A Simple Case of Mistaken Identity
You will not find a more distilled or concise description of our personal-global challenge:
Without bringing about order inwardly, psychologically, you cannot possibly have order outwardly. And the crisis is there. We think the crisis is national, economic, social and so on. The crisis is not out there! The crisis is really inward and we’re unwilling to face that.
with Michael Mendizza
We are faced with a breakdown of general social order and human values that threatens stability throughout the world. Existing knowledge cannot meet this challenge. Something much deeper is needed, a completely new approach. I am suggesting that the very means by which we try to solve our problems is the problem. The source of our problems is within the structure of thought itself.
We don't really understand the nature of our thought process; we're not aware of how it works and how it's really disrupting, not only our society and our individual lives but also the way the brain and nervous system operate, making us unhealthy or perhaps even someway damaging the system.
Rational, orderly, factual thought, such as in doing proper science, is valuable but the kind of thought [that is so destructive] is self-centered thought. At first sight one might wonder why self-centered thought is so bad. If the self were really there then perhaps it would correct to center on the self because the self would be so important, but if the self is a kind of illusion, at least the self as we know it, then to center our thought on something illusory which is assumed to have supreme importance is going to disrupt the whole process and it will not only make thought about yourself wrong, it will make thought about everything wrong so that thought becomes a dangerous and destructive instrument all around.
[The ultimate challenge is to] free humanity from the destructive conditioning we've been talking about; that is, this conditioning around the self-centered thought which is really an enslavement to absurdity, to destruction, to unhappiness, sorrow, and no other kind of freedom means anything unless we are free from that… Once humanity is free from that conditioning, then the way would be open to creative unfoldment in all sorts of directions.
with Michael Mendizza
Something much deeper is needed, a completely new approach includes our model of parenting, education and our relationship to media. Bohm is describing, what I believe is, the true origin of the term original sin. A sin, in its original language, referred to an archer missing the target. In this case the original mistake is the human capacity to imagine forgetting what it is doing and getting lost, believing that the phantoms it created are independent from the thought that created it, with compounding confusion century after century up to the present. We can see this confusion when the persona, originally meaning a theatrical mask, is mistaken for the authentic nature of the person wearing the mask or costume. We show up at the masquerade party called culture, believing that we are the costume we are wearing, and so does everyone else. And all the comparing, the grades, the judgments, punishments and rewards that consume our attention at the party are about the costume and not our true nature. How confusing is that?
Dr. Gabor Maté, author of numerous book including In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, described our social-self or personality as a coping pattern, a constellation of behaviors specifically designed to navigate the demands and expectations, rewards and punishments that culture presents. In this regard, the Greek persona or mask is similar to the contemporary function of our self-image or personality. Both are costumes worn by our authentic nature to perform a defensive social role. But, and here is where the lens gets fuzzy, the demands and expectations, rewards and punishments that culture present are so relentless that the need for a coping pattern is near-constant, demanding that the coping-mask or personality-costume be on, twenty-four-seven, even in our dreams. Being ever-present, it is easy to see how one would mistake the mask or costume for the real me.
In fact, the need for this coping pattern arises so early in life, and is so powerful, that it is impossible for the developing human to experience their true authentic nature, free from the coping pattern. We assume that the personality-mask is who and what we really are and this mistaken identity becomes our, and everyone else’s, reality. What other choice do we have?
Not only is the mask mistaken for our authentic nature, the constant need for coping quickly renders the pattern automatic, a reflex. Like the eyes blinking when a bright light is flashed, the coping pattern is triggered before we are aware that this triggering is taking place. The entire process operates below our level of awareness. The mask just happens and we, along with everyone else, assume that this is who we are.
In low states of energy and attention, which is our normal state, what we call consciousness and its reality is completely immersed in the mental image-feelings produced by conditioned memory expressing as thought. Bohm refers to this marinating of consciousness as ‘the reflex system.’ He then quickly points out; there is no real intelligence in a reflex - which is why thought has became a dangerous and destructive instrument all around. Add to this our complete identification of ‘self’ with the abstract image-feelings evoked by the language-culture-self-civilization complex, or ‘the mask,’ and the original sin closes and seals tightly shut.
David refers to the inward expression of this original mistake as self-centered thought. The same mistake expresses outwardly as culture; tribalism, nationalism, racism, and our identification with all sorts of beliefs, such as organized religious and psychological dogma, now amplified by technology. Grasping or having an insight into the trick we are playing on ourselves, reveals why the dangerous and destructive nature of thought is compounding exponentially. “The very means by which we try to solve our problems is the problem. The source of our problems is within the structure of thought itself.”
If all of us are mistaken about our true nature, which is nature, and falsely believe we are a noun, Michael, a person, place or thing, instead of a verb, a state of being that is pure process, never the same, not for one second, this original mistake affects everything. Projected outwardly this mistaken identity becomes culture and civilization which then mirrors back and reinforces our false identity. The name Michael, in Western civilization, emphasize a separate person as a thing, a noun. In Native traditions, Dances with Wolves, for example, the name describes a trait or active quality in relationship. Trees don’t have leaves. Natives call leaves, leafing, a verb, a process. In the West we get one name that is more about family status or belief than it is about our true nature. In native traditions the name given reflects some unique quality expressed at that age and stage of development. Laughing Brown Eyes, for example. And this name-trait changes as we change. One’s name reflects his or her ever-changing nature. In native traditions we are given many names throughout our life as our relationship to the world changes. In the West identity is fixed.
And this simple example of our mistaken identity expands infinitely. Inwardly we develop all sorts of psychological fears, phobias and addictions. Outwardly we have nationalism, cultural and religious conflicts, endless wars and aggression. As David Bohm observed: this conditioning around the self-centered thought is really an enslavement to absurdity, to destruction, to unhappiness, sorrow, and no other kind of freedom means anything unless we are free from that… Once humanity is free from that conditioning, then the way would be open to creative unfoldment in all sorts of directions.
Waking up from this mistaken identity demands a quality of energy and attention that is not completely embedded in the false identity. What we think of as the ‘content of consciousness,’ ‘thought’ and ‘knowledge,’ as Bohm points out, is part of the problem and cannot solve the problem it creates. Something much deeper is needed, a completely new approach. The key to this completely new approach rests in our recognizing, and deeply, the difference between intellect and intelligence. Joseph Chilton Pearce addresses this distinction:
Our personal awareness, with its ego-intellect, makes up an estimated 5 percent of the total intelligent energy of our brain/mind. (The rest provides the environment and maintains the conditions of, this personal 5 percent.) Yet with this paltry percentage we try to manipulate universal forces of unknown magnitude and then wonder why everything goes wrong.
You will find a distinction in what follows between intellect and intelligence. Intelligence, found in all life forms, strives for wellbeing and continuity; intellect, a human trait, strives for novelty and possibility. Intellect is that impulse within us to solve problems, generally of its own making, and explore possibility. Intellect is evolution’s gamble, and it attempts to both entice us toward and prepare us for a new realm of being. Intellect involves the brain while intelligence involves the heart. Intellect may be likened to a “masculine” side of mind perhaps—analytical, logical, linear, inclined to science, technology, the search for external novelty and invention, while intelligence is more a “feminine” side, open to the intuitive and mysterious interior of life, seeking balance, restraint, wisdom, wholeness, and the continuity and wellbeing of our species and earth.
A breakdown in male-female relations, epidemic among us, is a biological anomaly that has grown out of and is symbolic of the split between mind and heart in each of us. Intellect, trying to usurp nature and the wisdom of the heart for its own ends, has cut itself off from that heart. And like a child cut off from its mother, its entire development is at risk. Indeed, the mother figure is disappearing today, and an orphaned generation falls upon us. We humans do poorly without her. Matrix and guardian of our species, nurturer, source of strength and guidance for untold cycles of millennia, the mother has become the target of the male intellect, swallowed up as a dollar commodity, leaving all of us, male and female, motherless, bereft, and lost. All around us we see the breaking of the bond of heart and mind. From that of mother and infant, child and family, child and earth, young person and society, to the male-female bond upon which life itself rests, we tear at our living earth—our greater mother and life-giver—in an outward projection of our inner anxiety and rage. Should intellect win its battle with heart’s intelligence, the war will be lost for all of us. We will be just an experiment that failed, evolution’s end on a negative note. This book, Evolutions’ End, explains how this is so, why it need not be so, and how we might open to those dimensions within us as intended for us all along.
Quite simply, we have identified with that extremely limited 5%, intellect-image, at the exclusion of the 95%, innate-intelligence, that is our true nature. What we fail to grasp and embody is the simple and obvious fact that living intelligence is not an image or a concept. To a state of conscious attention however, that is constantly overflowing, and therefore preoccupied with mental images and concepts, this living intelligence is invisible. How can we identify with something we don’t’ see or experience?
The ‘something much deeper, a completely new approach,’ David Bohm suggests awakens spontaneously when attention is free from distracting images and concepts. Attention is the key to awakening true intelligence, not knowledge, thoughts, concepts, or images. Bohm and his friend J. Krishnamurti, call this state of undistracted attention ‘insight.’ Insight creates a portal in the mind where innate intelligence can act in ways that bring our mental images, thoughts and concepts to order. As Joe describes, intellect, which is our current identity, is cut off and isolated from this intelligence, which leaves evolution’s end on a negative note. Our challenge is to wake-up and realize that culture is a masquerade. We are not the mask or costume worn to the party. With this waking-up we discover something infinitely deeper, what we really are and have always been, but forgot. Below is a note to a father whose eighteen-year-old daughter insists on being a boy.
The inner challenges that young people are experiencing are unprecedented, extreme. Our true nature is ‘life’ and life means relationship. We are defined by our relationships. But with what? Long ago, in a galaxy far away, and for millions if not billions of years, our imagination was small and our direct realization of being related with life was big. Life was sacred and so, being related to life, we were sacred too, and this sacredness was a direct perception, a realization, not something imagined. Then, about 50,000 years ago, more or less, our new brain swelled and with it our capacity to crate mental images not present to the senses.
Symbols became metaphors, metaphors coalesced in concepts, concepts into ideas, ideas into culture – and loosing track that all this was being projected in our heads, we ever-so-quickly identified with the images we created. When looking outward the image looked like culture. When looking inward the image looked like our social identity – our ego. And because the images were so real and convincing, we became enchanted and forgot who and what we really are – sacred-nature.
The history of civilization is the story of how this enchantment and false identity played out; endless conflicts, greed, competition, murder by the millions. And then came the industrial revolution and Dr. Frankenstein. Technology gained the ability to mimic what was happening in our heads. And then Moors Law, predicting how the computing power of semiconductors would expand exponentially. The capacity to enchant grew more and more powerful… compounding our false identification with the image, rather than what our authentic nature.
With industry and technology came billions of tons of toxic chemicals, including hormone bending molecules that took an egg beater to what nature spent billions of years to crate. And this too morphed into our false-identity with the image as self and as culture.
What is increasingly clear is that more identification with self-as-culture is suicidal, individually and now – globally. Self-as-culture is an image, a fantasy, a masquerade, but we forgot and took the social costume seriously. And what did the mask do? The mask freed our authentic nature to transcend the limitations and constraints imposed by our false identity with culture. The mask freed us from our false-self. But we forgot and mistook the costume for our true, authentic nature and the identity trap deepened.
When we identify with the mask, as with the latest gender fad, we double down on the trap that false identification represents. First, we falsely identified with the norms we call culture. Then we identify with our copping pattern, which is our rebellion-of-choice to be free of that. We rearrange the furniture in the room believing that we are making big changes, when, in truth, we are still playing the same false-identity game. Only the rebellion game is twice as enchanting, twice as conflicted.
True freedom to express our authentic nature, even bent by hormone-emulating chemicals, is to have an insight into the false nature of our masked-identity. This insight transcends both self-as-culture and self-as counter-culture. We see that culture and counter-culture are two sides of the same coin.
The tragedy is; today’s children only know one reality. They don’t know that the culture and their self-image is just an image. They don’t know who or what they really are. So they don’t have any choice but to play the masquerade role for keeps, even if it kills them. From this perspective the show must go on – because the show is all there is. The mask is what and who we believe we are. From the other perspective – discovering our true authentic nature - it’s all a show and it doesn’t matter what roll we play – because it is all just play. Enlightenment is play at its highest level which means not mistaking the mask for the player. But this demands a direct experience, a state of attention and awareness that is free, empty of conditioned image and concept.
If the self is a kind of illusion, at least the self as we know it, then to center our thought on something illusory which is assumed to have supreme importance is going to disrupt the whole process and it will not only make thought about yourself wrong, it will make thought about everything wrong so that thought becomes a dangerous and destructive instrument all around.
[The ultimate challenge is to] free humanity from the destructive conditioning we've been talking about; that is, this conditioning around the self-centered thought which is really an enslavement to absurdity, to destruction, to unhappiness, sorrow, and no other kind of freedom means anything unless we are free from that…
His Holiness the Dalai Lama understands the challenge we face:
His Holiness sets the stage for discovering the reality behind appearances. Our tacit acceptance of things as they seem is called ignorance, which is not just a lack of knowledge about how people and things actually exist but an active mistaking of their fundamental nature.
True self-knowledge involves exposing and facing misconceptions about ourselves. The aim here is to find out how we get ourselves into trouble, then learn how to intervene on the ground floor of our counterproductive ideas.
His central theme is that our skewed perceptions of body and mind lead to disastrous mistakes, ranging from lust at the one extreme to raging hatred at the other so that we are consistently being led into trouble as if pulled by a ring in our nose. By developing insight into this process, we can free ourselves, and those around us, from these endless scenarios of pain.
His Holiness guides readers through a variety of practical exercises to help us break down the illusions we have superimposed over and beyond what actually exists, and learn how to act in the world from a more realistic framework. This calls for valuing the interdependence of all things and appreciating the latticework of our relationships for the meaningful contribution it makes to our lives.
The book’s third part describes how to harness the power of meditative concentration with insight to achieve immersion in our own ultimate nature… to develop in us a clear sense of what it means to exist without misconception. And the way this profound state of being enhances love by revealing how unnecessary destructive emotions and suffering actually are.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama/Introduction by Jeffery Hopkins, PhD.
How to See Yourself as You Really Are, A Practical Guide to Self-Knowledge,
The question is, how do we wake-up ourselves and act in ways that help our children identify with our true, authentic nature instead of the mask?