The Iago Trance

This is an excerpt from my book The Translucent Revolution: How People Just Like You Are Waking Up and Changing the World


In Shakespeare’s play Othello, the protagonist and his young Venetian wife are deeply in love. Othello is a noble and simple-hearted soldier who trusts those around him. Desdemona is devoted to her husband and hangs on his every word. It is Iago, Othello’s advisor and apparent friend, who plays one character against another, creating an atmosphere of separation and distrust. He whispers doubts into Othello’s ear, inciting in him a violent jealousy that ultimately leads to senseless tragedy. We are all Othellos at heart — open, trusting, wanting to see the best in each other — and we are all seduced and driven to insane action by our own invisible Iagos. Our insidious Iago is a state of mind; he can’t be seen, he lives in the shadows. Yet his influence can be found everywhere. Iago whispers to us both from within and through other people as the voice of collective conditioning. Most of us live with a painful sense of separation from others, a sense of something missing, and a pervasive experience of limitation, fear, and desire. As a result we engage in a whirlwind of activity to avoid the objects of our fear and to obtain the objects of our craving. This trance of problem-based living, although widely regarded as normal, fuels an endless saga of struggle. It seeps through the cracks of our noblest aspirations, manifesting as disease, conflict, and failure. Globally it is expressed as war, as economic and environmental madness. We cannot see or measure the Iago factor directly; we only know it by its effects.


Like our natural vision, the Iago state possesses numerous inherent qualities:

Sense of lack. The very basis of the Iago trance is a pervasive and undefined sense that something is missing. Enough is never enough; we always want more or better. We are never spiritual enough, skinny enough, smart enough, or hip enough. We filter everything through this sense of lack. In the ultimate suburban nightmare, we are driven to keep up with infinitely recurring Joneses.

Sense of separation. Looking to the external world to fulfill our perceived lack keeps us focused on a me-oriented reality, reinforcing alienation and separation. The Iago trance is characterized by this twenty-four-hour absorption in “me,” while we are actually separated from our own true selves.

Addiction. Both the feeling of lack and the craving to fill this void are so strong in us that as soon as we sense, even faintly, that something external may “do it” for us, we latch onto it and become addicted. In this way, Iago can lead us to an addiction to work, sex, food, drink, drugs, the Internet, or even to spiritual highs.

Fear. As soon as desire and addiction take over our lives, we are gripped by nonspecific fear. We decide our craving will be satisfied by money; we are gripped by the fear of poverty. We believe the right relationship will alleviate our gnawing lack; immediately, loneliness becomes a terrifying fate.

Suspicion. Nonspecific fear makes us suspicious. When deeply in Iago’s trance state, we trust no one completely, not even family members.

Strategic living. We carefully plan for the worst eventualities. Something bad could happen at any moment. Iago whips our thoughts into a whirlwind of emergency responses. We live in a permanent state of alert.

Anxiety. The notion that something is wrong, that we should be doing something more to be complete, creates a constant sense of worry. It’s as though we are continually late for an appointment with something we cannot remember.

Hostile competition. Iago creates a feeling of hostile competition, as opposed to co-creation. When there is not enough, we must fight others who are trying to get it too. Our success, even our survival, rests in their defeat.

Other qualities of the Iago state include self-doubt, self-sabotage, disappointment, and meaninglessness.


From The Translucent Revolution by Arjuna Ardagh. You can order a paperback copy or Kindle edition on Amazon here.

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