One of the biggest detours one could take on the route to freedom from suffering is to make things about the person. By which I mean that when we are identified with our persona we tend to find ourselves focused more on the level of “person” rather than “concept”. Of course, neither is without value but when we get caught in the personal level and do not transcend it then we rarely reach the level of conceptual understanding. Without some degree of conceptual understanding, we find ourselves focused only on the superficial. It must be said, though, that the conceptual level is not somewhere where we will find freedom either. Both the personal and conceptual levels of understanding are through-passes on the way home.
Before I write any more of this issue of making things about the person, I’d like to outline the three levels of consciousness which I’ve come to know. Each level of consciousness is linked with a certain state of mind. These states of mind are not exclusive – There is no designation as to who is able to achieve these states and who isn’t. The most peaceful is not reserved exclusively for monks on mountains or under the bodhi tree. Nor is the most restricted reserved only for those living in the metropolises. These three states of consciousness as are follows.
1. “Argh” – This state is characterised by rigid thinking and highly emotional or intellectual internal experiences. When we are in this state of mind, we are clinging tightly to the stuff of the mind – beliefs, thoughts, ideas, hopes, wants, desires, so on. This state is one of total identification with and investment in the ego-self (persona). The Argh state of mind is the one where pain quickly becomes suffering and suffering is then rapidly integrated into the identity. An example of the “Argh” state of mind is, ‘Maybe I’m just not supposed to be happy.’ This is pain (unhappiness) turned into suffering (the projection of future unhappiness) which then is integrated into the persona (Beliefs about the capabilities of our individual minds and personalities). At this level, conversations and thoughts are very much to do with identity – people, ones own individuality, appearance and so on.
2. “Ohh” – This state is characterised by a more observational and analytical approach to what happens in life. This approach is typically more rigid than the “Ahh” state but less rigid than the “Argh” state. In the Ohh state of mind, we are much less invested in the goings on but are still easily concerned or interested. With this state of mind, there is a much looser grip on beliefs, thoughts, ideas, hopes, wants, desires and so on. The Ohh state is a much less emotional state of mind than the Argh and we can become cold or indifferent as a result of this. An example of the “Ohh” state of mind is, “What if this isn’t so important.” or “This is what I think…” There is still some investment and the mind is still being used as a tool for proliferation yet the level of suffering generated in this state of mind is significantly less than that of the “Argh” state. At this level, conversations and thoughts are very much to do with ideas and beliefs.
3. “Ahh” – This state is difficult to characterise but it can be associated with a deep sense of compassion, love, acceptance, peace and contentment. From the Ahh space, things are seen and dealt with as they are. Ideas, thoughts and concepts are played with here but not clung to. Instead of being invested in the happenings like with the Argh or Ohh states, from the space of Ahh, it is seen that all things come and go like leaves on a river. When in this space, we tend to listen more attentively and when we speak we can offer complete understandings rather than fragmented thoughts or ideas. In this space, the grip on ideas, thoughts, beliefs, hopes, wants, desires and so on is much looser. These things still arise but do not become integrated into the personality because the personality is simply a conduit through which this experiential understanding can convey itself. At this level, conversations tend to use personal or conceptual ideas to point towards a greater truth or understanding which is beyond and before the relative temporary nature of individuality. The need or desire for suffering is superseded by the unavoidable awareness of what is. As such, pain may arise yet suffering does not.
With this understanding, we must remember that whichever state of conciousness we are focused into, the other two still exist and are still ongoing. It happens that when we are focused into level one (Argh) then we are unable to experience levels two and three or even see them clearly. When we are focused into level 2 (Ohh) then we are aware of the happenings at level one but are still finding level three difficult to experience. When we are focused into level three (Ahh) however, we find that both the happenings in levels one and two are observable for us. Yet, what is transpiring within them is simply just that – what is transpiring – and it has no strong effect on us. By ‘it has no strong effect on us’ I mean that while pain and emotions may arise, we do not turn them into suffering. Complex thoughts or ideas which contradict our regular chain of ideas may arise but when we are in the Ahh space these things do not lead to cognitive dissonance. Rather, from the Ahh space, we see what is going on within the first two levels but instead of getting pulled into an emotional reaction or into cognitive dissonance (the behavioural characteristics of levels one and two), we instead are able to apply the qualities which arise naturally from within the Ahh space. These qualities of compassion, love, acceptance, peace and contentment are then effortlessly applied to those people, concepts or events which occur on a day-to-day basis. Not only that but these qualities are also applied to the other two levels of consciousness too. We find that instead of condemning our thoughts, feelings, ideas and beliefs (level one) or judging or attempting to alter them (level two) we can simply accept them and welcome them to be as they are. This happens because, from the Ahh space, the experience shows us without question that we are not contained within the first two levels. After all, here we are observing and accepting them.
As Ram Dass puts it, the subsystem cannot understand a system meta to it. In this context what that means is that Argh cannot comprehend Ohh and Ohh cannot comprehend Ahh. What happens is that if Argh experiences Ohh (in another person, for example) then it turn it into something it can understand. If Ohh experiences Ahh then it does the same. This is why when you offer some larger perspective to someone who is clinging to their suffering, it just gets warped into some other means for suffering. And this is also why those who speak from the Ahh space are interpreted by those in the Ohh state as only what the Ohh can comprehend – usually as delusional or misguided.
Now that that is explained, we can return to the original topic of this post. The Grand Detour. This would be that when someone appears to us – person-to-person or in a group setting – and offers us some grand truth and we (when experiencing life from one of the more limited two levels) put that through the filter we have and it comes out all mangled and tattered. If we are at the Argh level, then we hear this truth and we make it about the person. A good example of this is when people get obsessed or addicted to people. Personality cults are a prime representation of this in action. If we are at the Ohh level and hear that same truth then there is more of a possibility that we will take it as it was intended to be taken. What may happen, however, is that if this new idea seems to contradict some idea which is already integrated into the persona then the truth would be explained away.
This explaining things away or making it about the person is The Grand Detour. The reason I’m calling it a detour is because by making things about the person or reducing what is presented to rubble just so we can feel okay about it, we are sidestepping the reality we have been presented with. Cognitive dissonance is, in itself, a whole other subject. When it comes to the personalisation of things, we are doing ourselves and others a great disservice. On a day-to-day basis, if we are presented with adversity and proceed to make any negative feelings appear as though they are the responsibility of the other person or people involved then we are ignoring an important learning experience which would serve to better our understanding of ourselves and life as a whole. On a larger scale, if we make the teachings of Jesus or Buddha specifically about Jesus or Guatama Buddha as people then we are overlooking the potency of the teachings. A very visible example of this Argh level processing of high truth is that within modern Christianity, it suffices just to believe in Jesus Christ as a person and the doer of deeds rather than to take his teachings inwards and live each day following the example he lead. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t acknowledge or celebrate the life of Jesus the person or Gautama Buddha the person as much as we celebrate the life of any person. (Ahh sees all things with acceptance and love after all).
In summary then, when we understand these three levels of consciousness and employ the deliberate movement from one state to the state (or space) meta to it then we won’t be doing ourselves or others any disservice by making things about the person. All-in-all, the personality (levels one and two) are really not the totality of us (hence, level three) so living within only the lower two levels would be an almost ludicrous choice to make. If we can instate the awareness of where we are in terms of these levels of consciousness in any moment, then this will serve as a great tool for releasing suffering and recognising freedom. Cultivating this awareness before we are dragged into Argh by some experience is integral to maintaining sustainable awareness of this. Make it a practice to become aware of which level of consciousness you are in and the rest will take care of itself. As soon as you realise you are in Argh, you are in Ohh and as soon as you realise you’re in Ohh and then surrender, you’re in Ahh. It’s that simple. The trick is not to fight it. Simply surrender.
I hope this serves you well. To quote Ram Dass once more, “Only that in you which is me can hear what I’m saying.”
Live, love and play.