“We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos, and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners.” …
From “Active Side of Infinity”, by Carlos Castaneda
I hate the loneliness of dishonesty, when I’ve broken some intimate connection with another by holding a poisonous secret. Or maybe it’s the loneliness of being trapped behind a false front, invisible to everyone.
I want to get down from the high horse that writing seems to conjure, because it’s not honest. I’m a mess too. I’m crawling around in the mud after having fallen off my high horse for the millionth time, crouched down among the dirty socks and muddy water, as you are too, nudging you in the ribs to ask “what the fuck is happening here?” Candor is what is needed now, and sometimes I don’t know how to be candid.
It makes me want to shout, like Ronny Cammareri, “I’m not a monument to justice!”
Here’s what I think is happening: We’re facing ourselves in the flesh, you and I, slowly maybe, but the world is forcing the issue, as we hit limits in every direction. We’re being forced to face ourselves without false fronts. In fits and starts to be sure. And as a percentage, not many of us, but millions here and there, now and then.
And this means we’re breaking now and then into a kind of impersonal point of view, where my sense of Self, my wooden character, my public persona, is seen to be coming apart at the seams. And this is good news, but it makes for a very chaotic person, who takes things personally, like a puppet of reactivity, in one instant, and then impersonally, and with unflustered bemusement in the next.
I feel like Pinocchio, parts of me feel almost alive at times.
Something is slowly distinguishing itself within us from the illusions of who we think we are. And we can’t point to it and say “that is my truer Self emerging”, because everything I identify so positively and with such conviction, is another illusion. The illusion can deceive me.
Writing allows me to edit out the inconsistencies so it’s easier to follow. And I’m exposing this false image of wisdom so nobody gets fooled. A performance or illusion can be more honest, in that sense, than a voice that claims to be the real Me. I’m going to speak as a consistent persona, but it’s a performance of sorts, an illusion, an honest fairy tale, that can’t be avoided, because there is no actual Me who is not an illusion.
All these difficult preliminaries, my apologies.
I can’t help wondering at first if I should make this more accessible to people. But I almost always give up on making it understandable to a large number of people, because that’s not my concern. I’m trying to dig vertically into my own confusions, not horizontally distribute what I already think I know. I’m not an activist who is trying to convince you of something. I’m learning. And learning precludes an agenda, because when I learn I don’t know where I’m going.
In digging deep I can only address a few imaginary readers (my apologies, I have faith that you will become real. But I, too, am imaginary to you).
And this is another odd issue: You’re imaginary right now, and I don’t need any real audience when I’m doing the work of writing. But I will need to know that it connected eventually with a few real people. Otherwise my imagination of you becomes less and less authentic, and then the writing follows suit.
And it’s not for ego gratification that I need a small group of readers who are also digging their way into themselves. But it’s the only way that an electrical connection can form to a mind larger than Me. It helps make Pinocchio real. Otherwise everything remains solipsistic and lifeless.
The Substantial Difference Between Actuality and Thought
Drawing on Castaneda here, I want to see (not just look at) the difference between actuality and thought. Castaneda’s meaning of Seeing (which I’ll always make bold to distinguish from surface looking) is probably equivalent to sensing what Bohm calls the “implicate order”.
So I need to ask myself whether I’m sincere about this, because deceiving myself with this enquiry would be the worst kind of self-betrayal. I’m not talking morally here. I’m saying there is a kind of arc towards actuality with any honest intention or idea. But even the most honest idea is only valid for a fleeting instant, and then it becomes corrupt and too important to itself, too literal and heavy in its meaning, so that the arc of the idea begins to turn away from actuality and become static, dogmatic and stupid. And if I allow my honest intention to degrade in this way I’ve betrayed myself at a dangerously deep level.
Constructs, thoughts, stories, theories, insights and even feelings are made of the substance of illusion. These illusions move the mind metaphorically in the direction of actuality, but they are made of a different substance entirely from actuality. And every sincere or insightful thought has one chance to deliver its charge, so to speak, to become real, and if we hold the idea too long the charge is lost, and it becomes a fetish, distracting attention from the actuality it attempted to illuminate in its creative ascent.
That doesn’t mean the thought can never be charged again. For me, negatively charged thoughts like “the map is not the territory” always seem to rise with a powerful charge. But at its peak ascent I rarely absorb the full charge. I almost always hold onto the substance of the words too long, not noticing what I’ve done; and only rarely does the charge carry perception into the radically different substance of a fully suspended state of mind, where the actual meaning resides.
The System of Thought (Bohm) Pictured Again as a Funnel
Picture the same funnel I drew for Funnel Vision. But here’s a close-up:
The funnel is a way of depicting the “system of thought.”
The surface of thought is roiling at present with all sorts of reactive charges of thought, some negatively, some positively charged. The walls of the funnel are constantly sparking and arcing like the surface of the sun, or better yet, like a bubbling primordial soup.
Most thoughts have a very short arc, are merely reflex responses, habits driven by old assumptions and fears, or prejudices leaping from the surface only a short ways and falling back to spark the next reactive thought. It’s a restless surface, what the Buddhists call Dukkha. A dis-ease.
Now and then more insightful thoughts erupt from the surface with greater charge and seem to arc towards the empty center, which, if you read Funnel Vision, is that suspended or uncertain state of mind, where the limits (and by implication the valid extent) of every thought are felt instantaneously, without judgment or repression. The “still point of the turning world” (Eliot).
If an insightful idea reaches its full charge of meaning and explodes as an “energetic fact” (Castaneda), then almost nothing is left of the substance of idea, word or image. These forms of meaning rapidly evaporate as they move into the suspended awareness of the center, which absorbs the meaning of the insight, almost like it is taking nutrition. The thought dissolves there, having delivered its charge, and is transformed into a heightened capacity to see[i]. The substance of meaning is changed from idea to actuality; from a static form to an active and honest awareness, what Krishnamurti called the capacity to see “the truth in the false and the false in the truth”.
Almost all human energy, however, has been trapped on the surface of the funnel, bubbling incoherently, caught in vicious circles (which is why I depict the system of thought as a circular funnel). So the potential of the impersonal center hasn’t been explored or accessed to any wide extent yet.
Honesty as Candid Corruption
So I need to ask myself if I’m being honest, because there is an ironic problem with insightful ideas. The more honest one tries to be — the more convincing the idea becomes — the more difficult it becomes to distinguish the idea from the actuality. Good ideas end up deluding us more deeply if the charge they deliver isn’t immediately effective in bringing us into that suspended state of mind.
So let me ask myself a hard question: Is this essay for show or for real? Do I only want applause or an actual communion? Will this be honest or only a (dishonest) presentation of honesty? Will I communicate only an idea or an actuality?
I can’t answer with a yes, no or even a maybe – at least not if the “maybe” is the kind that merely can’t decide whether to land on a “yes” or “no.” I can’t answer positively, because the honesty or dishonesty of this project (or of life itself)) is demonstrated at every given moment, with each word, motive and action. So it’s always up in the air, never conclusive.
And so I must remain uncertain about my own honesty or dishonesty. But, again, not the kind of uncertainty that is waiting for an answer. The question doesn’t demand a yes, no, or maybe, but an active alertness to every dishonest eruption in thought. It demands an active leap from the substance of thought to the substance of actuality.
But this active alertness isn’t judgmental or self-controlling. It’s a sensitivity to my own strained relationship to myself; awareness of the almost universal preference for the safety and certainty of the falsified map (or funnel wall) over the honest and bewildering territory (or suspended center).
So there is this dawning realization that the honest person is covered in filth. Honesty is the awareness of dishonesty. And that’s a far cry from the usual puritanical image of an honest person.
And this also means I can’t “try” to be honest or even good, because in straining for such an ideal I have already unconsciously shifted from the insubstantial, morphing substance of who I actually am to the idealized representation of that actuality. So the ideal leads to dishonesty.
I almost never notice this change in substance between wall and center, because I don’t want to notice it. It’s a self-deception driven by a reflex fear of looking dirty, a fear of losing the pristine image, and it has become numb habit by now.
The Limits of Insight
The temptation is to take the more profound insights as being somehow ‘closer’ to actuality. But no idea gets closer to the suspended center, no matter how it might look. All thought stays within the substantive domain of construct, and can never be conflated with the utterly different substance of the center.
Insightful stories and ideas may not get closer to actuality, but they can be more or less electrically charged with the potential of transformation. And this is what causes the confusion of thought and thing. Some thoughts provide an explosive positive or negative charge, which transforms our vision, either by negating a blinding assumption and/or providing a new metaphor or story that alerts us to a hitherto unnoticed potential in the world.
But there is nothing more difficult than noticing the moment an insightful or honest story starts to arc towards a self-deceiving lie.
In other words, Korzybski’s observation “the map is not the territory” has probably turned more people away from an awareness of the actual territory of oneself. Not his fault, but this is how the conflation of thought and thing survives – the negative charge of the statement is converted into another boring, old positive assertion. And then it’s no longer a realization of the difference between actuality and construct. Then it’s merely another posited (and convincing) image of the difference – an image of the territory, which is misleading.
I think I dove into that point pretty well (if you don’t mind the bragging) when I talked about “odd words” like “nowhere”, which can’t mean what the word pretends to mean. Nowhere will never communicate its emptiness, because the word “nowhere” provokes a busy and noisy construct. So as a positive assertion (which is how we typically read words) it carries a misleading meaning.
But the word “nowhere” also carries a small but profound negative charge, which can help us see the limits of thought.
But at any rate, the “better” (or more charged ideas) also have the power to deceive more profoundly, if they are held in mind beyond their momentary shelf-life, becoming fetishes. Then they draw attention from the one substance (the real territory) to the other pale and artificial substance, (which is the map).
And the difference between these substances is not small. They are fundamentally different dimensions of meaning. They are as different as a bee’s dance differs from the real nectar.
But usually I don’t give much heed to that difference. And that’s why I don’t tend to recognize the moment I move from the one substance to the other.
Learning to Notice the Change in Substance between Insight and Actuality
“I want to appeal to your analytical mind. Think for a moment, and tell me how you would explain the contradiction between the intelligence of man the engineer, and the stupidity of his systems of beliefs; or the stupidity of his contradictory behavior” (Castaneda)
Or rather something doesn’t want to notice this retreat from the territory back to the map.
This retreat means that insights rarely explode with charged meaning, but tend to become heavy certainties that fall back to the surface as reflex beliefs. We don’t allow ourselves to be absorbed, in other words, in actuality too often. We listen distractedly to music or words or look too superficially or analytically at paintings, or more obviously, the earth itself. So the charges that these various forms of insight and actuality might provide rarely deliver us to that still point.
“Something” has infected the system of thought, making the surface of thought sticky, preventing the idea from releasing its full charge of meaning. Something harvests our agitated energy, consuming the positive and negative charges before they can grow too strong to be harvested. So as long as a human being is held captive on the surface of words, the center is not fully activated.
“You have arrived, by your effort alone, to what the shamans of ancient Mexico called the topic of topics. I have been beating around the bush all this time, insinuating to you that something is holding us prisoner. Indeed we are held prisoner! This was an energetic fact for the sorcerers of ancient Mexico.”Castaneda, “Active Side of Infinity”
“Why has this predator taken over in the fashion that you’re describing, don Juan?” I asked. “There must be a logical explanation.”
“There is an explanation,” don Juan replied, “which is the simplest explanation in the world. They took over because we are food for them, and they squeeze us mercilessly because we are their sustenance. Just as we rear chickens in chicken coops, gallineros, the predators rear us in human coops, humaneros. Therefore, their food is always available to them.”
I think Castaneda’s metaphor of the predator provides a tremendously charged way of seeing this retreat from territory to map, this surface trap. Or am I only trying to dissociate from my own cowardice by projecting it all on a devilish monster that possesses me? (If you’re not familiar with the “predator” it will become clearer as you read).And I’ll need a wider view of the system of thought as a funnel: Here is what the suspended center feels like: If the small dishonesties in thought are fascinating rather than aggravating, I’m in a different frame of mind than usual. Then there is no desire to control (or further agitate) the selfish evasions and other white lies roiling the surface. Personal identification with these patterns ceases, and an impersonal vantage point is found.
To find out if this metaphor is valid, I need to see the retreat as it happens.
But the impersonal vantage point can’t be reached until there is a powerful enough explosion of insight into one’s own error. Guilt is an insight that carries a powerful negative charge. Utterly essential. But like any highly charged insight it can be held too long. It has a very short shelf-life, like an air-bag. If there is any prolonged nursing of guilt this means it failed to fully release its charge of meaning and bring about that centered, non-defensive and impersonal alertness to the nature of one’s own corruption.
So when the insight of guilt reaches its peak charge it has to explode negatively, destroying the innocent image of oneself, but also any shameful or hated images. Because they are also distractions from the actuality of one’s error. Identification with error leads us away from a direct recognition of our error. The construct distracts from the actuality.
This is an interesting point. The reflex tendency is to remain identified with the wrong-doing I’ve committed in order to “show” remorse. But constant remorse requires a constant attachment to one’s own image. Not identifying with the guilty act ends up looking like an escape from responsibility for this reason. And this compels me to retain my white identity, for example, as a penance of sorts. It creates a double-bind where I have to identify as a white man to avoid the pretense of innocence.
But the impersonal perspective of the center is not an identification with (white) innocence, it’s an absence of identification entirely, which leaves awareness unmolested by denial, justification and other forms of self-defensiveness. And this allows me to remain in that suspended state of uncertainty regarding my innocence, alert to the habits of racism (or any other wrong-doing). [ii]
Honesty requires an impersonal perspective, which is a wider and more empathetic perspective. I know this is contrary to how we were raised to think. We were taught to work on improving ourselves, rather than abandoning ourselves to a wider perspective.
But it’s only within the impersonal or suspended perspective that a lively intelligence begins to distinguish itself from the dull habits of certainty and intellect. This new intelligence is not IQ, but a capacity to see through one’s pattern of reactivity without wringing one’s hands. This is the nature of responsibility (or what Castaneda calls “discipline”) – seeing the absence of our own authenticity in every thought; forgetting our conceptual Selves in the actuality of learning and changing. And this new vantage point sheds an irradiating light that kills the chain of reactivity driving the restless mind in circles away from the center.
“The only alternative left for mankind is discipline. Discipline is the only deterrent. But by discipline I don’t mean harsh routines. I don’t mean waking up every morning at five-thirty and throwing cold water on yourself until you’re blue. Sorcerers understand discipline as the capacity to face with serenity odds that are not included in our expectations. For sorcerers, discipline is an art; the art of facing infinity without flinching; not because they are strong and tough, but because they are filled with awe.”Castaneda, “Active Side of Infinity”
So in a sense we’ve been coerced by habits of thought, by prejudices that originated in nobody, in no human being. And I know this doesn’t sit well with people who want to confront problems like racism in forceful and personal ways (and by Jesus I feel this urge also). But I’m trying to look more deeply and honestly than I usually do for the moment. And nobody will ever find the originator of a deception or brutality. The deceiver and the brute were already deceived and brutalized. There is no human origin to this confusion. It’s a predatory energy that traps us, and wants us to feel weak and guilty, trapped in identifications that discourage empathy.
What Rough Beast Holds Us to the Walls of this Funnel?
“Sorcerers [of ancient Mexico] believe that the predators have given us our systems of beliefs; our ideas of good and evil; our social mores. The predators are the ones who set up our hopes and expectations, and dreams of success or failure. They have given us covetousness, greed, and cowardice. It is the predators who make us complacent, routinary, and egomanical.”From Castaneda’s “Active Side of Infinity”
“But how can they do this, don Juan?” I asked, somehow angered further by what he was saying. “Do they whisper all that in our ears while we are asleep?”
“No, they don’t do it that way. That’s idiotic!” don Juan said, smiling. “They are infinitely more efficient and organized than that. In order to keep us obedient, meek and weak, the predators engaged themselves in a stupendous maneuver — stupendous, of course, from the point of view of a fighting strategist; a horrendous maneuver from the point of view of those who suffer it. They gave us their mind! Do you hear me? The predators give us their mind which becomes our mind.”
Or you could call that “original sin” an inorganic momentum of reactivity that ate its way into us from the time we were fetuses, a “something” that seems to have trapped human energy in a small and seemingly safe world of mapped ideas, fearing the unknown of actual territory.
The momentum will tell us that this is all bullshit, and that we are personally guilty for the confusions that make us crazy and mean. You can look at it that way of course. And it will provide a small charge of insight, but it won’t leave us free from the illusions of good and bad that drive so much righteous war-making.
So I think you and I have been trained to see all this as our own personal fault, and to be ashamed of our selfishness and greed and to berate ourselves. We call this taking responsibility. But the real predatory trick here is that self-contempt and control are the mechanisms employed by the monstrous momentum itself. They didn’t originate in anyone. We’re all carriers, some sicker than others.
Again, I can call this history of deceit, racism and war-making an Evil, a “Something”, a personal fault, a devil, a criminal cultural momentum, a corrupt “system of thought”, or an inorganic predator, and on and on. Every story delivers a different kind of insight into the nature of the problem. It’s not a matter of which is right and which is wrong, but how we wish to hold the prism of perception in order to see things we might not otherwise recognize. And the narrow vision of blame and fault-finding is easiest, and serves the momentum itself far better than a more impersonal vision that can see a predator among us.
So for now I find more meaning in looking at our delusional condition through the prism of Carlos Castaneda’s Predator, a kind of “inorganic being.
It’s dangerous to believe in the predator as a literal fact. (It’s dangerous to believe in God literally also, but dangerous in a slightly different way). Remember, there is no way to know what we’re dealing with except by facing its unfathomable actuality from moment to moment. But this angle or honest fairy tale provides an unusual insight into some of its qualities that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as its origins in something beyond the individual.
Defeating the Predator
And it’s the rare state of mind that finds enough small freedom to turn and face this imprisonment without freaking out or trying to bury the observation as fake news. Because nobody wants to recognize that they’ve been enslaved into carrying out the work of a predatory culture.
But it becomes harder for the predator to hold the human being if we can access the impersonal center even for brief moments. We begin to shake loose. But we can’t ever fully distinguish our actuality from the predator’s imagery until the backbone of the predator is discovered and snapped.
The backbone of the predator is the confusion of map and territory. As long as we remain confused by this, we remain captive, or “run by thought” (Bohm). But thought isn’t the problem. The problem is we’re hypnotized into taking thought literally.
The only way to snap the backbone of the predatory instinct is to resolve the problem of Literalism. This requires a particularly profound negative charge of insight, which can be formulated in countless ways, including “the map is not the territory” and “the thinker is the thought” (Krishnamurti).
Both pack enough negative explosive charge to make the system of thought immediately immune to the stickiness of thought, which kept thought surface-bound, mechanical, awkward, and graceless. Literalism prevents thought from completing its life-cycle, maturing into an insight that dies in a charged explosion that leaves a fine mist of meaning that transforms the nature of Being.
Breaking that subtle, hidden belief in Literalism ends the stickiness systemically. Then the system of thought transforms. The agitation ceases, because it was only Literalism that enabled this reactivity. Thoughts scared us, ran us, because we thought they were real, and they molded the world to their assumptions, creating nationalism, racism, radical idealism of all sorts, which provided teleological “proof” of their reality.
“The [predator] knows that. The real danger is that the [predator’s] mind may win by getting you tired and forcing you to quit by playing the contradiction between what it says and what I say. You see, the [predator’s] mind has no competitors. When it proposes something, it agrees with its own proposition, and it makes you believe that you’ve done something of worth. The [predator’s] mind will say to you that whatever Juan Matus is telling you is pure nonsense, and then the same mind will agree with its own proposition, ‘Yes, of course, it is nonsense,’ you will say. That’s the way they overcome us.”Castaneda, “Active Side of Infinity”
But without that fear and confusion, there is no agitation. The still point at the center expands, negating every movement of error or corruption at the root. (But notice something interesting: the awareness of error never ends). And now and then there are positively charged bursts of creativity, fireworks of exploding ideas, because with every negative discovery there is a simultaneous positive vision (metaphoric, playful, elegant) of a new potential.
Was the Essay Worth the Trouble?
“The [predators] are an essential part of the universe, and they must be taken as what they really are; awesome, monstrous. They are the means by which the universe tests us. We are energetic probes created by the universe,” he continued as if he were oblivious to my presence, “and it’s because we are possessors of energy that has awareness that we are the means by which the universe becomes aware of itself.Castaneda, “Active Side of Infinity”
“The [predators] are the implacable challengers. They cannot be taken as anything else. If we succeed in doing that, the universe allows us to continue.
But finding a reader who is electrified by this (not merely by the words, but the actuality itself) is a rarity. And yet it’s not a select group of people I’m talking about. The point is, None of us seem interested most of the time, including me. Again, it’s not select people, but a select state of mind, which is equally available to everyone.
As I said (but I’m heading towards conclusion now so bear with this dementia), what tends to interest us instead of the actualities of our disturbing corruption, are the ideas that are so insightful that we can’t let go of them, and which end up dragging us back into bondage, because they are not in themselves actual.
This is the last great defense of the predator: an honest observation is formulated, and with this ‘truth’ it lures human attention back into convictions posing as fact. It entangles us in a “realism” that is fake.
Thought almost comes alive at its most insightful, but it can never fully come alive, for it’s not composed of a lively substance. We need to abandon the word at its highest arc and leap into the uncertainty of actuality if Pinocchio has any chance to become real.
So what does this essay leave you with? Words? An intellectual entanglement? Or does it at least remove one or two assumptions that might have blocked our communion? Can we see that our faults are not personal but systemic? Can we notice how our thoughts are not our own? Can we see the deceptive meaning of sustained guilt? Can we at least share the perspective that looking into the darker, terrifying corners is what saves us from self-destruction? And can we notice the last defense of the predator, when an insight begins to corrupt and become heavy with conviction, because this small negative charge of merely “noticing” also weakens the predator and leaves us suspended in alert sensitivity to our imprisonment, which is the beginning of freedom?
And what is this strange capacity to see through thought, this new intelligence, this part of us that can’t be captured or known? What is this force that seems to charge into the world like lightning, illuminating the structures it confronts, but which has no structure itself?
Beware Inorganic predators of all shapes and sizes! Should the human being perceive the trap in a burst of lightning, you’re toast. We are on the threshold of life even as we approach the edge of suicide. The time has come to be honest like never before.
[i] Different forms of thought have different signature arcs. Music, for instance, might be imagined as hovering near the center for the duration of the performance, emitting lots of small explosions of meaningful absorption, which carries the listener to that same state of suspended attention, hearing the living intelligence in the shift of sounds. So musical thought (so to speak) rises, lingers over time a little, setting off rhythmic fireworks, and then slowly echoes into silence at the suspended center.
And painting might be shaped like rapid spikes of negative explosions and the positively charged lava flows of imagery and feeling that follows, as the eye sees the underlying elegance or creative flow. This non-judgmental beauty is the movement of insight. That’s why paintings can open a person to that suspended, proprioceptive still point — delivering their unique charge of meaning as Being. As the eye scans the painting, the eye makes innumerable shifts, following the flow and rhythm of the strokes, and shifts in color and shading. Beauty is insight.
But on the surface a work of art might look clumsy at first until we learn to see. Picasso’s blocky, disjointed shapes might not look elegant on the surface, but then we penetrate the implicate order, where a hidden beauty is found.
Anything alive and supple moves elegantly within its own sometimes initially invisible realm, in contrast to the stiff, mechanical movements of fight and flight.
That’s why I can tell when something is wrong about an essay, although I might not be honest enough to discover all the ugly deceptions at first. It’s not that I’m trying to persuade a particular audience and need to find the right words to convince them; I can tell something is off structurally when the essay isn’t elegant. The absence of elegance is a sign of contradiction, imbalance, clumsiness, etc. Ugliness is dishonesty.
That’s why beauty is important and not decorative. Beauty is insight. But this beauty is not surface. It is often the beauty in what is perceived to be ugly, which is real elegance. I never saw a more elegant woman than an old Native American lady bent by age and pain. Her laugh was the most elegant manifestation of human love and self-deprecating, life-loving humor.
So that bridges the divide between science and art. Both look for elegance. I hear it from mathematicians too. It’s the more elegant theory that is best.
[ii] But this only refers to the psychological origins of racism. It’ doesn’t affect the social reality of racism. I’m still a white guy with privileges. That doesn’t change, but my awareness of this privileged condition (and the brutality underpinning it) becomes obvious.