The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 23: October 2023

Dear Friends,

During a recent meeting with fellow seekers, although we had planned to talk about something else, our minds naturally turned to the topic of the recent outbreak of hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. This is a totally tragic outcome stemming from decades of enmity and violence. I would not pretend to know all the factors that have gone into creating such a catastrophic situation with its untold suffering. It is clear, however, that unless there is a drastic change in the currently entrenched attitudes of the parties to this conflict, the future will be more of the same. The brutal strategies of power and domination will not bring about peace, for there will always be the oppressor and the oppressed. Which is the reason why the current situation is utterly repugnant and a serious indictment of our endemic inhumanity to each other. The horror of what is happening, with the systematic bombardment of a densely populated area and the consequent daily massacre of men, women and children as part of the retaliatory action of a sovereign government to safeguard its national security, stinks to heaven. The local and international game of power politics is showing once again its sinister side. The death of thousands is the acceptable price others must pay for the material, political and ideological gains of the butchers of the day. They trade in human lives like they play the stock exchange. They do not care who lives or dies as long as they achieve their murderous aims. It’s all carefully planned and executed, with the most advanced weaponry and sparing no expense, to visit wrack and ruin on the ‘others.’ What very few seem to realise is that there is no other, that we are one humanity and that to kill another is to kill oneself.

K never tired of saying that where there is division there must be conflict. He called this a law. Divisiveness, however, is the general predicament of the individual and society. (Ironically, the word ‘individual’ means ‘undivided’.) The separation of people according to nations, races, languages, political ideologies and religious beliefs is standard fare and the usual grist for the mill of history. These separations arise from our identification with land, people and ideas. The primary motivation for such identifications is the search for security and becoming. We all want to be something or someone and by taking on a group identity we confirm or augment our sense of being and self-worth. K says somewhere that the sense of self begins with the animal instinct to possess. That is why there is no ‘me’ without the ‘mine’. While this possessive identification is intended to provide physical and psychological security, it is in fact the factor of division that brings about conflict and destroys security. This total contradiction is a clear instance of our profound self-ignorance. After centuries of incontrovertible evidence, mankind is none the wiser and continues to precipitate these disasters generation after generation, both in the private sphere as well as on the global stage. Violence has become such a constant of human experience that we can hardly imagine a future without it. That’s why our science fiction invariably reproduces in every galaxy, no matter how far away, the same old struggle between our inveterate will to power and the consequent fight for justice.

This instinctual pattern of possession and identity as the ground of security, contradictory as it turns out to be, is deeply rooted in our biological survival instincts. Evolving from our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, every tribe comes with its own separate territory, culture and identity which it must protect at all costs. I have read somewhere that all such primitive tribal peoples tend to uphold the belief that they alone are the distinctly or genuinely human. The separate nature of their identity is further reinforced by the attribution of its origins to a legendary hero with a messianic mission. Every tribe centres its collective purpose around such foundational myths. Although these myths are intended to bring about a quality of ethical integrity and universal peace and brotherhood, the tribal organisation becomes exclusive and leads to conflict and violence, which deny the meaning and intent of its nuclear beliefs. Every tribe – and nationalism, as K would say, is glorified tribalism – has ever been caught in this self-contradiction. It is on the basis of the past and its myths that such identities are formed. Although in the usual progression of time myth becomes legend and legend becomes history, the history of the tribe is inextricably bound with its mythical identity. And what goes for the tribe goes for the individual. Our sense of self is the nucleus of our experience and the karmic determinant of what happens to us. (Character, as they say, is fate.) K would say the self is the essence of the past and it feeds on the ashes of yesterday. This represents a massive danger, for then our overriding intent is to perpetuate something that is dead, which sets it on a collision course with the living.

In our conversation we were led to consider K’s more essentialist perspective when looking into the nature and causes of disorder and conflict in our lives. From my research into this topic for the online course, I had drawn a causal chain which I called ‘The vicious circle of conflict’. I projected on a screen the resulting graph depicting the self-defeating movement involved and we went into it together. I reproduce it here just in case it might throw some light on the matter.
K traces the beginning of conflict at every level of our existence to an initial movement of escape precipitated by the fear of loneliness, emptiness and not being. (Psychologically fear is a movement of escape from an unpleasant fact.) I think most of us recognise this primal fear. Out of it we seek inward and outward security, fulfilment and becoming. This search for security and becoming is undoubtedly one of the major motivating forces of human endeavour. Much is made of it in terms of achievement and success, which become the very measure of our social worth. What nobody seems to be aware of or mention is that as a result we are everlastingly haunted by the fear from which these things originate. The pursuit of security, fulfilment and becoming results in identification with and attachment to things, people, ideas and beliefs. Attachment is intended to give continuity to that which we depend on for our safety and fulfilment, for our sense of being something. That’s why possessions and the sense of belonging have become so important. In order to feel safe, we tend to adapt to the cultural tradition of the social environment and its corresponding authority. This conformity to the established order not only denies freedom but sensitivity and intelligence. We adopt a specific collective conditioning which sets us in opposition to other groups with different sets of norms, values and practices. This generates division and conflict, not only outwardly in our relationships but also inwardly in terms of the duality between the fact and the ideal, or as K liked to put it, ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’. This inner and outer state of conflict denies love and leads to the breakdown of relationship, which lands us back in the isolation of loneliness (loneliness being the overwhelming feeling that we have no relationship) and the consequent fear of emptiness from which we desperately seek to escape, with the same consequences at every turn of the wheel.

Now, that might seem like too abstract an explanation, too removed from the facts on the ground to offer an insight on the matter. Naturally, when war breaks out one’s primary concern is with saving one’s skin and the lives of one’s dearest and nearest, not the understanding of the deeper psychological causes that split mankind into these competing gangs of fratricidal maniacs, whether state sponsored or otherwise. The immediacy and urgency of events obscures the fact that these periodic eruptions of organised murder are the outcome of the delusional structures of self-centred thought. We fail to see that the crisis, as K repeatedly indicated, is not primarily out there but in consciousness. And the crisis lies in this pattern of escape from the fear of nothingness through attachment and identification, which leads to the denial of sensitivity, love and intelligence. It is identity that is the root cause of violence and sorrow. It is the thought of being something that makes for this endemic misery, behind which there is nothing but fear, which is itself a primary cause of violence. The key to identity is identification and one can only identify with the dead past. The attachment to a particular form of conditioning is what separates one human being from another, whereas the pattern of conditioning itself is what binds us together. And this is the point: to see that as human beings we are all in exactly the same boat, sharing the same consciousness on the one earth. K often suggested that perceiving the oneness of being is the ground of compassion. But for that to happen one needs to see through the dangerous delusion of identity and be as nothing. A tough challenge, no doubt, but perhaps the only real answer to the endemic suffering of mankind.

K felt that being nothing, psychologically speaking, was the key to beauty, goodness and truth. It is the quality of inner emptiness, the absence of self-identification, that is at the heart of wholeness, in which there is no division from another or from ourselves.

Be well, amigos, stay with the fear of emptiness and contemplate on not becoming.


Photos by J. Gómez Rodríguez: 1. Clouds, Lelystad; 2. Hollandse Hout, Lelystad.
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