The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 22: September 2023

Dear Friends,

The latest outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians brings home once more the dreadful truth that humanity lives in a near-perpetual condition of violence. Plato had already expressed this human predicament in his time: “Humanity is in a condition of public war of every man against every man, and private war of each man with himself.” (The Laws, Book I) And evidently not much has changed since then despite our benevolent religions and ideal philosophies. Neither Plato’s Republic nor St. Augustine’s City of God or, for that matter, any other utopias, have ever materialised. We continue to be tribal, to defend our identities and territories and destroy one another as though we were forever prey to a regressive barbaric propensity. Our cultural sophistication and our technological prowess do not seem to alter our divisive and conflictive tendencies. Under such circumstances, peace is a fiction and love a meaningless word. The net result is a historic process that traps whole peoples generation after generation into an unending cycle of violence and its untold suffering. From that suffering there is more violence and from that violence more suffering. This is what we see in such a situation. So is there an end to violence and suffering?

We touched on the question of suffering in the July issue of this newsletter by taking a brief look at the question of trauma and psychological hurt. There I mentioned the current movement that is drawing attention to the vast implications of the universal phenomenon of trauma. Spearheaded by concerned physicians and psychotherapists, this movement is intent on bringing about a trauma informed culture and society. In an attempt to establish something of a dialogue between K and what some of these experts have been saying, I mentioned the subject of relationship, which is where our psychological wounds or traumas tend to originate.

For K life is relationship. Relationship in turn is action, so that life, action and relationship come to mean the same thing. The understanding of relationship is therefore of the utmost importance, for as our relationships are, so is our life. Relationship was for him the art of living, art being a harmonious and creative form of order. Such relationship implies contact, communion, not separation, division and conflict, which are standard aspects of what we normally call relationship. For K that is not relationship and so his inquiry centres on understanding and dissolving the factors that break down relationship and consequently bring about violence, hurt and suffering.

Relationship is our central problem. The problem is in the inadequacy of response to challenge. K indicates that ideas, conclusions and beliefs separate people and prevent relationship. This is rather obvious, but he goes further. These ideas and beliefs, with their symbolic expressions, are the product and content of thought. In K’s standard definition, thought is the response of memory. This brings about a discrepancy, a friction between recognition of the fact and the actuality and newness of it, so that thought becomes a source of contradiction in relationship. Responding from the past proves to be inadequate, breaking down relationship and generating violence and sorrow. This is therefore not just a problem between specific ethnic, religious, national or political groups but an issue involving the very operation of thought in relationship.

War, as K put it, is the spectacular and bloody expression of our daily lives. It is the violent outbreak of the latent tensions permeating society, society being the extension of our relationship with each other. One of the factors contributing to this undercurrent of social violence is that we use each other as means to an end. Such usage involves possessiveness, manipulation, jealousy and conflict. If we are attentive, this is what the mirror of relationship reveals about ourselves. We are caught in a dangerous pattern of exploitation and violence. The ending of this pattern would be a revolution in our relationship, a revolution that K would call love, in which he sees the only creative factor in the transformation of ourselves and society. Love is the essence of relationship when freed from these destructive factors of self-interest, which are the causes of hurt and suffering.

Suffering is part of the long tradition of humanity. It’s been with us since time immemorial. We have just mentioned a couple of sources of suffering, namely in the inadequacy or partiality of our responses to the challenges of living and in our approach to relationship involving use and convenience. Another major cause of psychological suffering that K often mentions is loneliness, which is the feeling of having no relationship. Loneliness results from the isolating activities of self-concern, such as ambition, greed and envy. Feeling the pain of loneliness, we escape from it through attachment to things, people and ideas. In attachment we seek security, which leads to possessiveness, fear of loss, jealousy, domination and conflict. This breaks down the relationship and we are back to loneliness and suffering. This system of escape traps us in a vicious circle in which the cause is the effect, in which the solution is an extension of the problem. So the issue in dealing with psychological suffering is not to escape from it. It is also clear from this that we need to understand suffering if love is to have any meaning. For K the ending of suffering is the beginning of wisdom.
Psychological hurt distorts our perception and causes us to act neurotically. It is relatively easy to be aware of the conscious hurts, but it is more difficult to unearth the deep unconscious, collective wounds. It has become our tradition to approach our hidden hurts through analysis. K takes issue with this tradition, as it implies a division between the analyser and the analysed, which is the same as that between the observer and the observed. This division is a distortion of perception and understanding. So analysis is not the way. K suggests that if we are aware during the day without choice, in sleep the unconscious reveals its content. This content is the accumulation of the past, and as it is exposed in choiceless awareness, the unconscious hurts dissolve and the body-heart-mind becomes highly sensitive. In this sensitivity there is the birth of the passion of beauty. Beauty goes with love and the root meaning of love is freedom.

In the field of reality love has become pleasure, attachment and the consequent lack of communication. (Communication means meeting at the same level, at the same time, with the same intensity, which is love.) If our relationship is based on the remembrance of things past, it implies a disconnection with the present, which makes for isolation and creates suffering. We have accepted this suffering as a necessary complement of the pleasure of love. This is what love has generally meant in the field of reality, namely the friction and suffering of pleasure and attachment. K traces the root of attachment to our inner fear of emptiness, loneliness and uncertainty. We create loneliness through our self-centredness and uncertainty through the pursuit of becoming, which all adds up to a feeling of emptiness. Remaining totally with these things, observing them without the observer, reveals their significance and there is then no escape through attachment. The ending of attachment is freedom and order in the field of reality, of thought. Love is then not the time-bound movement of thought as the ‘me’ in its isolating pursuit of pleasure and becoming but the timeless now, without past or future. This is total responsibility, total relationship, which is compassion.

We have all been hurt psychologically. Given the consequences of hurt, the question naturally presents itself as to how to be free from the hurts we have and how not to be hurt again. Trying to prevent future hurts, we build defensive walls around our hearts, which means we are not open and vulnerable in our relationships. This emotional isolation is based on fear and makes for self-centred action. K saw the fundamental cause of hurt in the self-image to which we are attached. For him this self-image is a belief in the existence of a self. This self is created by thought and has no independent existence, which makes it into an illusory entity. K suggests that if we were to see this whole process of hurt, thought would stop building images. As the self-image is the nucleus from which hurts arise and around which they are gathered, if there is no self-image there can be no new hurts and the old ones are dissolved. As hurt distorts the clarity of perception and thought, the ending of hurt restores clarity. This clarity brings order and ends conflict and suffering. Because we are the world, this freedom from suffering will affect the consciousness of mankind. For K this is the mystery of compassion.

The self-image is clearly a central factor of hurt and as long as we have it somebody is going to put a pin into it. The hurt is a matter of the way we record the experience. So K raises the question as to whether it is possible to record the needful knowledge and not the flattery or the hurt. K says this is possible only when there is no self-image. However, society is built on the principle of image-making. It functions on the notion that we must become somebody both professionally and psychologically. Socially, our position and worth are dependent on the comparative value of our image in the eyes of others. So is it possible to live in this world without a self-image? K says it is completely possible to perform one’s professional a function and yet be nobody in this world. To act efficiently and earn a living we need capacity, not an image. So will we drop our self-image and stop becoming? If we don’t, we are going to get hurt and isolate ourselves behind fearful walls in whose enclosure there is no love.

Suffering is an acute and painful disturbance, so we try to escape from it. That would seem to be a natural reaction, except that escaping from it only gives it continuity. If we don’t escape and are simply aware of it without the observer, without labelling or naming, justification or condemnation, there is only the feeling of intense pain in relation to something. K says that the problem in suffering is the separation from what is and that if we are that, a fundamental transformation has taken place, as there is no ‘I’ that suffers. Then there is undivided attention in which fear and sorrow have lost their meaning.

This topic of hurt and suffering is quite vast. I just watched the news and saw the appalling images of the spreading ruin and devastation in Gaza in retaliation for the atrocities in Israel. Violence is met with violence and there is no end to sorrow. Right now, as I am typing these sentences, thousands upon thousands are suffering and being hurt all over the world. What the preceding examination would seem to imply is that suffering lies at the core of the structure of consciousness as we know it. We could practically say that K’s message is that consciousness is suffering. That has profound implications, for then the whole of humanity is involved and united in it. The current disasters of war taking place in different places are the dramatic outcome of a series of misunderstandings concerning the nature of relationship, the nature of security, the nature of thought, the nature of love and the nature of our own being. The whole thing is a tragic misunderstanding. And that’s why self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, without which there is neither peace nor compassion in the world.

Be well, amigos, and stay awake to the danger of images and the beauty and freedom of love.


Photos by J. Gómez Rodríguez: 1. 'The Blue Victory', collage; 2. Rhododendrons, the Grove, Brockwood Park.
Email Marketing Powered by MailPoet