In his note accompanying this essay, Thaddeus Golas wrote, “When you read this you will know why I brooded for months before writing it. So if you brood and decide not to print it, it is okay with me.”
Well, I did brood. Ten years ago, Thaddeus Golas wrote an underground classic, The Lazy Man’s Guide To Enlightenment, a slim volume of cosmic common-sense that explained how the universe works, and argued persuasively for the power of love. For many, including myself, the book was an inspiration. Often, I flipped through its pages to be reminded:
“Love must be the first law. Love is the action of being in the same space with other beings, which means that love is real, as real as we are.”
“We can trust the flow of the universe. If these rules of love are true, then they are not effective whether we agree with them or not, whether we are conscious of them or not, whether or not we use words to talk about them.”
“Everything that happens on earth can be experienced on any of thousands of different vibration levels, from the most euphoric to the gloomiest. We are entirely free to emphasize any level we wish. We need change nothing but our own attention and love, our own expansion and love.”
And so on.
In subsequent essays — published in The Sun in Issues 69, 82, and 85 — Thaddeus expanded some of this themes, and revised some of his thinking. In “Understanding Pain” (Issue 82) he asked how we can avoid pain or make it as brief as possible. The general rule, he wrote, was “be agreeable or go away.”
This essay goes even deeper into the question of pain. I find much in it that’s brilliant and there’s much I question. As I wrote to Thaddeus, “I have one fundamental disagreement. I think love is the way. That’s what you said years ago in Lazy Man’s Guide and I think it’s true.”
What do you think?
© Copyright 1984 by Thaddeus Golas
Do not blame God for humanity’s predicament.
Do not blame human beings either.
We just happen to be participating in a peculiar local distortion of reality. The planet Earth is as near to a mistake as the law will allow.
The universe is fundamentally sane and just, and it feels very good to the individual basic entities involved. But here and there, very rarely and for a limited time (rarely in relation to the size of the universe, and for “a limited time” in terms of billions of years!) some entities relate in peculiar ways. None of these relationships involves the same entities all the time: it is something like a bus that picks up and discharges passengers at a certain rate of probability. The bus is always a bus full of people, but they are not always the same people. There are many hydrogen atoms, let us say, but not always the same entities compose them.
Atoms are local systems, and they are probability systems. So many basic entities exist that there is a fairly reliable probability that a certain number will at any given time be functioning in such a way that the systems persist in time.
It also occurs as a matter of probability that there will be levels of more complex systems, each level built up of components from simpler levels: atoms, chemical compounds, molecules, cells, and organisms.
Alas, there is a most unfortunate fact about being a system. In order to continue as the structure that it is, a system must be in conflict in some way with the other systems around it. If a system is too agreeable, if it opts for pleasure, it disintegrates or becomes a different system. The price of continuing as an identity is the experience of conflicts, of differences, of pain.
In time organic systems minimize pain by evolving a shell, a skin, a cell-wall, an army, an atmospheric shield, or some other form of insulation against the random energy vibrations in the environment. One result is our local earthly reality, in which barriers of all kinds are commonplace. Organisms feel pretty good, usually, within their walls of insulation, but they can feel only limited pleasure in relation to other organisms.
As long as organisms are living from moment to moment, without memory or anticipation, there is nothing particularly undesirable about organic reality.
But it sometimes happens in the cosmos that something unfortunate and strange happens: a self-conscious system develops out of the stream of probabilities. Like humankind.
Why is a self-conscious system undesirable? Because it has consciousness, but it cannot have the freedom and pleasure that are enjoyed by individual basic entities when they are conscious. (Readers of my book, The Lazy Man’s Guide To Enlightenment, will be familiar with my assumption that basic entities are conscious space when expanded, unconscious mass when contracted, and alternating between these states as energy.) We, as human beings, are obliged to be conscious of living in a peculiar reality in which pain is rewarded and pleasure is punished. We cannot evade this fundamental feature of systems-reality.
Human beings may get occasional glimpses of what it is like to be conscious away from functional systems. We may have spiritual insights, illuminations, indescribable mystical ecstasies, and so on. We may also have great love affairs. Unfortunately we cannot sustain this sort of pleasure.
The individual component entities of the atoms in our bodies are not suffering unwillingly: they can come and go as they please. They do not need to meditate or purify themselves. The atoms also come and go: none of the atoms in your body are the same as the ones that formed you a year ago.
But you and I, as self-conscious probability systems, are stuck here in this crazy contradictory reality. It is the only sort of experience we can know with continuity.
None of the component entities participating in the experience of being you or me will ever die, but when they leave they drop all consciousness of what it was to be you or me. As human beings, as systems, we are an available experience for wandering entities. We have no afterlife as human personalities or souls.
No one planned it this way. There is no divine plan. There is no reason for this organic reality except the imperative of functional interactions.
No one can stop it. No entity can govern the behavior of other entities, for all are equal. There is no grand consciousness that can govern the behavior of individual entities. There is no consciousness that can change the role of pain in a systems-reality.
The central terrible fact is that the simple beautiful sane laws that govern the relations of basic entities are no longer relevant when it comes to relations between systems.
A systems-reality is unjust, unloving, unfair, painful and grotesque. And if a system is self-conscious, it is obliged to be aware of this madness.
The whole universe is a rich, eternal pleasure, but there is no way that a self-conscious system can enjoy that pleasure. Even the highest spiritual pleasure causes a system to disintegrate. (Perhaps you have noticed that most mystically ecstatic religious leaders sooner or later adopt regimes of self-denial, work, and pain — and they organize their followers into systems!)
It is important to understand, because it is so hard for the intellect to accept, that consciousness is utterly useless to us. It will not help us to beat the system.
If you propose to be helpful to the human race, you are only prolonging the occasion of pain.
But if you are hostile to humanity, you are also aggravating the pain.
Human life will always be as mad in the future as it has been in the past.
If you enjoy yourself, you disintegrate.
If you accept pain, you survive with little reason to survive.
There is no way for a God to help us. A God did not cause systems to happen or become self-conscious, and cannot stop them either. All systems self-destruct in time.
We did not commit any sin to get here. We have no bad karma, and good karma will effect nothing.
There is no way for spirits to help or harm us. We cannot take our human personalities to the world of the spirit.
Fantasies and illusions, cherished beliefs and ideals can give us moments of pleasant feeling. We are certainly free to use self-consciousness in this way. But we should not expect ideas to have any influence on the inevitable flow of painful and disappointing events.
There is no idea or attitude that can change the fact that we live in a sea of probabilities, that we are self-conscious functional systems, that pain and effort promote our survival and pleasure does not.
Pain is a necessary ingredient of systems survival.
In any contention between people, the one who is willing to endure pain for the greatest length of time without changing will dominate the relation and define the reality. That is the way systems work. Love is not the way.
When we human beings talk of love, we usually mean the good feelings (the mechanism of evolution) associated with species survival: procreation and nurturing. We often insist that human problems can be solved by love. The truth is that widespread agreeability leads to social chaos. All too often the invitation to be loving is degraded into manipulation: “Do it my way and prove you are loving.”
Alexander Pope said the proper study of mankind is man. The proper study for self-conscious systems is systems. Certainly we should be mature enough to understand the structural necessity of disagreeability and pain.
Our strange reality is not hiding anything. We can study it freely. For instance, when we understand that a component of a system feels good when it is walled-off and insulated from other systems, then we can cease the useless effort of urging people to blur into one identical mush. We exist in a reality in which real love is always improbably and often impossible.
We also live in a reality which is totally and completely irrelevant to the world of the spirit. Nothing that we do here on Earth has any consequence in afterlife or otherlife.
Pain and suffering have no spiritual value. Spirits know that pain is crazy and unnecessary.
Of course, if you are not really certain that there is a spiritual universe, a cosmos of sane consciousness beyond the human, then nothing in this essay should bother you. It is only when you have a real knowledge of paradise that it becomes a chore to be human. The contrast is enormous, so much so that we judge free consciousness to be hallucinatory and unreal.
Therefore it might be advisable for strivers after illumination to ease up a little, and stop taking it so seriously. You can’t get there from here.
We do achieve a degree of good feeling by concentrating on consciousness alone, but we should understand that it has no relevance to the human life around us.
In this hopeless reality we have a desperate hunger for information, and I suppose it is better to know this truth about pain than not to know it, even if it means giving up beautiful illusions and expectations, since these are doomed to disappointment anyway.
The truth does not give control of this mad reality — nothing does — but it does free us from vainly trying to correct what cannot be corrected.
Pain is not a punishment. Pain is not a mistake.
It hurts worse to try to escape the consciousness of pain.
Vigorous use of energy will not lead us away from pain, but only enmesh us deeper in it.
Our attitude to pain is wrong. Pain is not something that is done to the body by alien or hostile force. Pain occurs because of the system’s determination to continue as it is. If a system has no will to endure pain, it quickly agrees with differing vibrations and falls apart. (They call it “immune deficiency.”) Pain is evidence of the body’s will to survive. To try to nullify pain is to interfere with the system’s action of preserving itself.
True, pain can be a signal of actions to be avoided (don’t put your hand in the fire, etc.) and in that sense is a signal of doing the wrong thing. But even there pain is evidence of a functional difference between one’s own system and something in the environment. There are no evil or malignant germs and viruses: all organic life is merely a competition between systems.
In human relations, emotional pain is a sign that the people involved are avoiding dissolution of identity.
Pain has no other meaning or significance than a system’s effort to survive.
Our error is in assuming we should always do something about the pain. Pain is “why” we drink, take drugs, lash out, try to enforce agreement from others, try to control people, why we yield too often to loudmouths, why we endure one pain to avoid another.
Do what we will to steer our lives, and still we will encounter pain. Be as altruistic and as good as we can be, serve others, and still we are not exempt from pain.
Death happens once in a lifetime, but pain pursues us into every corner.
Choose every action for the latest pain — I call it “the least-pain hypothesis” — and that won’t work either.
Even knowing about it, still pain and dissonance comes as a surprise, as though it should not have happened. If my intentions are innocent, why does this happen to me? And so on.
Is there any remedy?
I would suggest that we do not give ourselves false information. Label every ache and pain and discord as a way of survival for your system. It is not a weakness to feel pain. Do not try to run from pain. It is everywhere in human life. No one is exempt.
To know the nature of pain is to have the key to this human reality.
What, after all, is the essence of the courage of heroes but the willingness to endure the trials of pain?
What is the strength of the middle class but the willingness to postpone gratification, to work and manage long hours?
What is the weakness of criminals but the insistence on instant gratification regardless of consequences?
Real power is not force. Power is the willingness to endure pain. That is the logic of initiation rituals.
Once pain is accepted as inevitable and necessary for our reality, an enormous weight of doubt and puzzlement is lifted.
If we as systems can have no goal of spiritual release, if consciousness cannot alter the rules, we can at least be systems that know the rules, and behave accordingly.
It takes a while to realize the implications of this line of thought. It means giving up so much that we like to believe, that we “naturally” feel. So much praiseworthy effort, so many large charitable organizations, so much political wind-making, so large a bureaucratic machine, so many grandiose religions — all are based on the assumption that someone somewhere ought to be relieved of pain. The best, the most unquestioned motive in the world, is the battle against pain. The medical profession is itself like a cancer eating the nation’s wealth. Even during times when we ourselves are temporarily free of pain, we are reminded to feel guilty about someone else in pain. Billions of human beings have stupefied themselves with drink and drugs to avoid the consciousness of pain.
Who dares to challenge this monster, pain?
What would happen if we stopped running from it?
A thousand thoughts cascade through my mind as I look at pain from this point of view, for all human experience is relevant. Pain is the “destiny that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may.” We create larger cruelties by trying to avoid small ones. The fact that pain occurs does not always mean that there is an aggressor in the woodpile.
In an earlier article on pain, I proposed the maxim, “Be agreeable or go away.” Now I would suggest, “Embrace your pain with courage or die.” For if we cannot endure the pain it takes to be free, we suffer the worse pain of slavery.
Try an experiment: do not run from pain. Take no remedy for physical or emotional pain, and see what happens.
Gautama Buddha told us that all life is suffering. I think our response to that knowledge should be something besides a pious faith in doing the right thing. There is no way to do it right. For human beings, there is no escape from pain.
Gratification is empty because it is punished by disintegration of your system.
Pain is rewarded by survival because that is how systems maintain themselves.
This is what we have to live with: an upside-down and backwards reality.
Here we are. What are we to make of it?