In the narrative mode we relate to the world by being preoccupied with our own stories, legends, our own place in it. It is in this mode where we find the need to feel self worth and security, find reason to compare ourselves to others, and to compete with each other for material and social gain. It is maintained through the constant reference to self opposed to anything that is not. Though most familiar, it is the most selfish by the virtue of this constant self reference. Because of this, this mode tends to create many idiosyncrasies between individuals and their goals and inevitably it leads to and sustains conflict. Conflict with others, conflict with circumstances and conflict with self worth.
Circumstances are always in a flux. This means that our narrative will always be influenced in unexpected ways. If we allow ourselves to become complacent, these unexpected shifts can be bewildering. If we have goals, we may never get the opportunity to attain them. If we have material wealth, we may lose it all without just cause. Our health may fail us in unexpected ways. Death is always lurking behind an unknown corner.
All of these factors give no basis for a stable and positive attitude towards life. It is no surprise therefore, that so many of us have come to search for relief. When we come to realize that we have used quicksand for the foundation of our efforts, it is disheartening. When this happens repeatedly we become frustrated and afflicted by the mere workings of everyday life and put in even greater efforts. It is practically impossible not to have a personal reaction to these events, and that is because of the self referential nature of this mode in which we find status and disgrace, gain and loss, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. This essentially points to its true nature as a self sustaining cycle that is driven by our inevitable negative reaction to shifting circumstances as we keep mistaking quicksand for solid ground.
One issue of trying to resolve our circumstances through such concerns as status/disgrace, gain/loss, praise/blame, and pleasure/pain is that each of these factors have inevitable consequences on the opposing side. Having status leaves more vulnerable to disgrace, gain to loss, praise to blame, and pleasure to pain. Shifting circumstances makes these consequences a matter of time. Another issue that is more subtle is that in three cases our definition of the self about which we are trying to develop a narrative is intimately bound to how others relate to it. Except for pleasure and pain, we have no control in whether others will provide us with status or disgrace, gain or loss, praise or blame.
Therefore, because it is inherently unstable, attempts to positively relate to the events in this mode are often met with disappointment, anger and disillusionment. It is important to realize that this mode with which we most often relate to the world is a cause of great stress to us, and others with whom we get involved as a result of our attempts. And though it is the most natural mode, it is one with which gives us the most problems. With this realization it becomes clear that to seek to disband this pointless cycle is to seek another mode.
QUESTIONS OF EXISTENCE
Cosmology is a mode of relating to the world by which we are preoccupied with questions of existence as they pertain to ourselves and, more generally, to the whole cosmos as we perceive it to be. This is the mode of philosophy, ideology, religion, and science as they all deal with ontology. In this mode we are concerned with the nature of entities in general and with the entity to which experience happens, specifically.
In regards to the second concern, the various disciplines land on a spectrum of applicability. On the one hand, it is religion’s exclusive concern, on the other, science cannot even engage the question as it is outside of its domain. Philosophy finds itself across the entire spectrum as a gradient between the two extremes and ideology is the active decision of which philosophical system is reality. This gradient of extremes should not be thought of as a smooth linear shift. Rather, because of the dynamic of philosophy itself, it is an unimaginably complicated, interconnected web of ideas constantly recomposed in an infinite number of combinations.
A problem also exists for the gradient as a whole. Regardless of discipline, there is an inherent issue to answering the question regarding the existence of any entity. The problem lies with the fact that it is outside of our experience. We are only aware of that which we experience, whether it’s our senses or our thoughts, which includes our experience of any cosmological model. Anything that is said to be behind an experience, like the model behind it, lies outside of experience by definition.
Taken together, attempts to formulate any coherent notion of ones relationship to the cosmos is inherently uncertain. It, being entirely dependent on the ideology one assumes becomes subject to the capacity of the individual to accumulate ideas and then subject to the content of those ideas. From these inherent inconsistencies, the cosmological mode suffers from the same issues as the narrative mode. Like the analogy of quicksand, attempting to resolve issues in uncertain terms is an uncertain affair, one with consistent opportunity for disappointment and frustration.
Most importantly, if the terms of the analysis itself are inherently uncertain, all identification with ontological concepts will be uncertain by definition, becoming subject to both the full collection and content of ideas. Like with the narrative mode, the cosmological mode, with its inherent stressors keeps one constantly in conflict and in search out of that conflict. In terms disbanding pointless cycles, the realization is that the cosmological mode provides no reliable solution.
EXPERIENCE OF THE APPARENT
Phenomenology avoids many issues by virtue of not concerning itself with anything but the experience of events in and of themselves. That is to say, we consider the content of the experience of an event without any reference to any entity behind the experience. Because we are only concerned with the experience in and of itself, the problem of relating to the world becomes about ones relation to these events as they appear through the experience. As experiences of events are distinct, it is possible to analyse their characteristics and become familiar with how each shapes the next in one’s stream of ongoing awareness of the present moment.
As we saw with the earlier modes, stress, disappointment and frustration are inevitable when one attempts to work through uncertain terms and circumstances, however we can say with certainty that the characteristics of each event are shaping the characteristics of the next. We can also be certain that it’s possible to be aware of them since they are the very constituents of the experiences themselves. For this reason phenomenology is the appropriate mode for investigating joy of an unshakeable quality.
This is also the most difficult mode to shift into. For that reason it usually requires both study and practice. This means that one must train for it as a skill. This training boils down to on the one hand developing the skill to be able to pay attention to the present qualities of every event of experience, and on the other developing skills in formulating intentions in regards to those qualities.
From this process, the skilful use of both attention and intention one initially gives deliberate rise to pleasant feelings, and eventually learns how to remain in them without having to put any further effort for the sake of this remaining. This is analogous to the way in which a professional musician plays his instrument without effort, having trained for years to the point where no more effort was necessary.
The avoidance of the issues that give rise to vexation, coupled with the provided certainty inherent in the proper approach of analysis of qualities that are apparent to awareness, means that this mode does not suffer from the inherent cycles found narrative and cosmological modes. This, on its own is a form of relief. Fundamentally, however, it’s useful for assessing the presence or absence of joy. This means that for the purpose of giving rise to and remaining in pleasant feelings, the radically phenomenological mode can actually offer a solution.