Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
– Steve Jobs
When I feel confused about a choice or direction, I can ask myself a simple questions:
If I knew I couldn’t fail and there were no unpleasant consequences, what would I do?
This helps me see two things.
I came across a new blog called Freedom or Necessity, which is an exploration into the question of free will.
It is an eternal question for us humans, and interesting to explore in our own lives.
The first thing that comes up for me is a set of additional questions: what does free will mean? For whom may there be free will? Who or what is choosing, if there is free will? Is there an entity choosing? Someone or something somehow set apart from everything else? Is that possible? On what basis are these choices made? What are the influences on these choices? What are the restrictions on these choices? If there are influences and restrictions, to what extent is it free?
My take on it is very simple-minded, and not so different from what I have explored earlier in this journal.
…. for the maintenance of equilibrium of the society, sometimes killing is necessary.
That quote is from the Youtube user who uploaded this documentary on Iwo Jima.
Is killing ever neccesary? Is any choice or action every neccesary?
Even from a conventional view, it is obvious that it is not.
We may chose an action because it seems appropriate in a situation. Or we may believe a story and feel compelled to chose and act a certain way. But there is nothing inherent in any situation that “require” a certain way of chosing and acting. (Although we can also say that whatever choice and action happens is neccesary because any choice and action has infinite causes, it is the local manifestations of the movements of the whole.)
Using words such as “neccesary” is a way of covering up this choice, and our responsibility in making the choice and taking a certain action. We put the responsibility out there, on the situation, while it belongs right here with ourselves.
So the question, as always, is: When do I see something as neccesary? A view? An action? When do I try to cover up my choice by making it appear neccesary?
A simple little practice suggested by Byron Katie.
When I wake up in the morning, I can wait and be curious about when the body gets up. I find that it always does get up, and gets up in time if I have something scheduled. And it is completely without drama since the “doer” is out of the picture. (Or at least occupied with observing.) I may even notice some of the process behind getting up, such as a thought of getting up immediately preceding my body actually getting up.
It is a great practice for a few different reasons.
It helps me see that choices can be made and actions done without a “doer”. I may notice something about the process behind choices and acting on them. I notice that without a “doer”, choices are made and actions happen simply and without drama. I may notice concerns about choices not being made and actions not being taken without a “doer”. (There may be a little drama around this, especially in the beginning.) And maybe most importantly, as I notice this over and over, I learn to trust it and allow for it to happen in other situations in daily life.
I read a Discover article called could an inner zombie controlling the brain?
The topic is interesting, and the article also reminded me about a few things.
First, journalists don’t always trust that stories are interesting enough on their own, so they give them a helping hand. In this case, by pretending that something we all know from daily life is a new discovery, and by using metaphors more for attracting attention than accuracy. (Nothing wrong in that. It does attract readers, at least for a while, until they catch on and some chose to go to publications that treat their readers in a more fair way as more intelligent. But good to notice.)
The gist of the story is that we sometimes go on autopilot. When a task is familiar to us, and simple enough to go on autopilot, it often does, and that frees our attention to go elsewhere. At times, it may go into daydreaming or spacing off, but other times, it may go to something quite practical and functional.
We all know that from daily life, so that part is not new. But the research mentioned is interesting and sheds more light on it.
Then, a couple of other things. For instance, the word consciousness is used to mean content of experience, and in particular some of the workings of the psyche. This seems a little odd to me. It is unnecessary, for one, since we have perfectly good words for those dynamics. And also, it uses up the word for content of experience so it is not available for that which content of experience happens within and as.
And then another assumption: Autopilot means no free will (fair enough), and bringing attention to something means free will (hm…).
There is no denying that bringing attention to certain dynamics and workings of our mind can (apparently) lead to real life changes in how we chose and act. It has a very practical value.
I may notice I go to the fridge when I am stressed, and by noticing this, I can (apparently) chose another strategy to deal with that stress. I may go for a walk instead. Talk with a friend. Deal with a situation I have put off dealing with. Find a belief and inquire into it.
So there may be a sense of free will here. Attention is brought to a particular dynamic. There appears to be a choice between going on autopilot again, acting in familiar ways, or acting differently. Then choosing and acting on that choice. Or not.
But is there really a free will there?
When I look for myself, I find infinite (plausible) causes for any actions and choices, whether on autopilot or not, so no free will is needed. (This assumes causality, of course.)
Also, I find that it is all happening on its own, so again no free will. There seems to be no “one” needed with a free will.
And that the sense of a doer, which may seem so real and substantial, is a gestalt, a combination of sensations and images. That any connection between a choice or action and this doer is yet another image and story. And that any idea of causality is just that, an idea. I can find correlations, but no causality anywhere.
A few things about choice…
As human beings, we have a range of options available to us. We move along the different spirals of development (cognitive, moral, value memes, etc.), we notice patterns and dynamics of behavior, we can see directly how thought/sense gestalts are created, we can get to know and embrace disowned aspects of ourselves, and so on.
There is a disidentification with one thing, and identification with a new more inclusive pattern. And in each of these cases, the landscape of options available to us is a little larger, so there is a sense of a little more freedom.
At the same time, for all of this there are infinite causes. There is no freedom in that sense. Whatever happens – any sense of choice, decisions being made, any thoughts, actions, reactiveness – it all has infinite causes, stretching back to the beginning of time and out to the extent of the universe.
There is doing but no doer. This human self make decisions, but there is no “I” there. Actions follow thoughts, there is evaluation of options, there are decisions, but no evaluator or decider.
Finding ourselves as Big Mind, we are already and always free from all of this. We are this field of awakeness and its content which goes beyond and includes anything in the world of form. The human self and its wider world is all awakeness, inherently absent of an I with an Other. There is only doing and no doer. There is of course still relative freedom and choice for our human self, and it will still work on finding more of it (or not), but the substance has gone out of it.
So there is a range of options for our human self, which widens as it heals, matures and develops. There is no freedom of choice since every decision has infinite causes. And we are already free from it, as awakeness and what happens within, to and as it.
The question of free will, as explored in this article from the New York Times, only arises when there is a sense of I and Other, as all existential question do. When the sense of I and Other falls away, the question also falls away, at least as an existential question.
Falls away as an existential question, but the dynamics of choice can still be explored
The dynamics and mechanism of choice can be explored in the many ways it is explored today, through the inner (self-inquiry, phenomenology) and outer (cognitive and other forms of psychology, biology, evolution) and the one and the many.
But it is not an existential question anymore. It belongs to the realm of form and this human self as a part of this realm of form, but there is no separate I involved anymore. This human self, and anything else arising, is realized as inherently absent of any separate or individual I.
Even a superficial exploration of choice shows that for any choice in our life, there are infinite causes. We can always find one more, and one more, until we see that the whole of the universe is involved in any choice we make, in the fullness of its extent and going back to the beginning of time itself.
Doing this, over and over, we see that there does not seem to be any need, nor much room, for “free” choice. Where would it come from? How would it slip in between these infinite causes? And, what would its purpose be? Why would there be a need for it?
Choice happening on its own
Similarly, when I explore choice as it happens right now, I see that it does exactly that: it happens. It happens on its own, arising out of emptiness, as anything else. Sounds, sights, thoughts, choices, actions, they all happen on their own.
There only appears to be an “I” there when a belief in a separate I is placed on top of these thoughts, choices and actions.
Arising within and as timelessness, and causality
In immediate experience, it all happens here now, fresh, new, arising out of emptiness. There is no past that it can be influenced by, nor any future it leads to.
Past, future, causality, all of those are just from ideas placed on top of what arises here now. And they are very useful ideas, helping this human self to orient and function in the world, but still just ideas. Abstractions placed on the timeless present as it arises here and now.
There is this field of seeing and seen, of awake emptiness and form.
Within the world of form, everything has infinite causes and infinite effects. It is a seamless whole, moving as one whole.
Any change, including any thought, choice and action of a human being, is the whole acting locally.
There is no free will within the world of form, and no need for it.
There is no separate I anywhere, so no Other to be free from.
And awake emptiness is form, and always free from form.
Changing experience of free will
There are many ways the experience of choice and free will changes.
If unquestioned, there is certainly a sense of some degree of free will. This human self obviously makes choices and acts (or not) on them, and there is a sense of I there, so then also a sense that I choose and act.
Then, we may come to see how culture and even biology influences these choices, and we may strive to become more conscious of these influences, free ourselves from them, at least to some degree, and place ourselves under a different set of influences.
But even here, there are infinite causes to any thought, choice and action, even as it appears more free from the conventional causes and patterns. And this shift, as anything else, itself has infinite causes.
The question falls away, yet this human self continues to work with causality
Finally, when the field awakens to itself as a field, absent of I anywhere (and still connected with this human self), the whole question falls away. There is no I and Other anymore, so nothing to be free from.
At the same time, within the world of form there is still causality, so at a practical level, this human self still continues to work with causality in all the usual ways, including placing itself under certain influences to invite certain effects such as continued development, healing and maturation, and also acting to invite certain effects in the wider world.
And all of this is the whole acting locally, through and as this human self, and now awakened to itself as the whole acting locally.