I want you to consider a few things regarding rituals. First, the fact that all rituals quickly begin to distract from and even displace the aim for which they were originally conceived. Secondly, along with this, consider the seduction of word and thought, that is, the tango of one person talking and another listening, one person leading, and another following.
Consider how the little religious cults and mystical systems that spring up, even if they only have enough money for a tent and sawdust for the floor, all depend on some kind of ritual. Even if the leader of such a system or cult can claim a kind of low-level awakening to his credit, I want you to notice that the over-riding, overwhelming consensus of ritual amongst these groups is worship of the leader. He may resist it at first, and even exhibit some embarrassment at the prospect of being treated like a god, but eventually all such leaders find that not only do their followers fall right in line, they feel right at home with the new agenda. And they may even appear relieved, as in, "What took you so long?" What I want to emphasize to you is not only the phenomenon of leader worship itself, but the fact that the followers almost insist on treating their leader with great reverence, with a constant eye to pleasing and appeasing the leader-who-is-now-god-like or at least, one-step-to-the-side-of-god. And then I want you to note that very shortly after that little gate is breached, once the worship mode is in place, everyone begins to believe and imagine that the leader has great physical powers. Perhaps he can read minds, or heal the sick, and of course, he can't die--which is always a safe claim, since the claimant isn't around to be embarrassed when it doesn't work. But people still fall for it.
Leaders always end up dreaming that they are endowed with super-physical, magical powers, for one reason: they all sense, these one-shot guys, that they're not going any further; that is, they will never understand anything more. This is the end of the line for them. Now parallel to that, notice how the followers, all flocks, insist on worshipping, or having someone to please. If not a god, then their own flesh-and-blood leader. They will insist on it. Why? For one very simple reason: because they sense that they're never going to be able to please themselves. It's just as plain as the biggest wart you ever saw on the world's biggest nose. It's something that people generally look upon with favor, because in the religious or mystical context, it seems to be of a higher nature to hear someone say: "Oh sure, I'd like to please myself. But whenever I can remember, I relegate all my own selfish desires to the back seat in favor of our esteemed leader. The demands of my faith, my church, my leader must come first." And people respond with admiration: "My, my, we should all be so selfless." But what the follower is actually saying--what he is sensing--is how pleasing it would be to be more conscious. And this is as close as he's going to get. He's never going to be able to please himself in such a manner, so what's next? Pleasing someone else.
I am going to give you a new map. I want you to picture that there are two possible "you's": One is the "automatic-you pool," and the other pool is what I call the "awareness-driven pool" which, unlike the first, is not automatic.
The "automatic you pool" is the pool into which everyone is born. I strongly recommend that you picture an actual pool filled with six billion people. You're born into this and it is the common pool of all of humanity. This pool is where your automatic sense of "you" comes to life. This common pool is the common mental pool. I'm going to describe the more important aspects of this pool: By its very nature it is closed, bounded, self-centered and referential, incestuous, cannibalistic, parasitic, plagiaristic, always predictable and repetitive. Everyone is playing in everyone else's bathwater.
As regards this common pool, every complaint that an ordinary person has is irrelevant; the specific complaints are meaningless. Whether one cries out for freedom or salvation or redemption, what he wants is to get out of the pool. Men want one thing: all sane, reasonable, ordinary people who want to improve themselves want one thing: they want to get out of the "automatic you pool." That is the basic urge that goes under the name of all religion, all forms of self-improvement, all political activities, all man's myriad pursuits. What everyone senses after his first glimmer of consciousness is that what would satisfy all urges would be a higher level of consciousness, i.e., to get out of that pool with everyone else. And the next thing that all men sense is that this is as good as their consciousness will get. When people go to see a psychiatrist or a priest--whether the problem is described as a spiritual lack or feelings of inadequacy or obsession--the specific complaint is absolutely meaningless. To the individual, the problem may be quite real and you all have felt such things. But the basis such feelings is one common, simple urge: to get out of the "automatic you pool." And when you take the specific problem seriously it becomes ritualistic and distracts you from the one real, simple aim.
In the automatic you pool everything is the same. There is no redemption in the pool, there are no cures, there is no salvation, there is no freedom in the pool. It is closed and bounded. Once you see this, any idea of freedom or redemption is ridiculous. You're turning to other people in the pool, crying, "Save me." And there's always someone within shouting distance: "Sure, glad to help. I don't have a card on me at the moment, but I'll give you one tomorrow." How can someone else in the pool help you get out of the pool? How can anyone else in this pool lead you to salvation, redemption, to a land of freedom?
Everything that's in the pool is in the pool and the only thing that happens is it all gets stirred up. People splash about, they can dance, they can do water ballet--but no one in the pool can help you get out. Do you understand the folly of any idea of salvation or freedom? What keeps it all going is that you evidently do have some freedom in the pool. You can run and splash. Theoretically, you can run all the way around the earth, splashing and hollering, "I'm free!!" And this is also what keeps everyone sane and stable. Yet people know that you can run for 9,000 miles and you're still trapped in the confines of the pool.
I want you to understand that every sane person on this earth wants out of the "automatic you pool." If someone doesn't want out, he's quite literally insane. That is, he's not mainstream and thus outside our field of interest. By humanity's and Life's definition of sane--every sane person wants out. They do not want to be the thing that is the pool in them. Everyone had that feeling originally and all sane people still have it.
Picture this map simply because I'm being very blunt. And it's a very good picturization: everyone is born there and they want out. It is healthy, it is natural, it is what makes humanity as a whole progress---and every individual person wants out of that pool. From this desire springs all forms of complaint, all criticism, all carping. And look what a wide range of complaints there seem to be: we have priests, psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists specializing in babies, teens, middle-agers and seniors. Nobody wants to be what they are. Everyone wants out.
And very shortly just about everyone gives up. But everyone keeps trying. It's called trying to get rich, to lose weight, to quit drinking, move to a better neighborhood, to be religious, to untangle your subconscious memories....It's not a matter of hearing me say that this is all ritualistic behavior. It's a matter of you seeing that the specific complaint has no relationship to what's actually going on. The specifics are meaningless and impertinent. But people still say, "I'd be interested in religious stuff if I didn't have to work so hard to put my kids through college." That's all irrelevant. The Catholic Church is in the pool, the USA is in the pool, Western psychiatry is in the pool, Eastern psychiatry is in the pool--everything that man ordinarily conceives of is in the pool. So what can you expect from reverence and honor for something else in the pool?
The "automatic-you pool" exists in your own brain, in your own automatic consciousness. And conversely, you--in both body and mind--are born in and of the pool. No one can sever their physical connection to the pool. If you're standing on the planet, if you're alive, you're physically of the pool. But so far as your consciousness goes, your sense of self and what you seem to be, that is where your efforts to get out of the pool are properly placed. To a certain degree, you could say that everyone on the planet makes little efforts. But hardly anyone realizes the persistence required.
Look at how diffuse and displaced become one's efforts. I will remind you of one of my little fables: "There is a magical bird in the midst of the flock but he cannot be seen until flight is arrested." And no, I wasn't referring to actual flocks of birds but to the automatic flapping and fluttering, the yammering and running and splashing about that passes for freedom of movement in the pool--to the automatic flapping and fluttering of your own incessant thoughts.
So far as the other pool goes, everything I said about the automatic you pool does not apply. It amounts to misspeak to try to describe this other pool specifically, but take all the descriptions I gave of the other pool, put them together with the magical bird in the midst of the flock that can't be seen until flight is arrested, and it might give you a hint as to what the other pool might be. I drew two pools: the automatic-you pool, and the "thought-is-stopped-and-I'm-aware-that-I-am-me-pool" or the awareness-driven pool. Because this is a fair description of your two possibilities: you can be automatically you all day or you can be something else. And you will never know the difference until you remember to arrest the flight, until you have a moment of awareness-driven consciousness. I have also called awareness-driven consciousness a "done" consciousness--because nobody can do it but you.