon after –
And to think all this came about as a consequence of deciding that I would make being happy and harmless the most important thing in my life. In hindsight, I hadn’t eliminated my social identity at this stage because whilst one’s identity has two aspects – instinctual and social – they are intermeshed such that they form one entity, but rather what happened was that ‘I’ gave myself a new job to do.
No longer was ‘I’ involved in the confusing and fearful business of being the controller, ‘I’ now was busy with being aware of how I was experiencing this moment of being alive with the aim of being as happy and as harmless as possible. Hence the palpable sense of freedom from having to be perpetually on guard was replaced by the thrilling business of being attentive to how I was experiencing being here in this moment of time. I don’t know if this makes sense to you at this stage but I would be interested in your comments if you feel like replying.
RESPONDENT: I used to think that I didn’t have beliefs and values and controls – that I am a rational person who arrives at conclusions out of reasoning – but I discovered that I do have beliefs and values when I control my internal behaviour (I couldn’t discover them by simply asking ‘what is my belief’ – the inquiry into why I am feeling bad uncovered it).
PETER: Yep. If you have a belief then for ‘you’ it is a truth and you are then obligated to hold on to your truths no matter what the facts of the matter are. The only reason that one would want to give up one’s beliefs was if one had something better to do with one’s life – and what better thing than eliminating malice and sorrow from one’s life.
RESPONDENT: I feel bad for various things I think and feel. Without all these controls, I am free to feel/think without unduly controlling and punishing myself (even anticipatorily)… and I can apply common sense to clear away stupidities… the punishing pattern only sustains the underlying tendencies never ending it (compare it with the crime and police) – the Krishnamurti saying that this is so because ‘the controller is controlled’ rings bells somewhat – but isn’t deep enough to provide an understanding of the whole process.
PETER: The remarkable aspect of being attentive with the intent to eliminate both malice and sorrow is that it is an objective awareness in the sense that it is equally attentive to both the good and bad emotions – unlike the spiritual practices and teachings which focus one’s attention only on the so-called bad emotions. It makes no sense to do half the job, as has been the tradition, if one wants to be free of the human condition in toto.
RESPONDENT: Though much has been written about the social identity and why it is important to focus on this aspect (rather than going to instinctual passions at the beginning of the investigation), I should admit that I really didn’t understand this at all (as it can be said that I was in denial/ignorance/unclear that I indeed was made up of these values and feelings) – it seems to be a great breakthrough having found this. That ‘social identity’ is overlaid on the ‘rudimentary self’ etc. makes sense only now. This seems to be a crucial step to me.
PETER: Based on what you have written, it does seem that you have made a great breakthrough. The reason I have written that it is important to focus on the social aspects of one’s identity is that this was the way I made my first breakthroughs. First came the intent to be happy and harmless – in my case I wanted to be able to live with at least one person in utter peace and harmony – and then came developing the unnatural habit of attentiveness necessary to discover what was preventing me form doing this. And lo and behold, I discovered that it was my social identity – ‘my’ beliefs, morals, ethics, principles, and values – that were the outer layer that I had to tackle in order to become more happy for more of the time and less antagonistic for more of the time.
RESPONDENT: I should ask those who are doing this kind of investigation whether they have found such a clear sense of identity (a heavily feeling being) which acts as the controller and shapes our thinking, feeling and hence (?) behaviour.
PETER: I posted a bit from my journal above that seems to align with your discovery. You may also find a lot of what I have written in my journal to be of use to you at this stage because it is all about the hands-on business of becoming virtually free of malice and sorrow with only passing references to the theory of it.
RESPONDENT: In my assessment (too early – L ) I should think that the steps after this identification (and elimination – in my case identification easily led to seeing the silliness of having such an enforcer as common sense is a much better benevolent mechanism to conduct one’s business) are quite straightforward; and as to having the intent to be harmless and happy – that itself seems to be a straightforward application of common sense.
PETER: Well said. And yet it seems that this common sense is an uncommon sense and no more so than amongst the goody-two-shoes spiritualists or for that matter amongst the real-world nihilists and anarchists.
And just to pass on a tip, you may well find that patience and perseverance are what is now required if you want to build on your successes.
RESPONDENT: But once again I clearly acknowledge that the adventure would not have been possible without the map – required reading and understanding so much of the material – once again great thanks to Richard, Peter, Vineeto and the rest (I cannot thank enough) – because if not for the writings here, it is easy to justify and sustain the social identity (the necessity of the values, beliefs, controls and so on) that is oneself – after all one will be in a good (in number L ) company – in not questioning it let alone ending it in oneself.
PETER: I fully acknowledge I would be still bumbling about in confusion and wafting along aimlessly if I had not serendipitously come across Richard and his discoveries, which is why I am always pleased to have the opportunity to pass on my experience and expertise as an actualist to others.
RESPONDENT: Thanks for your reply, I can corroborate much of what you have said from my own experience so far, but to avoid making too many educated guesses I’ve got some further questions.
I’ve been having a lot of success in dealing with any emotions that come along, but when no emotions are present and I’m very much enjoying this moment of being alive, I’m still very conscious of my sense of self (identity) and my instinctual sex drive.
PETER: In the first phase of the actualism method – when I was still continuously aware of being a socially-ensnared and instinctually-driven being – I was constantly motivated to be very best ‘I’ could be, to be virtually happy and harmless, i.e. virtually free of malice and sorrow. With this in mind, I continually prodded myself to never settle for second best – to always make the effort to up the ante from feeling good about being here right now, to feeling really good about being here right now, to feeling excellent about being here right now. What this upping the ante did was serve to expose whatever it was that was preventing me from being virtually happy and harmless – those that remained lurking beneath the surface whenever ‘I’ settled for remaining within ‘my’ comfort zone.
RESPONDENT: OK so if I read you correctly there are not particular categories of insight which need to be explained before they can be discovered … I suppose this is what I am concerned about.
PETER: When I first came across actualism it took me a good deal of time and effort to come to an intellectual understanding of what was on offer. Only when I gave up holding on to my spiritual identity was I able to fully jump into the process of actualism and only after getting a handle on using the method did I start to have experiential understandings of my psyche in action which in turn can that produce life-changing insights.
In my experience there are two aspects to the insights an actualist has on the path to becoming free of the human condition. The first aspect is an intellectual understanding of a particular issue – something that is relatively easy for those of us who are following Richard’s lead because he has written so much about the human condition and how to become free of it. Having an intellectual understanding is a precursor to the most important part of understanding, experiential understanding.
Once I made the decision to become an actualist, I threw myself into increasing my intellectual understanding which meant reading and listening to what Richard has to say on a particular matter and then doing my own thinking and contemplating on the matter. I also found putting my thoughts down into written words was a great aid to clear thinking. I developed the habit of writing down my own understandings in note form as I was contemplating and I also wrote a personal journal and entered into correspondence with other people about actualism.
My experiential understandings came solely as a result of asking myself, each moment again, ‘how am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’ and becoming aware of exactly what it is that is preventing me from being blithe and benign in this moment. The answers that came from the running the question gave me experiential understandings about the human condition in general and about the devious nature of my social identity and the stygian depths of my instinctual identity in particular.
Whenever I experience my psyche in operation as-it-is-happening, it is as if a light is turned on and all of a sudden I can clearly see a facet of my social persona in action or my instinctual passions in operation as they are happening. This clear-eyed awareness has the potential to produce an insight of such intensity that it is life changing – and my sincere intent to become free of the human condition in toto means I can never go back to being the same as I was before.
So, intellectual understanding always comes first – as in ‘Ah, yes, that makes sense’. If you don’t have an intellectual understanding of the over-arching nature of the human condition, then you will have no idea what you are looking for when you ask yourself ‘how am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’
Then, provided one makes the decision to devote one’s life to becoming happy and harmless, one moves on to stage two: logging up on-the-job, real-time, experiential understandings of your own psyche in action that can then lead to insights that are both life-changing and identity demolishing.
RESPONDENT: I found an old discussion of mine with Gary where I talked about my strong spiritual beliefs at the time. Now I see things the way he did when replying to me. Funny because I cannot even remember why it was so hard to grasp originally.
PETER: Yep. I would often look back and wonder why I had got so upset about something or other at the time, or why I had been so stubbornly holding on to a belief, or why I had taken a moral stance about a particular issue. It eventually became clear to me that ‘I’ was no longer that same person I was then because that part of my identity that felt the need to feel that way at that time was no longer in existence – I have described it as ‘Peter the spiritual disciple’, or ‘Peter the architect’, or ‘Peter the father’, or ‘Peter the goody-two-shoes’ no longer exists.
RESPONDENT: What belief did you have that kept you feeling attached to being Australian?
PETER: The belief that it is good to have a national identity, the belief that it is essential to feel as though I belong somewhere, the belief that I need to feel like some place is home, and so on. When I eventually came to realize that, by and large, these feelings are feelings that other people have told me I should feel – that’s what social conditioning is after all – it was relatively easy to give them up in favour of being an anonymous and autonomous citizen of the world.
To put it another way, I gave up feeling I belonged to one particular national group because of the invidious and aggrandizing feelings associated with holding on to such an identity entailed and I fostered the felicitous feelings associated in feeling myself to be a citizen of the world and seeing and treating all of my fellow human beings for what they are, fellow human beings, and not ‘who’ they are.
And just to say again what can never be said enough – the process of actualism is not about not feeling – in its first stage it is about becoming aware of the invidious and aggrandizing feelings as they occur and actively endorsing the felicitous feelings such that one can be as happy and harmless as possible whilst still being a ‘self’.
RESPONDENT: Belonging to a family?
PETER: I had to look at all the beliefs that have been passed down the generations about how one should feel and shouldn’t feel about being a father, a son, a mother, a daughter, a brother, a sister and so on. It’s probably more accurate to call these the morals and ethics of social conditioning but a particular event happened that caused my whole emotion-backed thinking about the nature of belonging to a family to come crashing down –
RESPONDENT: Stories can provide a non-linear mechanism of information conveyance in those cases where purely intellectual discourse fails (re Gary and I faith/belief). Despite our efforts to break free of our ingrained programs, we still have a socio-cultural-language basis. The stories can often carry a lot of information in a very small package.
PETER: I don’t know what you mean by a ‘non-linear mechanism of information’.
RESPONDENT: Just that a handful of words can convey a meaning greater than the sum of its parts. This predisposes a commonality of ‘socio-cultural-language’ between the sender and recipient. Analogous to the old saw – ‘one picture is worth a thousand words’. Even if I may have eliminated all my programming, any statement I might make to my neighbour will likely carry more implied content than to a Zulu tribesman, for instance.
PETER: My experience was that it took a great deal of conscious effort to take my social-cultural-spiritual bias out of language such that I was able to understand the written words that are used to convey the process of becoming free of the human condition. It is common to all spiritual teachings to disparage the written word as a means of communication and to encourage affective feeling-only communications such as satsang, communal prayers and meditations and the like. To describe a room full of people sitting silently with their eyes closed as communicating with each other is clearly nonsense. What in fact they are doing is retreating from the trials and tribulations of communicating with their fellow human beings and imagining a world where ‘we are all one’. Seventeen years on the spiritual path was sufficient experience for me to notice that spiritual beings were just as lost, lonely, frightened and cunning as real-world beings. The myth of peace and harmony between spiritual beings is just that – a myth.
Personally, when I met Richard’s discovery, I found it refreshing to come across a clear no-nonsense description of the human condition together with a coherent description of how to become free of it – and all of it written in dictionary definition words that said what it meant and meant what it said. It was a refreshing and radical change from the spiritual teachings I had followed for all those years.
But again, breaking free of my spiritual conditioning did take a while. I remember, after many months of listening to Richard, I was so fascinated by actualism that I wanted to know what was the hidden secret behind it all. If it meant Richard had come from another planet and a spacecraft was going to land and take us away, then I was in to it. It seems so silly now but I was so spiritually indoctrinated that the word was not the thing and that there was a secret message behind the words that I could not conceive that someone would have the audacity to not only say what he means but to mean what he says.
There is no secret message behind the words of actualism for it unabashedly points to an experience that everybody has had in there lives – a pure consciousness experience – and it explains the very simple, but at first difficult to put into operation, method of achieving that same tangible pure consciousness experience of freedom from the human condition, 24 hrs. a day, every day.
I might just end with a tip for beginners and that is to start the method of becoming attentive by focussing on obvious things and good examples are being grumpy about the weather, being upset about the traffic or being annoyed by what someone else says or does. This way you become used to becoming aware of how you are experiencing this moment of being alive and begin to notice what it is that is preventing you from being happy and harmless right now.
PETER: Just a comment with regard to your recent post on the topic of relationship. You wrote in response to Gary –
GARY: On the subject of my ‘relationship’ with my partner, the matter gets a bit stickier. Since my need to affiliate with other human beings in groups has greatly lessened, to the point of almost being totally absent, I have wondered at times if I transferred these feelings on to my partner and whether I am clinging to her to get these self-same needs met. I do enjoy our being together, and I look forward to our weekends and holidays together, even our simple presence together in the evening when the day is done is very enjoyable. To be honest: I do find myself clinging to her at times with feelings of ‘love’ and affection. Yet I can say that for every moment in which there is this feeling of love and affection, there are counterpoised moments when the invidious passions are in evidence: resentment, peevishness, annoyance. In short, malice. It increases my feeling that you cannot have the positive, loving emotions without having the whole instinctual package. At least, that’s the way I think of it at this point. In other words, the entire package needs to be deleted.
So, I guess where this leaves me is to say that I think the closest thing I have to a ‘normal relationship’ is my relationship with my partner. It is here that the instinctual passions of nurture and desire occur most clearly and cleanly, compared to my other everyday ‘relationships’. To sum this all up: it seems to me that a ‘relationship’ is about sharing joy and sorrow, sharing the complete pathos and movement of human emotion and human feeling. If one is freeing oneself from the Human Condition, does one need or desire relationships then? In an actual intimacy, is there any ‘relationship’ with the other that one is relating to? Is there any ‘connection’ at all, or is this entirely absent? These are just a couple of the questions that occur. Gary to Peter, 8.2.2002
RESPONDENT: I too find that the partner relationship is where we really test the mettle. At this juncture, I don’t have the child-rearing compulsion to interfere with the simple facts of the nature of the relationship, and that has created (or exposed perhaps) some turmoil. Semi-amusing anecdote: I’ve been pondering the questions raised by my investigation into AF, particularly in the notion of ‘love’. My SO asks the loaded question ‘Do you love me?’, and I responded innocently enough ‘I’m not sure what love is’. Wrong answer. The ensuing ‘situation’ may however precipitate some earnest discussion. Without going into gory details, I did discover that some of my behaviour of late has definitely included an element of malice towards her, cloaked in an air of righteousness.
PETER: I particularly like what you have discovered because it is an experiential observation and understanding of your own feelings and not a mere intellectual understanding of someone else’s experience – and there is a world of difference between the two.
I particular remember how shocked I was when, despite years of spiritual practice, I became very angry over a trivial matter. It was as though a crack had suddenly opened up in my oh-so-righteous persona and, although it was an uncomfortable experience, it provided an invaluable insight into the hidden deep-seated passions that lay just under the surface.
If I can elaborate a bit on your observation – what normally prevents such clear observations from occurring is the human social conditioning and the feeling of righteousness is particularly common for those who have imbibed religious or spiritual conditioning. Because of these spiritual feelings, it is extremely rare to find anyone who is capable of, let alone willing to, admit that they have malicious feelings towards others. If they do admit to feeling malicious, it is almost always cloaked in some form of self-righteous justification, as in ‘it was the other’s fault’, ‘I was simply sharing my feelings’, or even ‘I was doing it for their own good’.
The other major factors that prevent such clear observations form occurring are the socially imposed feelings of guilt and shame. As children, all humans are trained to feel guilty and shameful if they think or feel wrong or evil thoughts and we subsequently learn the games of deceit and denial as a way of avoiding blame and/or punishment. Because of the tenacity of this childhood programming it is vital for an actualist to both understand and experientially observe that the feelings, emotions and passions that constantly arise are the human condition in action and not one’s personal fault.
By conducting your investigations with this understanding in mind you are conducting an investigation in a hands-on scientific down-to-earth manner, free of any moral or ethical judgements of good or bad, right or wrong. By investigating the human condition in action in you – and as ‘you’ – you also avoid the traditional spiritual trap of creating yet another identity, a superior ‘real you’ who then observes a supposedly ‘illusionary you’.
You will find this business of becoming aware of your social/spiritual persona is not a one-off understanding but an ongoing process. You will become continually aware of whenever you think you are right and the other is wrong, when you feel as though you are being good and the other is being bad. You will find that these feelings arise because of beliefs you have been taught to be universal truths and you will become fascinated as you unearth and acknowledge the facts of how ‘you’ have been socially and instinctually programmed to think and feel.
Of course, you have to be sure that this is what you want to do with your life, because once you launch yourself into this process you will never be the same again.
RESPONDENT: I’m starting to see that it is always ‘happy and harmless’, it’s a package deal.
PETER: Again, this is one of the most crucial understandings in actualism and one that clearly separates it from all of the past failed methods to find a way to become free of malice and sorrow. The pursuit of happiness has been a long and fruitless search thus far for human beings solely because everyone has put their own happiness first and being harmless second – if being harmless gets a look in at all, that is.
Once you begin to observe in yourself the malicious element of merely pursuing your own happiness you also begin to see that it is normal behaviour within the human condition, i.e. everybody blames someone else for being the cause of their unhappiness and blaming others can only be a malicious act. And then you begin to see that this ultimately ‘self’-centred focus on ‘my’ happiness is why human beings do not, and cannot, live together in peace and harmony.
Speaking personally, it was the desire to be harmless that attracted me to begin the process of actualism and it was the desire to be harmless that has provided all of the impetus to push on beyond the limits of the measly ‘self’-centred pursuit of happiness only.
RESPONDENT: Over the years I see this has been my way of defence, but now with my partner and friends I see again certain words create an instantaneous shutdown in communication. I watch the occasions of frustration rise as we all try to express things in the only way we know how, possibly all saying the same thing yet our understanding of the words can be very different.
PETER: What passes for normal communication between human beings is really quite lamentable. The use of clichés, psittacisms and hackneyed phrases, most particularly in the spiritual world, means that no-one really says anything clearly and no-one really understands what the other is feeling, thinking or saying.
This is particularly so when people try to communicate to others what they are feeling for we have learnt to be cunning and manipulative, we have learnt to repress or to be selectively emotive. You may well begin to notice that this obscuration is a quite deliberate and mutually agreed way of maintaining a safe distance while creating an illusion of intimacy or connection.
The other observation that you may notice is how much of what passes for communication is really a sharing of mutual sorrow and malice. ‘How bad the weather is’, ‘how hard work is’, ‘what a b... my boss, boyfriend, mother, neighbour, workmate is’, ‘how bad the politicians are’, ‘how evil ... ‘ etc. etc. Once you start observing these traits in others – the easiest part – you are then ready to tackle the business of observing and acknowledging them in yourself and changing yourself – the most challenging, and rewarding, part.
RESPONDENT: I would be interested on your views on obligation. Especially in relation to how to fit in with other people’s desire for me to oblige them. In practicing actualism more and more I ask this question as I oblige less and less to people who ask without gratitude or for reasons that aren’t honest.
PETER: Obligation, duty and responsibility can all be seen as parts of the same package that we imbibe in early childhood and which is subsequently maintained and reinforced by family, peers and society. The physical reliance on the family group you are born into invariably comes with obligation, duty and responsibility and, as one grows and moves out into the world, more and more impositions are made upon you and you, in turn, inevitably make more and more impositions on others.
In teenage years, the onset of the raging hormones of sexual potency can often cause rebelliousness or blind lashing out against these restraints but this eventually wears itself out and yet another good citizen toes the line and dutifully fulfils his or her social and instinctual role within the Human Condition – be it either normal or spiritual. This is the time-honoured life-cycle of the human species – unaltered for an estimated 40,000 years of regenerations of the current genetic model.
I spent years riling against or resenting obligation, duty and responsibility until I discovered that the only way to become free of these shackles was to become perfectly happy and harmless – to become a model citizen, free of any malice or sorrow. Why rile against the conditions in your jail cell or waste your time blaming the warders or fellow inmates when you can step out of the cell? Actualism is not about fitting in with humanity – actualism is about stepping out of humanity.
For me, the key was to stop expecting or demanding that other people behave how I thought they should behave, to stop imposing my moods and whims on others, to stop obliging the whims and moods of others, to stop expecting or demanding of others what I was unwilling or unable to give.
The magic outcome of this process is that one eventually ceases to expect anything of anyone else – then you can never feel let down, disappointed, obligated, grateful or resentful. This cleaning yourself up – eliminating your social and instinctual identity – leads to a delicious and tangible autonomy. You become delightful company, both happy and harmless, free to interact with all of your fellow human beings in a way that is always appropriate, for you are guileless, innocent – childlike but with all the benefits of life experiences and a passion-free benign clarity.
RESPONDENT: Just meandering through the archives and happened upon your Feb 05, 2000 book review of ‘In Each Moment – A new way to live’ by Paul Lowe. Looking Glass Press. 1998 (No15)
I’m not one for books of Revelation either, nor doom and gloom, but any child these days knows that the physical, material world in which we are living is collapsing because of mankind’s lack of consideration for the environment. Are you sure that you yourself are not imagining that Paul so definitely divides the human condition from the devastating state nature is now in? Sure, he gives our beliefs way too much credit, but could radical actualism go the same route and go into denial about the very real effects man’s imagining brain is capable of.
PETER: Children don’t ‘know’ this from some innate sense of wisdom or foresight born of innocence – they have it drilled and drummed into them by teachers, media, parents etc. In the last few decades environmental studies have formed an essential part of all school curricula for all ages. Not only is it often taught as a separate subject in many cases, environmental issues dominate economics, science, politics, engineering, social sciences, entertainment, media, etc. Every child who receives a modern Western education is taught from a very early age that the material, physical world in which they live is either collapsing or is in imminent danger of collapsing and that human beings are at fault. My school days were in the late 50’s and early 60’s and environmental theory hadn’t been invented then. The major fear at that time was the Cold War and the threat of nuclear devastation, but doom and gloom predictions weren’t taught as part of the school curriculum as is case with the teachings of environmental doom and gloom.
What children know is what children are taught. Thus what we think we know or take for granted is, almost without exception, what we have been taught by our parents, teachers and peers. We take this information to be true, as in factual, whereas an extraordinary amount of it is theory, fashion, belief, concept, current idea, old wives tales, psittacisms, prejudiced view, etc. One only needs to consider what the school curriculum would have been like a century ago and consider how much of it would be relevant today, how much our world view has changed and yet how much of the past we desperately cling to. However, what we have been taught as truisms forms the very substance of our social identity – ‘who’ we think we are. One’s social identity is the conglomerate of all the beliefs, morals, ethics, values, principles and psittacisms that each of us has been programmed with since birth.
Unless this programming in the brain is questioned and sorted into silly and sensible and old redundant neural connections severed and new ones formed, one remains a victim of one’s social identity – whereas an actualist’s avowed aim is freedom from being this identity that has been imposed upon this flesh and blood body. Therefore it is vital that all one’s beliefs, morals, ethics, principles and psittacisms be questioned and reviewed.
This is the practical business of an actualist, this is the very down-to-earth pragmatic work to be done. It is an uncomfortable, tedious, seemingly-pedantic, fear-provoking process that people are very reluctant to undertake for you are quite literally dismantling a very large part of your ‘self’. Most of this information is programmed into us at the early years but quite a lot of what we hold dearest is what we have adopted later in life as we ‘moved with the times’. Environmental belief and Eastern religious belief were two that I adopted later in my life, and as such, I found them relatively easier to question for they were a bit like the layers of clothing I had swapped during my adult life as fashions and times changed.
So, the first thing to be aware of is that you are doing the very business of dismantling your social identity by questioning and challenging your dearly held beliefs. The second thing is that they don’t magically disappear by themselves. It requires stubborn effort to dig in and question and you will find much resistance, wariness, hesitancy and objection in yourself to devoting the necessary time and effort required. The third thing is that it is something you have to do yourself to the point that the ‘penny drops’ for you, otherwise you are back with simply swapping beliefs or adopting another belief – a useless enterprise that will do nothing to free you from the human condition.
PETER: It’s pertinent to point out that ancient Eastern spirituality teaches that the illusionary identity (‘I’ as ego only) is borne exclusively of the process of conditioning … whereas actualism establishes by observation and experimentation that the social/ instinctual identity (both ‘I’ as ego and ‘me’ as soul) is borne of the genetically-encoded instinctual passions.
RESPONDENT: Big deal about nothing – instinctual passions are still conditioning. Evolutionary conditioning, in fact. There are others who say much the same thing. Read writings by David Bohm, for example.
PETER: A quote will reveal what David Bohm saw as being the root cause of human malice and sorrow –
And another quote reveals the apparent source of this conviction –
I cannot find anywhere that David Bohm has mentioned the words ‘evolutionary conditioning’ or anything like these words let alone where he indicates that the instinctual passions are the root cause of human malice and sorrow – all I could find made it patently clear that he lays the blame for the ills of humankind on thinking and not feelings.
Given that you have made the claim, perhaps you could provide the evidence that any of the spiritual teachings mention ‘evolutionary conditioning’ … or did you just coin the term on the fly, as it were?
RESPONDENT: Actually he doesn’t separate thinking and feeling. In his book ‘Thought As A System’ he considers thought to be one aspect of a larger system that not only includes feelings in the body but the all the myriad of connections with the body and world at large. Put aside regular conceptual boundaries placed in the word thought (ie the idea that thought is only internal and ephemeral ‘whispers in the mind’) and consider it to be part of a larger whole.
PETER: What you appear to be suggesting here is that if I ‘put aside regular conceptual boundaries placed in the word thought’ then I could consider it to ‘be part of a lager whole’, which presumably means that it includes the genetically-encoded instinctual passions. Therefore when David Bohm says that ‘the ultimate source of all these problems is in thought itself’, I am to assume he is saying that ‘the ultimate source of all these problems is in the genetically-encoded instinctual passions’? Are you for real?
RESPONDENT: You can see that the movement of thought influences the brain, the body and the environment at large (buildings, roads, pollution, cultural influence, government etc) and that feedback returns into our bodies through the senses to make us feel and act in certain ways.
PETER: The ‘larger whole’ – the ‘we all live in one big thought-system’ theory – still lays the blame for the ills of humankind at the feet of thinking and conditioning, not feelings borne of the instinctual passions.
RESPONDENT: He considers the effect that evolution has had as well.
PETER: Simply repeating a claim over and over does not make it a fact. Could you perchance provide some evidence where he David Bohm indicates that the genetically-encoded instinctual passions are the root cause of human malice and sorrow and not that thought is the root cause?
RESPONDENT: And please note that just because I quote or paraphrase someone does not mean that I endorse all they do and say. David Bohm spent far too much time and energy with the reprehensible J Krishnamurti.
PETER: If I may point out, it was you who made the comment –
When I provided quotes that clearly indicated that Mr. Bohm specifically said that the ultimate source of all the problems that plague humanity is thought itself, you then offer a disclaimer that you are not prepared to endorse all that Mr. Bohm said. That puts an end to the possibility of any sensible discussion, hey?
PETER: I cannot find anywhere that David Bohm has mentioned the words ‘evolutionary conditioning’ or anything like these words let alone where he indicates that the instinctual passions are the root cause of human malice and sorrow – all I could find made it patently clear that he lays the blame for the ills of humankind on thinking and not feelings. Given that you have made the claim, perhaps you could provide the evidence that any of the spiritual teachings mention ‘evolutionary conditioning’ … or did you just coin the term on the fly, as it were?
RESPONDENT: Interesting person that No 58 mentioned a while back: John Wren-Lewis. Wren-Lewis has also been thinking about the effects of instinctual conditioning. Here’s a quote and reference:
However he does not come up with a system for dismantling the psychological survival-system, which is where Actualism is to be commended.
PETER: For a start, there is no such thing as ‘instinctual conditioning’, a point I made clear in the last post and one which you chose to ignore.
Secondly, Mr. Wren Lewis makes reference to what he terms a ‘psychological survival-system’, indicating that the survival-system is a mental process – and not a sequential process that is firstly physical, secondarily affective and only lastly cognitive. Not only does he not understand how the survival-system operates, he has no idea how it is passed from one generation to the next and it has apparently never occurred to him that it originated in the human species because the survival-system is common to all sentient animals.
So much for Mr. Wren Lewis’ thinking about the effects of instinctual survival passions – he is doing no more than trotting out the Eastern spiritual party line that thinking and conditioning ‘cuts off so-called normal human consciousness from its roots in that other, impersonal consciousness’, that which is also known as God by whatever name.
RESPONDENT: For my taste, explaining of physics and biology of mind is an important task in itself even if its importance may pale in comparison to the task of achieving Actual Freedom.
PETER: Yes indeed. The modern scientific empirical discoveries of neuro-biology and genetics, with regard to the human brain and how it functions, have revealed two very fascinating aspects –
RESPONDENT: Sorry but I mistook. I am not different from the Eastern religious followers as you defined. It’s a mistake. It maybe confuse you like Zen ;-) ‘I am different’ is a right version. Sorry for my poor English.
PETER: I suspect you may have a mild case of ‘definiendum dementia’. As for me, I am even more Zen-fused and be-mystified.
But I liked what you wrote to Vineeto in your third post to this list –
What you and I have been doing in our correspondence is digging a bit deeper than the usual superficial and the mere pretence and getting down to the facts of the situation. It is uncomfortable stuff, confronting and bewildering and threatening to No 14 the dreamer, or No 14 the disciple, or No 14 the ... But these No 14’s are the ones that have to go for the genuine No 14, the flesh and blood body, free of an alien psychological and psychic entity to roam free and upright in this actual world of sensual delight where peace, harmony, benevolence and a pristine purity are rampantly and intrinsically abundant.
It’s a tough call, looking self-extinction in the face, but it sure beats a life of pretence and being hung in the superficial.
I have no other interest in the discussion other than looking at and discussing the facts of the Human Condition that we humans find ourselves trapped in. We humans have endlessly sought solutions ‘within’ the Human Condition – never daring to question the Human Condition itself. We have all looked in the same old places and at the same old solutions that have obviously failed to deliver anything remotely resembling peace on earth. We have forever believed and trusted that Ancient Wisdom would provide a solution to the horrendous mayhem and suffering that we humans inflict upon each other. We have huddled together in fear and trepidation around the temples and God-men, unwilling to strike off on our own to question, discover, uncover, investigate and find out for ourselves exactly what it is to be a human being.
This is why both this list and the writings are unabashedly iconoclastical. There is no solution to be had in spiritual or religious pursuits, in fact any belief or faith actively supports, ‘nourishes’, enhances and embellishes the very problem – the psychological and psychic entity, the ego and the soul.
It is obvious that the solution has to lie outside of the Human Condition – it is the whole of the Human Condition itself that we have to become free of in, order to find an actual personal peace and facilitate an actual global peace.
PUBLISHER No 1: Of course I don’t understand actualism, I would rather meet you with a clean plate each time and let your words and beliefs stand or fall on what you actually say. It is so easy for people who have ‘the answer’ to just dump everything they hear into their own little belief system compartments and in doing so negate their own and the others’ individuality.
PETER: Personally, when I was in an Eastern religion, I was far from being an individual. I was trapped in a belief-system, was ‘in love’ with a Guru, and passion, loyalty and pride combined to ensnare me. I was en-meshed in a social group, reliant upon it for friendship, employment, meaning and identity. I was trapped into living my life by moral and ethical values which, although Eastern, were disquietingly similar to Western values of what is good, bad, right and wrong.
Only when one is freed of all social identity and the genetically-encoded instinctual animal ‘self’ is one actually free of the Human Condition. If one has any identity whatsoever, be it social or instinctual-animal, then it is impossible for one to be an individual.
RESPONDENT: I have experienced dropping a personal ego to then find later that I was hiding in a spiritual ego so I can relate to what you are saying about taking on a new spiritual identity.
PETER: Ah, then you will see that the creation of a new non-separate self is merely adopting a new spiritual identity. It does take immense courage to keep peeling away at the layers of the onion and not stop at the ages-old spiritual layer as everyone else has done. To not be seduced by good feelings or scared off by bad ones in one’s search for freedom from malice and sorrow requires an intrepid pioneering spirit. The end result of eliminating beliefs is that eventually one gets to the stage of ceasing the very act of believing and an immense and palpable freedom ensues.
RESPONDENT: It is a very subtle business... and I think the danger is in stopping along the way to draw conclusions. I really like your computer metaphor of the delete button and not forgetting to empty the re-cycle bin!
PETER: Up until now, every body who has tried to delete their social and instinctual identity has stopped when they got to the bad bits and frantically grabbed for the good bits. In doing so they merely installed a spiritual program, gratefully relieved to be able to find safety again. It takes audacity, persistence and bloody-mindedness to investigate one’s own instinctual passions at their very core for one is investigating, dissecting and deleting the very core of one’s own being. It is not something that can be done without the pure intent gleaned from a pure consciousness experience. My experience is that if it’s a subtle business then you are snorkeling around on the surface, for when one goes deep sea diving into one’s own psyche the business is not subtle but so profound as to totally change one’s life, irrevocably and irretrievably.
RESPONDENT: Isn’t the fact that we can communicate like this together proof of the basic unity and understanding from which everything springs?
PETER: The belief that there is a ‘basic unity and understanding from which everything springs’ is a fundamental spiritual belief. By believing there is an energy, life-force, hidden meaning, creative force, Isness, Essence, spirit, Godliness, Universal Consciousness, or whatever, that is creating, operating or controlling within, above or beyond this infinite, eternal physical universe is succour for the soul. The only way the lost, lonely frightened and very cunning entity that dwells within the flesh and blood body can feel connected to the physical world is to imagine that it is primarily spirit based and what is physically perceived by the flesh and blood body’s physical senses. The only way to sensately experience the sensuous delights and always already-existing peace, purity and perfection of the actual world is to eliminate this illusionary entity in total.
PETER: If you are interested in what I have to say about sex, I suggest you read about it in my journal. I can rave on about my second favourite subject, but I am trying to be brief. If you also read the two chapters before, it will make more sense to you as to what is affective as opposed to what is sensate.
RESPONDENT: You address us individually but you are not able to talk to us individually. You talk to me as if I was a group. Don’t I give a shit about the group! And I am certainly no groupie of yours. :-)
PETER: I am not writing to you, the spiritual believer. I am writing to you, the fellow human being and I am reporting – as a fellow human being – what I have found out and the extra-ordinariness of it all. That there is actually a way to become free of malice and sorrow. Many on the list complain that I am not talking to ‘them’ and it is true. I am communicating directly to the fellow human being using common sense and native intelligence – saying don’t believe what everyone has told you – don’t just go on believing what the old fuddy duddies of the past have told you is true.
It is 1999, not 500 BC, and there is now available a way out of the mess we humans have found ourselves in. I don’t expect you to believe me but if you are at all dissatisfied with your life and in following the ‘tried and failed’ methods ... maybe, just maybe, it might be worth considering ... trying something ... new?
To get to where I am, I had to demolish ‘Peter, the Christian’, ‘Peter, the father’, ‘Prabhat, the Sannyasin’, ‘Peter, the architect’, ‘Peter, the man’, ‘Peter, the lover’, ‘Peter, the ... and so on ... until finally it was Peter at his instinctual core ...
It is such an adventure to discover ‘what’ you are rather than ‘who’ you think and ‘who’ you feel you are... to free yourself of the ‘shackles’ of the Human Condition.
I am free of the ‘world’ I was born into, I am free of the mutually-agreed scenario ‘that to be a human being is to suffer’ – I am free of sorrow. And as there is no entity in me that can take offence – I am free of malice. I simply met a man who was already free and followed the path, and the method, and I am reporting to whoever wants to listen ... that it works.
Richard, Vineeto and I are laying a trail of words that are a guide map, but the wonderful thing is ... you get to make the journey yourself.
Peter’s Text ©The Actual Freedom Trust: 1997-. All Rights Reserved.