We are so identified with our thought-made selves, that any inquiry which suggests that the duality of exist and not-exist is not absolute is frightening. This underlies our fear of death. It’s the personality – by which I mean the identification with mental structures – which fears death. Death is meaningless at the level of bodily presence.
The concepts ‘exist’ and ‘not exist’ ought to be servants, but they have become rulers of our life processes. This is so to the extent that thought rules our bodily experience.
Imagine that I am supporting someone to inquiry experientially – in psychotherapy, or in spiritual inquiry – and imagine that they stay with a sub-personality’s processes, tracking its embodiment, with sufficient clarity and compassion, that the person finds within and under the sub-personality’s organisation, layer upon layer of attitude. Once they are over the surprise, the shock, they might get interested in the potential of such a discovery process.
Imagine that I am enquiring with a CEO who has made an unpopular decision in his company, and he doesn’t understand why his employees don’t appreciate his action. Say our friend gets to the point of his inner work, where he recognises that under his action lies a sub-personality. That is, unique configurations of body, affect, and intentional processes which present themselves consistently in specific situations, as ‘I.’ My CEO might have sub=personalities that are in opposition to each other. It might have been that fact which brought him to me.
And, suppose the inquiry goes further, to the point where he sees that a part of him is hungry for power, just say. Currying favour with powerful people seems to make sense, to that part of him; and, in this context, his action, unpopular with his employees, has pleased his power connections.
“What will your sub-personality get, if he acts that powerful way?” I ask. Imagine that our CEO is interested in the truth, or what is, and that to further his inquiry he goes into his body, as he has learnt in our mindfulness classes. And say that he feels something relevant there. He responds, “Oh, I see. If I have power, I’ll feel safe.”
Memories of feeling unsafe may come, now – for instance, the relentless molestation he endured from bullies in primary school. I’ll encourage him to see the memories as instances, rather than as causes (though obviously they have reinforced his patterns.) They are instances of patterns in his body, now. If he is ready, and we continue, then I’ll support him to look under that, so I say: “Then, what will feeling safe give you…?,” and the inquiry will continue.
What we are likely to find is that way down under everything there will come, in our fictional CEO, a fear of not identifying with his personality’s strategies. That’s what a sub-personality is – a aggregate of strategies. This may come after months of such experiential investigation. So, he finds a fear of letting go of the clinging to the hope that power will make him safe. Remember that all this is experiential – which means it’s found in the body’s patterns. It’s really warrior’s work, so I’m admiring my CEO, at this stage.
Further uncovering will reveal that the deepest fear is one rarely encountered in ordinary circles. The buried fear in him is the question of whether he exists the way that he imagines himself; that is, is he ultimately his personality, or not? If he is not his personality – which he has imagined he was since about the age of three – then who or what is he? And, now will he live, if he’s not who he thinks he is? It’s very scary territory. It often presents as the fear of annihilation.
However, if our subject can develop Keats’ Negative Capability – “that is, when a [person] is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” – then he might experience that he doesn’t know how to live without the false support of the personality, yet he might learn to stay right there on that uncomfortable limen. “I feel I’m knocking on Heaven’s door,” he says. He’s outside, at the moment.
To stay there “without any irritable reaching after” is to allow the cessation of his identification with personality, but, soon enough, he glides over the threshold into the totality of his actual life. (It was never a real demarcation, anyway; between ground and his body.)
This gives us a clue as to why mindfulness of the body, and focusing, and other body-oriented modalities of inquiry, why they are successful in deep, liberating inquiry. The body does not have these dualities – they can only exist in thought. Dualities such as ‘exist/not-exist’ or ‘life/death’ are not found in present-moment, com-bodied presence. They are found only where thought has invaded dimensions that are beyond its scope – and that includes bodily regulation, bodily intelligence. Where personality has replaced presence, we lose our ground, and personality replaces it.
This must have been what William Blake meant, writing: “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” This is so, only to the extent that he consciously enters being a fool. May we all embrace our inner contraries.