Self-Mastery: Empathy Enhancement & Consciousness Softening
Self-mastery is the eradication of ego (or of self-as-master), through softening of attention and spontaneous apt-action, until self is in its place; back on the tool-shelf where it belongs. This does not mean, of course, that I have no self or no sense of self—no fear, no thought, no desire—but that I experience, or can call on, an encompassing unself-consciousness that precedes self *; and so can act (or interact) despite ‘my’ fears, pains, doubts and addictions. There is no other skill as valuable, or as practical, as this. All anxiety, boredom, suffering, shame, doubt, confusion, anger and even clumsiness and bad luck are caused by a self that won’t fade back into the void of the conscious context.
Self — the mechanism which I use to think and want — goes insane when faced with death, silence, innocence, uncertainty, creativity, unconditional love, peace of mind, conscious experience of the reality of the present moment or anything else which is, ultimately, not self.
It is in such selfless experience that mastery of the usurping mechanism that calls itself me begins. By experiencing the present moment fully, melting into the dark, living in the wild, facing death, accepting pain (even as you move to rid yourself of it) and placing your attention in full-body sense there is relief from the mental-emotional momentum of the self which cannot feed on such thoughtless fodder. Likewise in ‘stepping back’ from the world that feeds the self, something other than mind and emotions is allowed to breathe, to operate.
Self-mastery, then, is not self-control (using some thoughts and emotions to control other thoughts and emotions) but practising being that which is deeper, more intelligent, than the surface thinking-emoting mechanism I normally call ‘me’. Mastering this tool of the self shares, therefore, some features with mastering other human tools, such as the piano. You can’t just decide to be a great pianist — such an approach leads to immediate frustration and the idiotic conclusion ‘I’m just no good at it.’ You need to practice for many years; but with some composure you can learn and have fun surprisingly quickly.
But the self is also unlike a piano; firstly because it goes everywhere with you, even into dream. It must therefore be mastered everywhere. And secondly, the self is alive. It is clever and intelligently resists being mastered. It will use every trick in the book to subvert your attempts to overcome it.
And the book, is you.
- Watching the mind. Whenever you find yourself automatically thinking (wanting, worrying), practice watching the thoughts as you would do a cinema screen. Practice being the observer of the thoughts, rather than being lost in them.
- Being the body. Practice breathing. Practice feeling the subtle (‘apperceptive’) sensation of life that is in the whole body — in the thighs, the arms, the belly, the corners of the mouth. Do this not because it is ‘spiritual’ but because the body is always present. The mind and the emotions always rush off into the past and future, but the body is always here. Here there is no problem you can’t deal with — there, there is no problem you can.
- Walking through the metro enjoying your breathing more than the adverts, walking through the city experiencing your body rather than the shop fronts. Master the urge to look at flashing lights and fluttering flags by experiencing the simplest sensations within the body system.
- Refusing to participate in gossip, looking out for that little clench of excitement when gossipy news is dangled before you. Let go of the continual ‘like / dislike / mmm really like that / ooh that’s no good / would love to see that show / oh dear what a fool…’ reportage that the mind bounces back from typical city drift. See how pornographic news-violence has power over your attention — and in seeing this, take the power back. Allow the urge to rubber-neck disaster slip through your system. Return again to the body.
- Letting go of moodies and stop blaming other for them. Not easy. Have you ever tried to say, right in the middle of a full mood-on, ‘yes, I am being pointlessly irritable right now.’? It takes immense presence and courage to do it. So do it.
- Likewise, when someone crosses you, when someone accuses you of something you can’t possibly be guilty of, when someone attacks you for no reason — are you man enough or woman enough to let it pass through you? To come back at them with cheer? To meet hatred with friendliness?
- Gratitude. Self is never grateful — all it understands is debt and guilt. There is always a subtle warm selfless sensation of gratitude in the body, now. No matter how bad it gets, there is something to feel gratitude for.
- Melting thoughtlessly into the strangeness and actuality of ordinary phenomena. The entire universe exists in the space between ordinary things, vast and strange. To see it is thoughtless awe, to travel across it, adventure, to express it well, art.
- And all this, of all places, in the post-office! while doing the washing up! watching the news! on twitter!
Unless you are in contact with the delighted love-feeling that the opposite sex naturally bubbles up (regardless of whether you are in a relationship or not), or able to feel and let slip away sexual frustration or its money-business-victory substitutes, you’ll be a slave to murderous sex thoughts and prey to porn, both subtle and obvious. The anxieties and agonies of the restless sexmind lead to a catastrophic lack of discrimination — unable to tell the gentlemen from the beast, prey to the restless, the cold or the violent — and to an equally catastrophic lack of presence — unable to talk to that nice girl in the sandwich shop, unable to be simple and affectionate, unable to make ten thousand years of godlove.
Sexual frustration is the driving force of the world, particularly the male world, which was created, in large part, to subjugate woman and reduce her to the status of sexual vassal. That woman now also fights to reach the top of the degrading and sordid male system, that she has successfully claimed the right to be just as sexually frustrated as successful man, just as acquisitive and cold-hearted, doesn’t make it any less inhuman, it just degrades her too.
Love — sexual love, partnership and romance — is in a complete state. How are we supposed to create a society worth living in if we can’t create a decent relationship? How are we supposed to bring genuine peace, warmth, understanding or togetherness to our social lives if our private lives are scarred with compromise, casual dishonesty, sadism, masochism, desperation, coldness or the anguish of a loveless partnership? Is it really such a radical suggestion to deal with the problematic world we actually live in before turning to ‘society?’
When civilisation crashes, without social checks to keep its insanities suppressed or locked up, the inferno of sex will make a reptile nest of life on earth. You can be sure of it. Not just directly — through a return to direct, physical control of and repulsive naked violence towards women — but indirectly — through the horrifying violence of unconscious sex-madness. In truth violence is sexuality — and mastery of it begins with the source of rampant, agitated sexuality; the restless false self which must possess, dominate and control — or submit in humiliating servitude. Love, friendship, simplicity, tenderness and self-denial are all out of the question for ego.
- Using the modern world to practice the awareness that precedes reflexive glances towards stimulus-response tits and arses. Nothing wrong with enjoying a beautiful body, or gesture or dress or whatever — it’s the automatic grasping (isolating) eye you must master.
- Giving up porn, in all its forms. This is absolutely critical. Porn leads to dulling of general awareness (or ‘affect’; i.e. consciousness), lower libido and greater anxiety; it is highly addictive and leads to the same problems as drug or video-game addiction. Delete all porn from your hard-drive. Never, ever, use a porn site. Give up masturbating. BUT don’t fight the urge, don’t try and resist — this makes it harder. Instead feel the restless. Locate it in your body, and if you must wank over an idea or image, do it as consciously as you possibly can, notice the crude, searing effect it has on your heart, completely inhabit the hollow, metallic shell-self that results. The same applies to all other drug-addictions (fame-hunting, wealth-gathering, belly-cramming, booze-gutting, mind-filling, etc); if you’re going to do them, fine, but watch how it really makes you feel.
- Scriptlessly, wantlessly facing the opposite sex in spontaneous ungrasping unknowing, and self-surrendered enjoyment of his or her simple presence. Ego only knows want (she’s hot / he’s hot) or don’t want (too old, too fat, too ugly, too poor). It doesn’t know the pleasure that passeth understanding.
- Consciousness perceives quality, or lack of it, and enjoys that; not whether an interaction might lead to getting laid (or getting married, or getting promoted). Practice long courtships, wooing and slow-winning — not just because they are a means to master self and to see if he is really that into you, but because they are delightful.
- (And never stop winning her. She is never won.)
- Physically loving your partner when ‘you’ don’t feel like it. It’s ego that gets bored and irritable, that starts to find the other ugly, that ‘isn’t in the mood’ (or is moody). If you are with someone you love, then love her, physically, sweetly, creatively — every day; every hour if you can. This will weaken the genetic fuck-and-flee instinct and subvert the surreptitious emotionality that ego uses to dominate your life. It’s also enjoyable.
- Letting go of the constant clench of wanting. Practice loving physically (rather than mentally or emotionally) by experiencing the lights-on actuality of the act. Conscious sex (also, rather cheesily, called ‘love-making’) is not primarily a mind-genital act. It is physical; the whole body is involved. If you cannot enjoy the whole body, the whole smell, touch taste and apperceptive pleasure, you’ll never know how pleasurable sex can be.
- The more you love — physically, fully, foolishly — the more you come to experience a state where ego is secondary, or silent, and the more confident, present, sincere and gentle your gaze becomes. Very desirable.
…is built on sexual frustration (the connected warmth of love-making is absolutely without violence), and depends on restlessness and, above all, expectation. In civilisation violence must be continually suppressed — because we are continually afraid of expressing the psychotic pent-up cause of it. This stuffed-down anger and irritation, which eats us away from the inside, comes out in the weirdest and most indirect ways, often flaring up into veritable orgies of rage ‘for no good reason’. Ever had an argument over nothing at all? Pure ego.
- Dealing with your anger — men particularly. Not by the count-to-ten effort of self-control, but by feeling your restlessness in your body, and by looking out for the tiny hope-want expectations which cause frustration and fury.
- Looking for the expectation that caused the anger. If you can find whatever it was you were expecting or hoping for that caused the anger, and be honest about it (first of all to yourself, then to others), you’re halfway to deflating it.
- Looking for the over-excitement which caused your wound-up hyper-irritable state. Playing a first-person shooter, watching a violent or titilating movie, thinking through a little revenge fantasy — all these things can speed your self up, and make it hyper-sensitive to frustration or criticism. Feel it. Be that which feels.
- Remind yourself, when angry (or afraid or depressed), that no situation is so bad that you cannot laugh at it, or find it interesting or somehow softly, strangely right.
- Facing other people’s violence is a slightly different matter, but it too requires instant discernment, the subtle art of calm, watchful prisoner’s defiance, sensitive threat-awareness or the death-fearless chucking of all chips to the wind in order to defend someone else. You can practice most of these in the arenas of cruelty that civilisation currently offers; the office, the factory and the family.
- Note that anger is not the same as noble ire. Fighting for what is right is not a problem.
FEAR AND ANXIETY
Fear and anxiety are the very nature of ego, or self-in-charge. Ego is constantly afraid — a sensation of restless tension that converts into anger, craving, guilt, self-indulgent misery, neediness and depression. The craven cowardliness of ego is rarely seen for what it is as civilisation offers so many ways to mask it — all of the useless stimulants and tinpot offices and accolades of world, not to mention all the opportunities it affords us for having an indirect relation with our fellows; all serve to suppress, redirect and mask our underlying terror of life. We can hide our fear behind money power, behind information technology, behind bureaucratic formality, behind insignia and rank, behind racial or sexual bigotry, behind education and professional power or behind intoxication. We can and we do — until we can’t any more, and then fear reveals itself as naked violence.
Remember that ego starts and ends in emotion. The inability to stop thinking (worrying, wanking, etc) is the result of the self-informed emotional impostor that lives in the pit of the chest, which lashes out when threatened or hurt. Dealing with this beast (a literal devil) cannot be done in the mind. Only conscious presence and action purifies.
- Seeking out situations in which you cannot use or rely on self; situations that self fears or that it really ‘doesn’t like’ — aloneness, poverty, unscripted theatre, nature, extreme boredom and the company of the young, the dying and the mad are the classics, but everyone has their own private self-hell which, sooner or later, must be faced. Better to do it in your own way, now, than to be propelled into it by civ-pop.
- Living without the props that self uses to big itself up. Again this varies from self to self. For some it means technology, for some money-power, for some the ego-inflating pride of being cultured or well-travelled or ‘enlightened’; for some it means routine, always knowing what the day is going to bring, for some it means an important meaningful job, for some it means being right, being one of the good-guys, and for some it simply means being special, important in some fabulous way (even if only in the mind).
- Living without the drugs that you use to suppress fear and the pain of fear. Giving up porn, video games, box-sets, dope, alcohol, shopping, anti-depressants, internet fame-mongers and ‘fun’. After another day of stupefying mundanity, kow-towing to a flabby manager (who’s just such a nice guy), struggling across town on the tube who wants to sit with the naked self or seek out pleasures which dignify it? Few; and who can blame them? A large part of addiction-mastery is giving up the shitty work that makes it so necessary — but even while working it isn’t just possible to free yourself, it necessary.
- Crossing taste-boundaries. Seek out unusual experiences. This does not mean travelling across Afghanistan on a llama (although it might!); it could just be volunteering at a local care home to chat with the old people, or buying a dead engine and taking it apart, or reading up about mushrooms or camp dancing in the stairwell. The point is not so much ‘novel experience’ or even ‘learning’ but widening. Self loves nothing better than what it knows it loves — overcome its fears by overcoming its knowledge.
- Mastering your craft. If you don’t know what you love, try many things. If you do know what you love, learn to do it superbly.
- Facing your fears and phobias. Simple as that. Scared of heights? Needles? Wasps? Scrapy sounds in the night? Find a way to face them. You might never overcome the sweaty-anxiety of your personal hell; but you can find that your built-in reflex terror is not you. You can know that, if push-comes-to-shove, you can face room 101. (Note though that ego can actually feed off the trembles of fear-facing: observation of the mind is of the essence, not having an exciting time).
- Resist subjugation and refuse constraint. It is impossible to master self while that self is owned by a system built upon and continually feeding from it. Complete freedom is impossible, but the dignity, anxiety and suppressed unlife engendered by continually ‘living’ and working in a deathless unworld will not magically vanish with half an hour’s meditation. Self-mastery is as ‘political’ as it is ‘spiritual’ (and revolution is as ‘spiritual’ as it is ‘political’).
- Improvised theatre. One of the most terrifying and useful things you can possibly do. Scarier that space-travel, but far more enjoyable. In a good impro class (or, better, by forming your own group and learning yourselves) you learn a) how to fail over and over again, and enjoy it b) how to go into uncertainty big (rather than the pewling excuse-making hunched over ‘sorry this is going to be shit’ stance of the sure-to-fail) and to trust it c) how to give to the scene (rather than grasp for the limelight) d) how to pay soft attention e) how to be obvious and clear f) how to let go of ego g) how to let go of plans as they fly across your face h) how to let go of failure (‘oh no, I screwed up!’) and pride (‘wow, I’m really getting good at this!’) and re-enter the collective flux i) how to experience outrageous collective joy.
- Action. Ego prefers to fret and talk over problems that to do anything about them. It is terrified of acting, of entering the room or of leaving it. Of course mindless activity doesn’t help, and meaningful action, in this sense, can mean saying what is on your mind to your mother, your lover or your boss. If you cannot act — accept completely and let the ‘ifs’ come and go; then, when you have to act, act.
DESPAIR AND THE BALEFUL ONE
World despair is another luxury the self indulges in. It’s analogous to the ghastly mask of grim woe that stares back at you in the bathroom mirror when you’re splitting up with your lover or in the middle of a profound self-pity wank. That’s not to say that death of loved ones, loss of the past and the ongoing destruction of everything that is beautiful on earth isn’t cause for heart-splitting sorrow, but sorrow is absolutely different to despair. Sorrow breaks you open, stills you to your core and lets in the strange-awesome light of life — even as all is lost. Despair is self-indulgence.
When self is mastered there remains an urge to subvert the world, a joyous, chaotic, anarchic and utterly carefree instinct to confront the horror of infinite loss with the mad, free, brilliance of life as it is — in art, in revolution, in improvised theatre, in sweet collectivisation or in naked gardening. Or there remains the diamond stillness of miraculous composure and outflowing presence into the mad body of the world. Or there remains something that you long-ago forget you were; the pre-civilised I that beats wildly beneath the endless futile worry of endless futile struggle. This perfect truth, this strange subversion is not going to ‘save the world’ — perish the thought! It is, rather, what remains when the world is seen for what is… and what remains will — as everyone who steps back from the time-space self knows — remain forever. This extraordinary response to catastrophe, far more valuable than marches and protests, is the candlelight of genuine culture, which we have no choice but to carry through darkness, even unto death herself.
Self mastery is the first step to living well, in any society, whether it is rapidly collapsing, or slowly collapsing, or not collapsing at all. We all know this, but the mission to get to the conscious root of our own experience has been hijacked by the new-age self-improvement movement which is more interested in fostering specialness and functioning more efficiently in the office than in genuine self-mastery, which always leads to subversion, refusal and sacrifice and, consequently, to rebellion.
Self-mastery is just effort and denial. Or naval-gazing mumbo jumbo.
No, self control is effort and denial. Self control (as Krishnamurti spent his life saying) is one part of the self — an idea or emotion — controlling the rest — which is, yes, frustrating, difficult, suppression. Self mastery is the whole context, or unself, in charge. The difference between the two is both phenomenally subtle and unbelievably vast.
As for the mumbo-jumbo — there’s definitely a lot of that about. NLP, self-help, guides on finding new chakras, the latest polemic from a sage on a stage… But dismissing all self-enquiry because of such people is as stupid as dismissing socialism because the USSR didn’t work (although, actually, the USSR was state-capitalism), or dismissing men because so many of them are running around like cocks with their chickens cut off, or dismissing all science because of rabid maniacs like Richard Dawkins.
My situation is different. I can handle these problems.
Your own particular practice depends less on any one of the tips mentioned here — which require months and years of constant practice — as on facing your own particular selfmare. You might find it easy, for example to walk through a corpse-strewn battlefield, but play clunkily with children, have secret sexual shames, and talk down to your mother. Or you might be a yogic master, able to suck water up your anus, but be afraid of any kind of definite judgement, uncomfortable around the working class and weird about money.
The super-intimate skills of self-mastery are not acquired by any specific effort, psychology, magic, education, community-action or self-knowledge, but by actively seeking out criticism, uncertainty and the experience of unself, and by practising, again and again, letting go of self, feeling out and allowing subtle internal pain, listening to its message and then courageously, selflessly acting before the manifold opportunities normal life offers to lose your presence, break down, throw a wobbler or behave like a dick.
Do you have children? All very easy if you are single! Having kids is a unique challenge.
Having or not having children has nothing to do with self-mastery. In fact if they challenge practice differently or make it more difficult then this makes them less of a barrier to self-mastery. The more anxiety, stress, hurt and annoyance something or someone causes you, the greater the opportunity to face down your self.
All to the good; mastering your moods, irritations, selfish fears (meaning the smothering controlling anxieties some mothers have and mask as ‘care’) or blithe hardnessnes of heart is essential if you are to raise a child that doesn’t spend her whole life trying to even perceive the vibe-conditioning your self warped it with as a bairn — let alone deal with it.
You over-emphasise sex. Sex is not so important.
In theory, it’s true that relationship problems and sex are not so important to life in the world, collapsing or otherwise. In practice just about everyone yearns for romantic love, has or has had chronic relationship problems, are absolutely crippled with obsession or encoldened by boredom and the experience of ‘normality’. Solving all this is clearly a vital part of life. But I am making a fundamental distinction between sex (good or bad) and love-making. Here is the difference:
Sex is a restless, reality-excluding mental-emotional tight-grip focus on a self-created image: no different to masturbation and porn — there just happens to be someone else there.
Bestial sex-want only creates problems. It is violent, desperate, quickly bored but never satisfied and can only be controlled by cold brain-clamp. Sex with another (and constant sex-fantasy) creates distance between you, spike, irritation, annoyance, all sexual problems and many (perhaps even most) social problems.
Making love (or outrageously conscious sex-fusion or whatever you want to call it), on the other hand, is an experience of total sensory floodout — the 99.9% of the sense data normally excluded by the mental-emotional self is perfectly allowed in a state of self-annihilating devotion and near hideous strange-delight. This is no different from the full-scale wide-attention life of über-woo which surrounds it.
Transdimensional animal love-making (and constant woo) creates liquid ease, lack of cling and creative amazement all day — but to reach the garden you have to be able to know how to give up your self — and you have to want to — which is impossible while men and women are addicted to their silly plans and schemes.
Love-making, in this sense, is not a refuge for the self — and it lasts all day.
(I’ve made the distinction clearer here than it sometimes is in practice though. The restless sex-brain can interpose itself into love-making and present lovers can bring each other out of the virtual world. Once again, explained fully here.)
There are, of course, other ways to overcome self than making-love or really being with the opposite sex — there’s the whole of your life, for a start! — but sex and love-making are a huge part of men and women’s lives, and must be addressed if self is to be mastered (or allowed to be swept sweetly away).