‘As the interpretation of reality by the power structure, ideology is always subordinated ultimately to the interests of the structure. Therefore, it has a natural tendency to disengage itself from reality, to create a world of appearances, to become ritual.’
Vaclav Havel – The Power of the Powerless
There is little sense in trying to fathom what is the ‘rational’ in today’s world. The threshold from a realm of rationality has been crossed, and we have entered the Theatre of the Absurd. Nothing seems to make sense; or rather, no one in authority is now trying to appear rational or making sense. The façade of sense-making has been dropped because everyone knows the consensus narrative is based upon a lie and even those upholding it cannot be bothered any longer to uphold the lie. It is as if the irrational has become the new standardization, so why bother to pretend things are otherwise?
The very act of living a sane life has become a revolutionary act. It is revolutionary in that mental, emotional, and psychological clarity is a rebellion against the brain fog of the consensus status quo. And yet, without such clarity of perception and insight we are in danger of becoming redundant in an environment of ever-increasing meaninglessness. An undeclared nihilism has taken root within the circuitry of the human condition and is spreading as a silent contagion. This is now the maelstrom of the times that faces so many of us – the natives are restless, and this is life in the existential zone.
The act of living implies that each individual gains enough meaning and purpose to keep everyday life functioning. Yet lurking behind this as a background fear in our lives is the possibility that there could be a collapse into total meaninglessness where nothing makes sense anymore. And worse of all, those around you seem not to recognize this, nor want to acknowledge it. Your sense of meaning has collapsed for you alone. This is perhaps why so many people appear to be scurrying through their lives, scrambling to clutch onto the threads of some contrived meaning or purpose. Reality, a make-believe funfair, is teetering on the edge of an abyss of abstraction. And this current uncertainty makes us all feel panicky. We never fully realized that we were here to decide upon our reality. We have been sitting back, consuming someone else’s reality, and calling it our own. Somewhere along the way, the human species got stripped of its intentionality and its will to purpose.
The English writer and philosopher Colin Wilson was correct in spotting this loss of inner vitality. He related it to a rise in a need for security and by people enclosing themselves within their own walls, whether physical or mental. Wilson remarked that: ‘Too much security becomes boredom, and boredom leads to a decline in vitality. Man has surrounded himself by walls, and has built his narrow “human world” as a centre of security; but the security has begun to stifle him.’[i] Whether security or insecurity, certainty and uncertainty, both sides of the coin are being used to form an enclosure around the human being. And this creates the sense of being stifled. The focus has been upon the minutiae – the details, the micro – with a loss of the macro or larger, expanded vision. We are conditioned to live for crumbs rather than feasts. This has given humanity precise technological devices that we spend our waking hours staring into, yet it has shredded the awe and exploration into the larger questions of existence. Humankind has, largely speaking, stepped into an existential zone of its own making; we have voluntarily cut ourselves off from our inherent vital energies and are living off a pocket generator. By living our lives within a thin sliver of consciousness and denying the potential of accessing a wider scope of perceptual awareness, we are existing in a kind of ‘sub-threshold’ state. It is as if by living we are forgetting – or that we are living in a state of forgetfulness. And this then gets perpetuated by routines and habits that establish a regular everyday overfamiliarity to life, which then leads to increased automation of oneself.
I am suggesting that life in the existential zone is based on the recognition that ordinary everyday human consciousness is experienced within a highly reduced and limited form. Further, that this restricted human consciousness is accepted by most people and not questioned, even though it results from certain deliberate external conditions such as social programming and cultural institutions. We have learnt not to question the limited state of our conscious awareness. And it is this that has led humanity into a life of reduced cognition regarding our place within the grander scheme of universal awareness. For most of us, we live our lives as if within a fishbowl. Or to use another analogy, the world is like a huge ‘dark room,’ and we navigate our steps through crude external stimuli. As Wilson characterized it: ‘The countries of the mind may be vast, but man cannot get a visa to stay there.’[ii] Yet the thing is, we could get a visa if only we applied for it ourselves. The expansive consciousness field is in permanent existence, only that we do not make any efforts to reach out to it by shifting away from our place of restricted awareness. Why is this so? I doubt if there is any one answer for this but rather a confluence of factors. A primary factor is that we are never told that anything else exists beyond the limited range of matter-reality. We have been taught by our ‘knowledge institutions’ that consciousness is a by-product of our brain and is only a result of our neuronal connections and it finishes with the death of the body. In other words, we have been conditioned into a belief set that there is ‘nothing out there’ beyond what is basically in front of our noses. And so, we tend to go through life with these adopted blinkers over our perceptive awareness. Rather than making efforts to go beyond our current state of awareness, we end up struggling for meaning through material gains. And when we achieve what we have told ourselves is our aim, we quickly become restless again. We never perceive that there is a threshold of human consciousness. We don’t need to go out seeking ‘mystical experiences’ either, for this is likely to keep us on the merry-go-round of attractions as spiritual tourists. Like a roller coaster, we reach a peak, get a high, then it’s a fast track down again before seeking the next summit. There are thrills in this, yet there is no permanence of insight. Such rides and rituals, of which our lives are full of, serve to keep our attention and awareness narrowed, and any aspects lying beyond the narrowing get excluded.
Life in the existential zone is all about following the noise rather than the signal and excluding all those aspects that do not fall (or are accepted) into the mainstream, consensus narrative. Exclusion then becomes a habit with us, and most people are unawares of this. If we are asked – do you feel authentic? – then how is a person to respond? Do we have any sense of discernment to know, truly know, when we are authentic or not? And if so, then how are we inauthentic? Why is it that we ask so few questions about the fundamentals of our own existence? It would seem that there is a form of forgetfulness that hangs over us in this realm, as if we are being compelled to remain as dreamers. The act of remembrance is a theme that runs through many ancient traditions and teachings. In his theory of anamnesis, Plato says humanity possesses knowledge of its past, only that we have forgotten this knowledge and so we need to rediscover the knowledge within us. Plato wrote that humanity could only know the ‘real world’ in the form of memories. That is, human thought was really a form of recollection, and that humankind generally existed within a state of collective amnesia, having only fragments of recollection as reference points for reality. Plato was suggesting that humanity had lost – or fallen from – an earlier state of heightened awareness and now had only traces of this memory in their collective psyche as a reminder. In ancient Greek, truth is called aletheia which means not forgetting; and in Greek mythology, before the human soul incarnates into this world it drinks from Lethe, the river of Forgetfulness and one of the five rivers of the underworld, so that it cannot remember its origins. Similarly, there is a Jewish legend that speaks of how we are struck on the mouth by an angel before birth so that we cannot speak of our pre-birth knowledge.
Such myths and tales as these are suggesting to us that we need to learn how to remember – that knowledge beyond our normal ken is re-collection as much as it is cognition. We arrive in this earthly realm with an inheritance, only that we lack the key to unlock those restrictions placed upon us so that we can access expanded awareness and knowledge. We need to find the Ariadne thread within this existential zone to help us through this labyrinth or perceptual maze that we find ourselves in. Our lives are attempts at entering once again into a lost remembrance which lies so far and yet so close to us. The 13th century Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī wrote that ‘The Truth is closer to us than our own jugular vein.’ And yet, so vain do we search, as if we have fallen away from true remembrance. If we make no efforts, then we shall remain in ignorance to our existence. We shall play the game as pawns being moved around a chessboard, unknowing of the hands that move us. The sense of human life will be measured by the few material gains and pleasures we have obtained before the exit door approaches. We shall leave this arena having no true gains. Having failed to learn of why we came, we may end up exiting through a revolving door only to be thrown back into the game again. We have been programmed with the nice little adage that ‘Ignorance is Bliss,’ and then offered some of those temptations of bliss to feed upon. Yet a world that exists in ignorance shall never find its true way forward. It will stumble and fall and flail about blindly. It is time for us to see the condition of life; to understand how the consensus narrative is generated and manipulated; how people are kept in ignorance of their true origins and capacities; and finally, how to activate those organs that will allow us to receive a greater portion of consciousness. And with that greater conscious awareness, we can make steps to break from our restrictions and to take the helm of our lives.
[i] Wilson, Colin (2019/1966) Introduction to The New Existentialism. London: Aristeia Press, p109
[ii] Wilson, Colin (2019/1966) Introduction to The New Existentialism. London: Aristeia Press, p123