The main business in this unconscious life which we are all so very immersed in is the passing on of unexamined assumptions, the tireless propagation of unexamined assumptions on into the indefinite future. For this ‘passing on’ or ‘propagation’ to occur at all, it is absolutely essential that the assumptions remain unexamined – examining them would banjax everything!

The reason why examining our assumptions banjaxes the whole show is because there is no such thing as a ‘true’ assumption, no such thing as assumption that won’t be dissolved away into various shades of relativity the moment we start looking into it. As Rupert Sheldrake says, everything in reality has time in it; nothing exists as a static (or ‘time-free’) snapshot. Saying that ‘everything has time in it’ is another way of saying that whatever we’re looking at hasn’t made its mind up yet about what it’s going to do – its future is undecided. So whatever element in reality we’re considering the one thing we know for sure is that it can never be considered separately from the package of irresolvable uncertainty that it carries with it…

When we examine anything we become aware of the uncertainty that is present in it – we become aware that what we’re looking at contains time (in the non-linear sense of becoming) within it. What we’re looking at will change as our understanding of it changes. In the same way when we start to examine our assumptions they will cease to be what we had thought they were and become something different. What we considered to be a ‘done deal’, a static entity, is now revealed as something that exists in a state of flux. What we had previously regarded as a fixture now shows itself to be a movement…

Philosophically speaking, this is all very interesting and nice to talk about but – as we have said – this kind of thing completely banjaxes the very important business of ‘passing on our assumptions into the indefinite future’. The whole enterprise breaks down because we are no longer (if we are conscious of what we are doing) in the business of ‘passing on’ a fixed pattern of thinking, a fixed pattern of being. On the contrary, we are mutating, changing, joining in with the uncharted movement or flow which is the underlying reality of things. By actually examining the ideas in our heads rather than naively thinking that they ‘are’ whatever we assume them to be, we have moved out of the static world of ‘fixed mental constructs’ into the universe of change spoken of by Heraclitus five hundred years before the birth of Christ, and more recently by David Bohm, who in ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order‘ talks about ‘the unbroken wholeness of the totality of existence as an undivided flowing movement without borders’.

This however isn’t our usual way of seeing things at all. On a collective level our culture consists of a body of fixed ideas, fixed viewpoints, fixed assumptions regarding what life is all about and how exactly we should be living it, and so what we call ‘education’ (which is really a form of ‘indoctrination’) is nothing more than the process by which these fixed ideas, viewpoints and assumptions get to be passed on to the next generation. Inasmuch as the emphasis in education is all on accepting what we are being taught rather than questioning it this process is therefore a wholly unconscious one.

Generally speaking, passing on the matrix of ideas and beliefs which is our culture is a matter of supreme importance to us – a lot of people would get extremely upset about any suggestion of changing the template, particularly those people who happen to be in positions of power or authority. After all, we only get to be in a position of authority or influence by conforming to the established system, so it is extremely unlikely that – having done this – we are suddenly going to turn around and start questioning that system. Those who do question or who are reluctant to accept the official story of ‘what is what’ are going to be pushed to the margins of society, which is of course a guarantee that no one is ever going to listen to what they have to say! This is how the system gets to stay the same. The same old ideas are endlessly recycled – we only listen, or have time for, those who believe as we do.

Exactly the same is true on an individual level – the static picture I have of myself is maintained by having a fixed viewpoint on the world, a deeply-entrenched pattern of thinking and behaving. I am proud of these habits; I am defensive of them – they make me who I am, after all! Without them I wouldn’t know myself. Just as society is deeply conservative and automatically rejects anything that isn’t part of its established tradition so too is the individual – we cling to our ways, our habitual patterns of thinking and behaving, with grim determination. It is an observable fact of human psychology that rather than questioning our basic way of thinking about things, we unreflectively enact it.

Because I identify with this pattern so as to say, “This is me”, “This is who I am”, of course I am not going to question it! On the contrary, I am going to run with it. I am going to take this assumed identity as an absolute given, and then go about my business on this basis. The basis doesn’t ever change therefore – everything I perceive, everything I think, everything I do from this point on is going to be perceived, thought about, done from this standpoint and this standpoint alone. Anything else may be questioned, or changed, but never the fixed pattern of who I think I am… This is how I manage to obtain ‘the illusion of myself’ .

This business of what is sometimes referred to as passive identification is at the very root of the unconscious life. ‘Identification’ means that I seize upon some fixed idea or image of who I think I am and then run with this idea, this image. I make an assumption and then keep on recycling it, reiterating it, regurgitating it. I faithfully copy and transmit the assumption; I make it my sacred task to pass it on into the indefinite future. And in order to do this it is vitally important – as we have said – that I never ever examine what it is that I am passing on, never ever examine what it is I am copying and transmitting. Not examining my assumptions is how I get to stay the same, how I get to stay ‘me’! That’s how I make sure that I don’t turn into something else, something different, something strange, something that isn’t ‘me’…

An assumption that has never been properly looked at is 100% static, 100% fixed, 100% secure, and this is how I know that it can never get away from me, never slip away from my grasp. This is all very well in one way but there’s a big problem, a big snag that we just don’t see. The ‘plus’ side of the deal is that we get to be able to continue believing in the assumption, keep on with the game of protecting it and promoting it and so on. We could also say that the ‘plus’ side of the deal is that I manage to obtain for myself what Chogyam Trungpa calls territory. My ‘territory’ is the ground I have to build all my mental structures on – all of the ideas that I have about ‘who I am’ and ‘what life is all about’, my ideas about absolutely everything, in fact!

Without this territory, I can make no definite statements or assertions about the world. Without this ground – which is made of my ‘raft of unexamined assumptions’ – I can have no literal descriptions of reality and so it becomes impossible for me to ‘know’ anything about reality. The downside of the deal, therefore (which we never pay any attention to) has to do with this totally unacknowledged impossibility: Henri Bergson says that “to exist is to change’ and the corollary of this is that if we don’t change then we don’t exist…

The unconscious life is therefore an unreal life; it is an unreal life because the static (or ‘abstract’) self I think I am doesn’t exist. The unconscious life is an unreal life because the mind-produced phantom who lives it is itself not real…

But if this sounds ‘negative’ or discouraging, it oughtn’t to. The unconscious life is unreal but the conscious one is not. And so the cure for the unacknowledged but suffering-producing unreality (or ‘hollowness’) of the unconscious life is simply to start getting interested, to start getting curious, to start getting aware, to start actually examining the assumptions that up to now we have been so busily (and so unconsciously) passing on…
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By Nick Williams | Staff Writer