I realize that I am ‘pissing into the wind’ to some extent by writing these articles. Achieving some degree of inner liberation is a lifetime’s work, and a quick hit on a blog isn’t going to cut it. Nonetheless, someone may take something away from this, and as such, it is worth the effort.
Let me be clear that by the word liberation I do not mean suddenly finding oneself spaced out in some alternative reality. Liberation is simply liberation from emotions and thought, and what is left is just clear blue sky. If that isn’t good enough then there are plenty of charlatans selling alternative states of reality, and readers might be best advised to seek such people out.
This will be a 4 article series dealing with:
- Understanding the Emotions
- Understanding the Mind
- Practices to Deal with the Emotions
- Practices to Deal with the Mind
Here is part 1:
As sentient creatures we are influenced by pretty much everything around us. We are small objects in a world of billions of objects, many of them much larger than we are, and almost all of them capable of affecting us adversely. A virus can kill you, stubbing your toe on a step can be painful, another person’s insults can cause emotional pain – and so on. Alternatively things can have a reinforcing effect upon us – a good meal, a loving partner, an unexpected inheritance. Whether we experience emotional pleasure or pain is very easy to understand. When things and events reinforce our sense of existence we feel pleasure. When things diminish our sense of existence we feel pain. It’s all driven by the wish to exist – the survival instinct. Don’t underestimate this driver, it is absolutely the most potent force in your life – it determines pretty much everything. If you are going to achieve any degree of liberation from the emotions, this is where you start. Only by understanding this driver, and seeing how most of your activities in life are determined by it, will you see its awful power. You hold down a job, seek shelter and food, a mating partner, desire approval, and a million other things just to satisfy the will-to-life, as Schopenhauer calls it.
Understanding the will-to-life is not a trivial undertaking, and can be quite disturbing. To see the awful brutality of this self-eating mechanism called life, demands that a person deliberately looks where they would rather not look. Such work is best done with others, but if that is not an option then there are plenty of writers who can show you the nature of the beast – Cioran, Schopenhauer, Ernest Becker, to name a few. And if you care to seek out the real meaning of Christianity or Buddhism you will also find an unmasking of this beast called life. It is necessary to do this work because only understanding can consume desire, and all desires have the will-to-life as their root. It would be the ultimate folly to desire to stop desiring. Only knowledge and understanding can do this. Here is a quote from Schopenhauer:
… because in him knowledge has, as it were, burnt up and consumed the will, so that no will, thus no desire for individual existence, remains in him any more.
It looks fairly extreme doesn’t it? That is because it is extreme. Very few people would care to do this work, and will settle for their unconscious suffering instead. Spinoza was well aware of the effort that needs to be made in this work when he said:
How would it be possible, if salvation were ready to our hand, and could without great labour be found, that it should be by almost all men neglected? But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.
So here is the first part of this work. A willingness to take the blinkers off and stare reality in the face. To understand it, to cast off all sentimental views of life that do not hold water, to see its meaninglessness, its barbarity, that life is built on lies, and above all else that you and I are as nothing. This is painful work – a stripping away. But it is absolutely necessary. Without this work you will still believe in life, still harbor the belief that somewhere there is a land of milk and honey, if only you could find it. When you really understand life, you will lose all hope that life itself has anything at all to offer, and losing hope is to simultaneously lose fear. Conquering fear means you conquer life’s grip.
So, peering into the eyes of the beast is a necessary first step. Once a person has done this they can start to observe how their own emotional states vary according to how the desire for life is being satisfied. And it is no use thinking that we can have the good stuff while choosing to ignore the bad stuff. If you are identified with the good stuff, so you will be identified with the bad stuff. And the more you are identified the greater will be your swings between pleasure and pain – pleasure when things go well and pain when they go badly. If you want inner peace then both imposters, pleasure and pain, have to be seen for what they are – just the will-to-life playing out within you. But here is a really important point, and I will make it many times. You have nothing within you that has the wisdom or the skill to interfere with the emotional states that arise within you. Never, ever apply judgment or try to censor your emotional states. They are the one authentic thing you have within you – your authentic response to the environment. Pretty much everything else that is going on within you is phony – stuff you learned from parents, religions, peers and society at large. The emotions are not calmed by judging them, they diminish in proportion as we understand them.
To summarize. All our emotional states are related to the will-to-life – the survival drive. Positive emotions (love, excitement, enthusiasm etc) come about when the will-to-life is satisfied. Negative emotions (envy, hatred, shame etc) come about when the will-to-life is thwarted in some way.
Suggested reading – Spinoza Part 3 The Ethics, The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, Schopenhauer – The World as Will and Representation. None of these is a light read, and some take years to understand. The best place to start might be with Becker.
The next article in this series is here.