‘We’re all in this together’ is a meaningless slogan invented by the Boss Class to make us think that we’re all suffering the hardship they impose on us to the same extent as they do – whether as a result of Austerity (a political ruse), getting out of the EU (an absurdity forced on half the population by bigots & xenophobes), or putting up with the effects of the Plague which is what I’m writing about here. I suggest that there is a sound way of surviving this somewhat unusual experience.
The silly slogan ‘We’re all in this together’ also tends to reinforce the idea we habitually entertain that we are individual ‘I’s but all together in a boat, each with unified sense & purpose, capable of dealing in precisely the same way with whatever dire situation is forced upon us. It is a lie. My over-arching ‘I’ which I have arrived at a definition of after quite a lot of intensive work over the years is most definitely not in the same boat as the one that belongs to the arrogant & indolent JMogg MP.
One of the most profound learnings one might gain from Plague-enforced isolation can be neatly expressed in the words of Joseph Conrad, ‘We live, as we dream, alone’. Existentially, though we might occasionally find it quite acceptable to be alongside others, we are not in anything together. This is the starting point. It may be that we have valuable relationships with others, individual & social, but, though they appear to sustain us, they may mean less to us than we like to imagine. We could do without them in extreme circumstances. On the other hand, we do have internal relationships with our many ‘I’s.
We exist as a single self (whatever that means) in one sack of blood & bones, but we are not one single unified ‘I’ – to believe that’s the case is in fact to fetter one’s concept of ‘self’. It’s quite easy to think about the many ‘I’s we consist of from a whole lifetime point of view as Shakespeare does when he makes Jacques in As You Like It deliver his well-known speech. We play many parts – we are Multiple-I’s, every one of which contributes to what we are in the present moment; every ‘I’ we have ever been inside us contributes to what & who we are now. Jacques provides a memorable generic framework into which you have to tip your own male/female specific history as appropriate:-
All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players;
they have their exits and their entrances,
and one man in his time plays many parts,
his acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel
and shining morning face, creeping like snail
unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
seeking the bubble reputation
even in the cannon’s mouth. And then, the justice,
in fair round belly, with a good capon lined,
with eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
full of wise saws, and modern instances,
and so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
with spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
his youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
for his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
turning again toward childish treble, pipes
and whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
that ends this strange eventful history,
is second childishness and mere oblivion,
sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Within each separate part we play there are many minor parts (or ‘I’s). Gathering more resourceful ‘I’s around you can have a positive effect on the nature of the ‘I’s you currently play on life’s stage; dropping down into all the negative ‘I’s and thinking of any one of them as a completely unified-I is not helpful: in the current Plague context, for example, Being-deprived-of-life-I seems to be a rather tragic ‘I’ that people choose to occupy in a big way. On the contrary, whatever the situation, when you operate in Having-a-shining-morning-face-I, Being-like-a-furnace-I, Being-full-of-wise-sayings-I, Having-a-wide-world-outlook-I, you might also have to put up with Losing-teeth-I (as I do!) but you don’t have to sink into Exhibiting-second-childishness-I or Being-in-oblivion-I. You might like to step into Being-like-a-wide-eyed-innocent-child-I to see what effect that has on the way you respond to things as they are! Knowing-that-things-just-happen-I is a very useful part to play.
But we are not all in it together. Nor are we just one ‘I’. It’s a multiplicity.
There are people who are forced to sleep on the street, there are those who’ve been sacked, starving families in danger of eviction, tower-block dwellers, lonely singletons, the old & the disabled, the mentally unstable, refugees from war-zones… There’s no argument here – all these people should be fully supported by the State. The Moggses can afford it.
Then there is the Boss Class who make sure they remain salaried & still supposedly in charge of things, those who stack up their money in some overseas tax-haven, very well-off pensioners with a guaranteed income, not so well-off pensioners and those in between, millionaires who couldn’t care less, well-paid politicians who, while pursuing their own agendas, make out that they are indispensably acting in our best interests, the Queen who pretends to be hard-up, and the arrogant royal to whom we tax-payers donated £6000 to go to Italy to watch a rugby match.
Then there are those who continue to risk their lives to help to maintain life during Plaguetime.
I fully recognise that I am fortunate enough to fall into the category of ‘pensioner-in-between’; I live in a big old house made out of three small terraced farmworker cottages that were due for demolition if we hadn’t worked hard to have them converted according to our wishes & budget. I sometimes choose to feel guilty about this but I make up for it by scorning the Boss Class and the uncaring political class. I can only feel deeply for people on the streets and all others who should be entirely looked after by the State to which I more or less happily contribute part of my funds.
Meanwhile, I have my own way of responding to the Plague crisis and my own way of surviving what can be seen as an attack on the ‘self’. It could just be relevant to any one of those listed above. I cannot tell. As Robert Dilts said at least once, ‘We are all the same in being so different…’
In Plaguetime 16 I was thinking about the concept of ‘self’ or lack of self; the view that ‘self’ is an illusion: I wrote ‘when we use the word ‘self’ it doesn’t represent an illusion – it is nothing other than what it is: it’s [a linguistic gadget standing for] an encapsulation of a complex subjective experience…’ or huge collection of what Brian Lancaster (Mind, Brain & Human Potential 1991) called ‘I-tags’, labels we put on all that we have been and done, seen, felt and tasted, in the past. Poking-in-a-pond-I (see Plaguetime 15), Sheltering-from-Hitler’s-bombs-I, Being-a-teacher-I, Climbing-up-Melbury-Down-I, Wandering-over-Wimbledon-Common-I, Being-a-National-Service-Sergeant-I, Escaping-from-wage-slavery-I, on and on, Writing-these-Globs-I… Throughout all these tagged experiences there is for sure a certain Something-or-other of me that has remained constant, always ‘the same’. I can take myself back into any one of these ‘I’s and be there NOW. You can check it out for yourself.
The concept of ‘SELF’ (just an invented four letter word) is an Emergent Property of a highly complex system. ‘The self has no shape or form, no birth or death, can’t be seen with the aid of the physical eye…’ (The Unfettered Mind by Takuan Soho (1573 -1645)) ‘Nothing sees me – I collect ‘I’s from the ages…’We can go back in time to any OK-moment we can think of. Stand in it and notice what you see, hear, feel of the event. Give it an I-tag – as it might be a particular Going-on-holiday-I, Smelling-a-fried-breakfast-I, Being-in-the-first-house-I-remember-I, Singing-at-school-I. Spend a few minutes in it. Then bring all the feelings, hearings & seeings associated with wherever you’ve arrived right back into NOW. What is it that’s always been the same for you? It’s very likely that you’ll find that you are the same person who experienced all the hearings, feelings & seeings you can ever put an I-tag to. I’d call that Something-or-other the ‘self’ as a shorthand term. It’s an emergent property of ‘things-just-constantly-happening’ (as Gurdjieff points out that they do).
It’s 1951! I’m in the Festival of Britain Industrial Display Area. I have an I-tag label with ‘me-standing-before-the-very-largest-sheet-of-glass-ever-manufactured’ written underneath it. It’s amazing to look through the sheet of glass, to look up and round, and read the sign. It’s the same something-or-other that’s scribbling away here & now. Just one ‘I’ from a multitude. Though we might eventually discover something like what we imagine it to be, there is no one single unified-I. We are a multiplicity and the good news is that we can choose which one of the multiplicity to inhabit at any one time in the same way that I-in-the-now has just chosen to be in Standing-before-the-very-largest-sheet-of-glass-ever-manufactured-I in 1951.
The usual example I give when I’m introducing the idea of Multiple-I’s to anybody who’s not come across the concept before is to say, “I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being on top of the world one day and down in the dumps the next… That can be very confusing. On the second occasion you might say, ‘I don’t know what’s come over me – I’m not myself today’ but when you know there is no single-me, it need not be the least bit confusing – you’re just not the same ‘I’ as you were yesterday… All that’s happened is that you’ve dived down into a different ‘I’ – you can always make a choice to step out of it…”
When we consider ourselves to be one single unchanging ‘I’ we also require our circumstances to be unchanging otherwise we may feel variously threatened by the outside world; things start happening around us that entail shifting ourselves into a different gear – that can pose a threat or at least mean a lot of hard work. Most of us don’t realise it yet but ‘shifting into a different gear’ means stepping into a different ‘I’ – as soon as you step into a different, more resourceful, ‘I’ the threat will at least diminish.
Thus, pre-Plague, we might variously have been in Going-to-work-I, Going-round-the-pub-I, Eating-out-I, Convivialising-I, Visiting-relations-I, Being-a-creature-of-habit-I, Going-on-holiday-I. It seems that many people miss being able to practise these kinds of ‘I’s; they choose to waste energy being in Objecting-to-change-I, and Thinking-that-life-is-on-hold-I when they could quite easily step into Searching-for-different-ways-of-being-&-doing-I’s. It would be quite easy except that they choose to opt for being in Imagining-a-loss-of-freedom-I, Hanging-on-to-the-old-ways-I, Making-believe-everything-is-normal-I, Carrying-on-as-normal-I, Wanting-to-go-back-to-how-it-used-to-be-I, Pretending-it’s-all-OK-I, Living-it-up-I. They may even have disappeared into a set of Having-alternative-beliefs-I : Thinking-it’s-just-the-same-as-flu-I, Believing-it’s-all-a-big-hoax-I, Imagining-oneself-to-be-invincible-I, Having-a-death-wish-I.
What is certain is that the Power Possessors have been using the Plague not only as a way of making a lot of money but as a heaven-sent opportunity to maintain operating the Chaos Theory they’ve been running since 2010 (see ROOM 10, Combologue 2), keeping us all under control, quelling protest of any kind, slipping Brexit under the radar and putting people out of work.
A Guardian report (7th October 2020) said that
The world’s billionaires ‘did extremely well’ during the coronavirus pandemic, growing their already-huge fortunes to a record high of $10.2tn (£7.8tn).A report by Swiss bank UBS found that billionaires increased their wealth by more than a quarter (27.5%) at the height of the crisis from April to July, just as millions of people around the world lost their jobs or were struggling to get by on government schemes… billionaires had mostly benefited from betting on the recovery of global stock markets when they were at their nadir during the global lockdowns in March and April… The number of billionaires has also hit a new high of 2,189, up from 2,158 in 2017.
To suit themselves, irrespective of the risks to ordinary human life, the Power Possessors are encouraging a variety of ‘I’s that they make money out of: Going-back-to-work-I, Going-back-to-school-I. Some massive political gesture is required globally while at an individual level it might help to stave off identification with other people’s ideas & attitudes, though it is worth thinking about what Steve Jobs has suggested:-
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of another’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
For many people, so one hears, Plaguetime means ‘life put on hold’. Complete rubbish! Life always goes on. Here’s a nice old French proverb I remember first reading just as I got off a train arriving in Worcester Park station, Surrey, England, one afternoon in summer 1957: ‘Le temps ne s’en va pas, mais nous nous en allons’ (source: AJAyer The Problem of Knowledge). Time doesn’t go anywhere but we can make the choice to do whatever we like during all those invented categories we call hours & minutes.
Ten years ago I underwent a life-challenging six-hour operation re-modelling my interior. In preparation for it, to reframe it, to submit completely to the ‘ordeal’, I had deliberately changed myself into Being-a-carvable-lump-of-meat-I. In Intensive Care after the event I felt extremely sorry for myself; for at least a week the whole of my I-system was locked into Being-in-agony-I – I had forgotten to step out of Being-a-lump-of-meat-I and took it to be my only possible ‘I’. The ‘I’ that normally did feats of remembering had forgotten to remind me that I had plenty of other ‘I’s to play with. Amongst other things on the (now rare) occasions when I teach people to use their Multiple-I’s in a resourceful kind of way, I get them to write the label for an ‘I’ they’ve said they’d like to get away from on a bit of paper, put it on the floor, stand on it to get into the feeling, and then tell me about all the other ‘I’s they might like to move towards – I write them on other bits of paper and place them at some distance on the floor. They step into each in turn and describe what they see, hear, feel when they do so; before long they have forgotten the place they started from though I remind them that the ‘I’ that’s there is still part of them.
If I had done this for myself on this post-operative occasion it would have looked something like this:-
I have often described my process for playing the game of literally stepping from one ‘I’ to another, most recently in Plaguetime 16! Simply standing on the bits of paper has the effect of vivifying throughout the body the notion of whatever’s written on them. Moving between the bits of paper can find you moving away into the other more resourceful ‘I’s you’ve just remembered. There’s always a remarkable change of Being. Spatial separation has a lot to do with it.
I’ve gone through this process so often in this total mind-body movement kind of way that I can perform it in my head – in my example, as soon as I brought those other ‘I’s back to life I had moved away from thinking there was no other ‘I’ than Being-a-lump-of-meat-I. Yes, there was still pain but there were a lot of other ‘I’s I could literally step into and it was not very long before I bought another motorbike to do 100mph up the A14!
Yes, in Plaguetime there’s a Being-in-enforced-isolation-I but when you really think about it there are many other ‘I’s that you could still step into; there is even a cluster of Novel-I’s you could create when you put your mind to it.
During the course of thinking about writing this Glob I came across a little 40 page pamphlet by an ancient Zen Master. Takuan Soho, called The Unfettered Mind. It seemed to fit the ideas I was tossing around including the advice to ‘sever the edge between now and then’ entirely relevant to my Big Operation experience: then, the before-state of my being, was then… and now I became a new being; in the current context, pre-plague was one way of being (then) now it’s a new life. Make the gap as large as you like.
The gist of Takuan Soho’s short masterpiece is that when we focus on just one thing we limit our being, fetter our mind to one way of looking at things: you could fetter it by deciding that the flourishing of the Plague prevents you from doing all the things you used to do, diminishing the range of ‘I’s you are able to operate. for example.
Takuan Soho’s suggestion is that we stop focussing on one single thing. Gurdjieff called it identifying with whatever you choose to the exclusion of everything else which stunts development. We should learn to live with an agile mind, keeping it going from ‘I’ to ‘I’.
What stops us from doing this?
‘The Congealed Mind stays put’ says Takuan Soho. When we’re locked down in one ‘I’ there’s no chance of movement, says Gurdjieff.
Merely thinking things through is being fettered by intellection. Succumbing to feeling is being fettered by pure sensation. Thinking of yourself entirely as a person of action results in being fettered by the idea that physical activity will get you out of any fix. ‘All this is falling into onesidedness’, says Takuan Soho. ‘The mind is something that does not function properly when it becomes attached to a single situation or state of being… It prevents you from hearing what others say, for example…’
The people in the streets, partying or attending rallies unprotected, not keeping what they call ‘social distancing’ are into action & sensation without thinking. In Gurdjieff terms, it’s a matter of balancing the Centres.
Where to put the mind then? asks Takuan Soho. The answer is, in précis form, ‘Don’t put it anywhere – then it’s everywhere… The Correct Mind moves about anywhere; No-mind wanders from place to place… The Way of Learning is nothing other than seeking the lost mind, all its lost & vacant ‘I’s… Whole functioning is swapping one ‘I’ for another – putting the mind in a place that’s most appropriate for a specific occasion…’
“DANCE!” says Takuan Soho: while dancing we discard the mind, prance into No-mind.
Then we might learn to recognise that all Desire is identification; reacting to the 10,000 things is desire… Desire is not just about wealth, ambition, conquest and so on:-
Where the eye sees colour – that’s desire
When the ear hears sound – that’s desire
When the nose smells fragrance – that’s desire
When a single thought germinates – that’s desire
When the body has solidified – that’s desire
But, says Sakuan Soho, endeavouring to sever oneself from desire (from identification) ‘…to be like a rock or tree, nothing will be achieved. It’s not about departing from desire but realising a desireless Rightmindedness…’
We have to be ‘in possession of a mind that has been let go of…’ says Chung feng, whoever he was!
In Buddhism, the body is composed of the five Skandhas, a concept not far off being like Gurdjieff’s Centre. Skandhas means ‘heaps, aggregates, collections, groupings’. There are five aggregates of clinging; five material and mental factors that take part in the rise of craving and clinging…
Disidentify from past present & future. Come into No-mind the empty space that can be filled with anything. Make new choices – invent new ways of doing things. Rejuvenate old ones.
Maybe this is the way to assert personal survival in A Time of Plague which might be relevant to a few people. Others might come to understand its relevance for themselves.