• November 10, 2018

    Am I free to proceed with my wishes and obligations? Or am I limited and constrained at every turn, leaving me frustrated and unfulfilled?

    Of course nothing ever proceeds according to plan. Success depends upon the ability to manoeuvre. The glorious sensation of being unimpeded comes not mostly from external circumstances but more so from a lack of internal resistance and dissent.

    When I cannot proceed with my intentions, I need to see and think differently, without criticism and distress. But what I tend to do is re-enforce or create obstacles which are mostly in the software of my thinking and habitual reactions rather than in the circumstances themselves. Why? Observing the sensations in me will tell the tale. Am I looking for excuses to quit and fail; wanting sympathy; hoping to draw attention to myself; indulging in the mechanical pleasure of emotional reactions; enjoying the momentary excitement of agitation? These behaviours almost always serve a narrative…a story about me and an image I hold of myself.

    Unwinding the narrative opens up space, providing the room to manoeuvre.

    Can I see the limiting mechanisms objectively, not judging, blaming or defending? If so, perhaps I can learn to step lightly around obstacles and move with the possibilities revealed to me in the present.

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  • June 19, 2017

    The world appears to be moving towards greater disorder, socially, politically and economically. This is observable within one’s own lifetime. It is always suspect to try to make judgments about times and places we have not ourselves inhabited. But if you leave aside your assumptions and preferences and consider your experience and that of your friends and family, it is not difficult to see the growing disorder of our lives.

    I do not wish to present you with a critique of our current situation. Rather, I wish for you to consider what is required for you to navigate it.

    First, consider the possibility that the reasons we come up with to explain the problems we see around us are likely to be entirely wrong. Typically, we confuse symptoms and causes. When I get up to cross the room and close the window because I am uncomfortable, did I assess my state, recognize that I am cold, notice the open window, connect that with my discomfort, decide to get up and cross the room and then close the window? Or did I find myself getting up and crossing the room and then ‘decide’ to close the window?

    We need to understand the nature of sleep. In a sleep state, whether personal or on a larger scale, we invent the reasons for things, we fantasize about causation but we do not see the governing patterns. Just because I think something as it happens does not establish causation. My reactions of anger, my expressions of delight…are they not most often in progress before I recognize them and ‘intend’ them? This is what we mean by sleep.

    The macro level…the behavior of crowds…surely parallels the behavior of individuals. As individuals, we charge and discharge as we go through the day. Objectively observing self uncovers the fact that much of my experience is simply the ebb and flow of unconscious reactions to my environment. Is this not even more likely at the level of the mass? This is why our social analysis and planning come to nothing.

    War follows peace, poverty follows wealth, fear follows greed, confidence follows insecurity, ebullience follows remorse, as night follows day. Political movements come and go, social norms rise and fall. The process is largely mechanical, independent of what we think, like the tides.

    Does this mean we should dismiss the social and political context we live in? Not at all. Should we see all developments as equally mechanical? Again, not at all. Discernment is needed. Just as my behavior is occasionally motivated by the blessings visited upon me by unseen grace, so too the behavior of others, even the mass. Can I be there to participate? Or will I be caught in my dull, practiced cynicism, assuming I am awake and above it all?

    The political environment I live in, the atmosphere it creates, have immediate consequences for the success of my endeavors. If I am able to observe the surrounding atmosphere objectively, I can perhaps find the way to maintain my sanity and protect what is dear to me, avoiding unnecessary reactions and stepping between the raindrops. At the very least, I can avoid swimming against the tide when no amount of effort will suffice.

    This is a path of sobriety and skill.

    Emotion is extremely contagious, mediated not only by words but also by gestures and even perhaps the very air we breathe. But when an emotion has passed through its human medium, a wave with peak and trough, sobriety can have its turn.

    To be sober, to be objective, does not mean to be free of opinion. It does not mean that all phenomena are the same to you. Some of the developments around me are more dangerous than others. I need to be alert to the shifting tides. To be objective is to set aside my assumptions and prejudices, look at the evidence as objectively as I can and decide where to place my attention. Attention has force. This does not mean choosing sides. The only point of view I belong to is my own.

    The sure sign of a wrong turn is to lose self-awareness. When I no longer challenge the irrational and incongruent quality of my speech and actions, I know I have fallen asleep. Knowing the dangers, I can perhaps find my own path.

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  • July 29, 2015

    I notice that when I engage in observation of self, I have an opinion about everything.

    Observation becomes opinion when it passes through the prism of the personality.

    One of the great discoveries of work on self is that perception can be uncoupled from the personal preferences of the human apparatus. Sensation is an electro-chemical phenomenon. Sensation-based experience is exactly what it is. The human machine then supplies all sorts of reactions…commentary, opinion, like/dislike and other emotions based on its less-than-perfect recordings of past experience.

    It is possible to be neutral about sensations, to take them as data. It is also possible to take the reactions as data, just more phenomena to observe. Or you can get caught up in reacting and reacting to the reactions, a loop of increasing subjectivity which wastes energy and obscures perception.

    Identifying with your reactions is the issue. I see that someone has reacted with what I interpret to be dislike to something I have said. Do I need to have an opinion about this? Do I need to justify or defend whatever I did to cause this reaction? Do I need to judge the person as wrong or silly? Do I need to experience guilt? Every one of these reactions is likely to engage further reactions, limiting the possibilities of the next moment and the one after that, perhaps wasting the whole day by the time that I finally discharge, forget and move on. Perhaps my interpretation of their reaction is incorrect to begin with. Can I withhold my opinion and related reactions and wait to see more?

    What makes my personal opinions and preferences so important? Perhaps it has something to do with my love of personal history. I have all these stories that I like to tell about myself…the places I have been, the people I have met, the things I have done. These stories are my personal history, they explain who I am to others and especially to myself. They satisfy my need for identity. And they cement in place the preferences, opinions and reactions that form my personality.

    Of course, past experience is valuable. The scope of perception is widened by experience…what I have seen may enable me to see more. Furthermore, some of my reactions are programmed by experiences which are best not repeated. But an ability to be neutral, to be a man of no opinion, cannot be underestimated. Most of my dependency on the past is psychological and completely useless in the present. Much of my personal history is just made up nonsense that is typically at variance with the recollection of others.

    Can personal history be erased? Perhaps you could begin by observing your story-telling. Can you sense the ease and familiarity of starting the recitation? Who is the person you are describing? What picture do you paint for yourself and others?  Can you then voluntarize the telling, consciously entering into the sensations, gestures, imagery and tone of voice that would otherwise be automatic? Perhaps your love of the story cannot survive exposure to impartial attention.

    To be neutral, objective, impartial, lets in the light of new perceptions. Perhaps you think such a state is cold, unfeeling, disengaged. First, see if it is possible before you form an opinion. Perhaps you will find it is a compassionate state, shot through with beauty.

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