Leslye Headland: The most important thing that you can do is sit around and do nothing

I always say to budding writers, ‘The most important thing that you can do is sit around and do nothing. Because the second you start to manufacture a story, you’re going to get stressed out, and the story can’t start that way.’

– Leslye Headland, the creator of Star Wars: The Acolyte, in Entertainment

For me, this is how life is in general. I can’t sit down to manufacture decisions. If I try, I get stressed out and it doesn’t go so well. They come on their own and in their own time.

I can gather as much information as possible. I can imagine into different scenarios. Sometimes, I talk with someone about it. And when it’s time, the decisions make themselves.

Here, I am talking about it in a conventional sense. In a more real sense, everything is happening on its own and living its own life – decisions, sitting down to make them or not, gathering information, and so on.

I love Byron Katie’s suggestion to stay in bed in the morning after waking up and wait until the body gets out of bed on its own. At some point, it just happens.

Another side to this is boredom. Allowing myself to be bored. To not do anything in particular. That allows more effortless and surprising creative impulses to emerge. Something comes up on its own. I find myself getting up and doing something that needs to be done or that is nourishing to me.

Since I don’t have much of a fixed schedule these days, my days are mostly like this. At the end of the day, I make a list of things I could do the next day. It’s a kind of menu. And the next day, I wait and see what comes up. Usually, I am surprised.

Some days, like today, not too much happens. I found myself looking into and finding sources for more plants for our food forest and permaculture project in the Andes. It was not on my list, but it just happened. It felt right and there was a nice flow with two others involved in the project who were on the same wavelength at the same time. I received an SMS telling me some storage boxes I had ordered were in the store waiting for me, and I also received an SMS telling me about a sale in another store close to it. I checked, and they had some very nice pots on sale that I had wanted to get for the cabin. So I walked downtown to pick up the boxes and buy the pots.

I have a menu of options for tomorrow, and I am curious to see what will happen.

As I mentioned, I am often surprised. I am surprised by the timing, and I am surprised by what I find myself doing. Yesterday, I had planned to take a day of rest. At some point, I found myself going outside to clear out some volunteer plants growing among the berry bushes in the garden. I had not planned to do it so it was a pleasant surprise. Some days, I find myself getting up at 4 am and getting much of my list done before most people have even started their day.

In our culture, we are trained to think that we need to force ourselves to do something, otherwise it won’t happen or it won’t happen in time. That’s not my experience. When I allow myself to wait and be surprised, things get done, and it gets done not only in its own time but somehow on time otherwise too.

That’s how I write here too. I sometimes write down ideas for articles, and I have a long list. When I actually write, it’s because I am moved to do it in the moment. I cannot not do it. If I tried to follow a plan and write something I think I should write about, or I had an impulse to write about at some time in the past, it wouldn’t go very well. There would be little or no flow, it would be uncomfortable, and it would not be very enjoyable.

This is not an excuse to do nothing, to avoid responsibilities, or to not be a good steward for one’s own life. If that happens, it may be because the mind takes this and makes it into an ideology. That creates inflexibility and goes against the natural flow and impulses. This is about waiting with curiosity until a movement happens on its own.

The fluidity of choice: Making use of our assumptions about choice as medicine

When we go back one or a few steps, we get to a place where there is no choice.

– from a previous post, A pandemic among the unvaccinated

I wrote that sentence a few minutes ago and it makes sense in the context I wrote it, but it’s not what makes the most sense in all situations.

In general, it may be best to not think too much about choice unless it comes up related to something we discover and directly notice.

We can also make practical use of certain assumptions of choice. We can use specific assumptions of choice as medicine for our own habitual – and perhaps unhelpful or somewhat stuck – orientation.

DAILY LIFE ORIENTATION

In our daily life, it generally works best if we assume we have choice in a very ordinary and normal human way. That may help us be a bit more careful in what we choose and how we live our life, and take responsibility for how we relate to life and live our life in the world.

And in some cases, it’s helpful to consider some things related to choice. We can use certain assumptions about choice as medicine.

ANTIDOTE TO JUDGMENT

If I find myself judging someone else, it helps to remember that they – ultimately – don’t have much if any choice. They follow their programming, as we all ultimately do. How we perceive and live our life has innumerable causes – parents, culture, subculture, past experiences, biology, the evolution of our species and pre-human ancestors, the evolution of this planet, and so on. And if I find I am judging myself, reminding myself of the same can be good medicine.

ANTIDOTE FOR AVOIDING RESPONSIBILITY

If I notice I avoid taking responsibility for some of my choices and actions, it’s helpful to remind myself that I have a choice. I made these choices and actions. Taking responsibility in this way helps me examine what’s behind my actions if they seem to come from a place in me that’s less than clear and kind. It helps me shift from blame and into identifying and exploring hurting and unhealed parts of me.

Of course, I can still identify and examine whatever unhealed parts of me led to certain actions in my life, even if I don’t assume choice. But assuming choice can be a shortcut to bring in a shift into looking at it.

A PRAGMATIC APPROACH TO CHOICE

This is a pragmatic approach to choice.

The question of whether and how we have choice can be vaguely entertaining or interesting. And there are more pragmatic ways of approaching it that are more useful and perhaps even get more to the point.

We can use the question about choice as a mirror for ourselves, we can explore the effects of different assumptions of choice, and – as touched on above – we can use different assumptions as medicine.

Where does the question come from? Why is it important to me? The question may come from some unquestioned beliefs in me, or a sense of need or want or lack. If I have the question, and it has some charge for me, I can use it as a pointer to identify and explore this.

What are the effects of the different assumptions of choice? How do they color my perception? How I see others and myself? How I live my life?

How can I use different assumptions of choice as medicine? How can I make use of them as medicine when I notice I go into an old habitual orientation? I may find that if I go into blame, it can be helpful to remind myself that we are all programmed and don’t have much if any choice. And if I avoid responsibility for my own actions, I can assume that I have choice and look at where my choices come from – especially if they come from something unhealed in me.

WHAT’S THE TRUTH ABOUT CHOICE?

This is all fine and good, but what about choice itself? What’s the truth about choice?

If we operate from an assumption that we are, most fundamentally, this human self, then the question of whether we have choice or not can seem relevant and make sense.

And if we find what we more fundamentally are, in our own first-person experience, it may look different. Here, I find that the question doesn’t make so much sense anymore. It only happens within my own mental field, and I cannot find choice or no choice in any other place.

Also, this human self and the wider world happen within my sense fields, and there is no inherent separation. To me, they are part of the same whole. Here, it’s easier to hold any ideas of choice much more lightly.

We may recognize that any ideas about choice are ideas and not inherent in reality, that there is some validity to each of them, that each one leads to certain ways of perceiving and living our life, and that each one can function as an antidote to a certain fixed mindset.

The reality of choice is, as just about anything else, likely different from any of our ideas about it, and more than and less than any of our ideas about it.

Note: I wrote this on my phone in the wilderness so I haven’t edited it as much as I would like. It’s a bit disorganized, and that’s OK too.

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Adyashanti: To think that I have choice or to state that I have no choice are both simply concepts in the mind completely devoid of any reality

To think that I have choice or to state that I have no choice are both simply concepts in the mind completely devoid of any reality. The truth cannot be held within any concepts.

– Adyashanti in The Impact of Awakening

The question of choice has never resonated with me. It doesn’t seem practically relevant. No matter what, it makes sense to live as if I have choice.

Wholeness & taking responsibility

Everything has innumerable causes, stretching back to the beginning of the universe and out to the widest extent of the universe. If I look, I can always find one more, and one more. That doesn’t leave much space for choice. What happens locally is an expression of movements within the whole.

At the same time, it makes sense at a human level to take full responsibility for my words, actions, and choices.

One doesn’t exclude the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

Thoughts are questions about the world

And as Adya suggests, the truth cannot be held within any concept.

Thoughts are questions about the world. They are guides to help us orient and function in the world. They have only pragmatic and temporary value. They don’t hold any final or absolute truth.

A few more things about thoughts

Thoughts are inherently questions about the world. Am I this human being? Could this happen in the future? Did they freeze me out in fifth grade?

So why do they sometimes seem like statements? Because another thought comes in and says so. And that thought is itself a question.

At the same time, there is some validity in any thought, it’s just a question of discernment and finding how and in what way it’s valid. That’s why I like to look at several different thoughts on the same topic in these articles and examine the limited validity in each.

Examining our interest in free choice

As I mentioned, the question of free choice isn’t in itself so interesting for me. I take a more pragmatic approach.

Although if we have that question and it means something to us, it can be fertile ground for exploration in another sense.

What’s behind this question? What’s the question really about?

What’s the best that can happen if I have free choice? Or if I don’t have it?

What’s the worst that can happen if I have free choice? Or don’t?

What do I hope will happen in each case? What do I fear will happen?

What does it say about me? What does it say about my situation? What does it mean for me?

What’s my earliest memory of hoping that? Or fearing it?

And so on. These and similar question can help us get a sense of what our interest in the topic really is about.

We can then take it to a more thorough inquiry, dialog, or any other approach to healing we are familiar with and works for us.

Steve Jobs: Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered

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

Free will

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.

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Not neccesary, but sometimes best option

…. 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? 

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Getting up

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. 

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Aware = free will?

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.

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Choice

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.

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Free will

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.

Infinite causes

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.

Field

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.

(Two previous posts on this topic: 1 & 2)