Thursday, May 2, 2013

Joan Tollifson - Choice/Nochoice

An illusion or a mirage cannot have any real power. It can only APPEAR to have power. As the imaginary separate fragment, the mirage-like executive-self who is supposedly the author of my thoughts, the maker of my choices and the doer of my deeds, I have no power at all, for this “I” has no actual reality. Watch closely and carefully, and you may discover that every thought, every urge, every desire, every intention, every interest, every ability, and every action happens with no one in command. You don’t know what your next thought will be, or your next urge, or your next impulse.

We have the IDEA, the belief, that we are the thinker who is authoring our thoughts, the decider who is making our decisions, the executive who is at the helm steering our bodymind through life, choosing which way to go. This is what we’ve learned, what we’ve been taught to believe, what the society around us endlessly asserts and affirms, and by adulthood, this idea is so deeply ingrained and so ubiquitous that it SEEMS like our actual experience. But can this executive, this author, this choice-maker actually be found? Does it really exist? If you watch closely, you may find that there is no thinker behind the thoughts. Experientially, each thought simply appears out of nowhere. And when we look for the source, we find no one back there authoring it. Thought is arising out of the whole universe as a function of consciousness. The phantom author is nothing but another thought, a mental image, an idea, a concept, a fictional character in a fictional story.

Let’s say the thought arises, “I want another piece of cake.” That thought immediately materializes (in the imagination) the mirage-like “I” who wants the cake. Then another thought arises, “You shouldn’t eat anymore cake, it’s bad for your health.” This thought seems to confirm the reality of the mirage-like self who wants cake but knows better. Then another thought, “One piece of cake won’t make the difference between life and death.” Then another thought, “That’s the addictive voice talking—you know it’s a slippery slope—every piece you eat makes a difference.” Then another thought, “Who cares? I’m tired of being a good girl. I just want some cake.” Then another thought, “You’ll get fat and die of heart disease. Is that what you want?” As this succession of thoughts unfold, it seems as if “I” am talking to “myself,” as if different parts of “me” are having a debate, a struggle for control of “me.” Sometimes the “real me” seems to be the voice of restraint (the good girl), and at other times “the real me” seems to be the one who wants to indulge (the bad girl).

But look closely, and you’ll see that ALL these thoughts arise unbidden. There is no actual author behind any of these thoughts who is deciding to think them or making them appear. The “good girl” is a mental image as is the “bad girl.” And no one is in control of whether we end up eating another piece of cake or resisting the temptation. Whichever happens is the happening of the entire universe, and it happens the way it does because everything in the entire universe is the way it is. But typically, thought will pop up and take personal credit or blame either way, accompanied by either guilt or pride. And that thought claiming responsibility also happens automatically, compulsively, unbidden. No one is deciding to think it. Like every other thought, it happens as a movement of the entire universe.

If we imagine that we actually ARE this separate self encapsulated inside the body trying to steer our ship on a successful course through life, then this absence of control sounds very scary and disturbing, as if “I” am nothing but a helpless robot! But is this phantom executive, this separate self, really here in the first place to be either in or out of control? Or could this fear of being a robot be just another flat-earth problem, another example of living in terror over what might happen if I fall off the (nonexistent) edge of the earth? If we imagine ourselves as a vulnerable separate fragment hurling down the rushing rapids amidst the sharp rocks, we will feel terror. If we recognize ourselves as the whole event (water, rocks, movement, awareness beholding it all – all one whole, undivided happening), there will be a natural ease of being in the realization that no separate thing is ever formed in the first place. Death is an imaginary problem like the edge of the flat earth or the boogeyman.

Am I saying we “shouldn’t” feel terror, or that we “shouldn’t” try to eat in a healthy way or recover from addictions and break free of unhealthy compulsions? No, I’m not saying ANY of that. The illusion of separation and the subsequent terror it triggers are all part of this undivided happening—it’s not personal; it’s a happening of the One Mind—and when we’re in pain, it’s natural to want relief—it’s part of our human nature to identify and solve problems, to explore and extend ourselves in various ways. So if we are moved to go on a diet or take up yoga or work out at a gym or join NASA and plan a trip to Mars—that’s all part of the happening of life. I’m not in ANY way saying we “shouldn’t” do these things. What I’m saying is that we have no choice in the way we think we do about whether these things happen or what outcomes they bring. Whether the urge and the interest arises to do one of these things, whether the means to do so are available—the money, the time, the resources, the physical health and stamina, the necessary mental and emotional stability and intelligence—whether the ability is there to follow through, and then what outcomes show up—ALL of this is the result of infinite causes and conditions going back to the Big Bang and including every microscopic and astronomical event in the entire universe. There is no central executive apart from this boundlessness running the show—no God up in heaven and no “me” encapsulated inside the body.

Everything is one whole undivided happening, from the Big Bang to the urge for a piece of cake. When this is recognized, there is still discernment and the ability to differentiate and make distinctions, but the dualistic notion that “I” am in control of these abilities or that “I” can stand apart from the flow of life and “decide” to have only one side of the coin without the other is absent. There is variety and diversity in reality, but not any actual separation or any independent part with an autonomous free will.

So whether we are a yoga master or a heroin addict, none of it is personal or meaningful in the way we think it is—it’s not personally (or divinely) caused; there is no separate God and no separate self behind it all. It’s ALL God, we could say. There is only this all-inclusive dance of life, the seamless totality from which nothing stands apart. From the perspective of the totality, I am the Whole Show—the heroin addict and the yoga master, the tall tree and the short tree, the stormy sea and the calm sea, the Tsarnaev brothers and the legless bombing victims—and ALL of it is one whole, undivided happening—appearing and disappearing (forming and unforming) like clouds or smoke or waving movements of the ocean. Some of what shows up may be relatively more or less desirable from our human perspective, but ALL of it is an activity of the Whole.

Some New Age teachers say we choose everything. If we get cancer, it’s because we chose to get cancer. Other teachers say we don’t always choose the CIRCUMSTANCES of our life (like whether we get cancer), but they insist that we can always choose how we RESPOND to those circumstances. And then some teachers say that we have only one choice, and that is whether to pay attention here and now, whether to wake up from the trance of thoughts and stories and be fully present in the Now.

I would say, there is no choice about ANY of this and nobody to have such a choice, but there is APPARENT choice as part of how life is functioning. But rather than believing one view or another, I would suggest watching closely and carefully as apparent choices and decisions unfold, whether it is the little ones like getting up from a chair you’ve been sitting in for awhile, or the big ones like getting married or taking a new job. Watch what happens as you “decide” whether to take the new job, or as you struggle with whether to have another piece of cake or not. I’m not saying to THINK about this and try to figure it out with reason and logic, but rather, to actually WATCH with awareness as it unfolds. See if you can find the source of your thoughts, or the source of your impulses, or the source of your actions, or if you can catch the decisive moment or say how it happens, or if you can pin down what prompts your attention to move from one place to another. See if you can find anyone in control.

You may discover there is nothing to grasp. As they say, the eye cannot see itself, the fire cannot burn itself, the sword cannot cut itself. It takes a subtle thought to divide what is indivisible and conjure up the mirage-like separate self—the thinker, the doer, the chooser, the author of my life—the one who is in or out of control. Control always implies separation, as does choice.

When the seamlessness of being is realized, suffering ends. This is freedom—not the freedom to do whatever we want, but rather, the freedom to be exactly as we are.

But when we believe there is a choice about ANY of these things, then we are forever striving to improve ourselves and the world, and anyone who “makes the choice” to blow up a marathon, or to be addicted to heroin, or to be lost in misery-provoking stories, or to be clinically depressed, or to have a borderline personality disorder and murder their ex-boyfriend, or to not “be here now,” is obviously either an irresponsible idiot or an evil scum who has only themselves to blame. This view naturally generates the desire for punishment, retribution and vengeance. When we see how it really is, we don’t have to condone the marathon bombing or the addictive behavior, and we may still be moved by life to heal wounds and seek solutions to problems, but we have a natural compassion for all of it being exactly the way it is.

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