Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

The Most Precious Freedom

--by David Foster Wallace (Feb 12, 2007)

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.


As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). ... Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliche about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master."

( ... )

There are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, (unglamourous) ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

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Previous Reflections:

On Feb 3, 2007 xiaoshan wrote:
Freedom does not exist when we are on Autopilot. However, Being on Autopilot is the most nature state of mind. When consciousness manages to wake up...

On Feb 3, 2007 nisha wrote:
I would like to do a "Practice of the Week" based on TOW. I've done it infrequently in the past and it had been rewarding whenever I did - would like to make it consistent.

"to choose how you construct meaning from experience" - that is something I would like to take away for practice this week.

Thanx for yet another good thought.

On Feb 5, 2007 Sudha wrote:
"As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm"-The Upanishads

We ARE each the center of the universe-a universe that is neither static nor circular and hence not restricted to just one center. Truth Consciousness is the recognition that every thought/ action creates a ripple that rumbles thru the entire universe, curves around and comes right back to the origin! Such a realization forces one to exercise discipline over one's thoughts/ actions.Dharma, karma, brahma is all held within this realisation-I am the universe. Hence, I must think/ act with the complete unison, inclusion, compassion, cohesion and creation of the universal forces. Is this megalomania/ psychosis or the dawning bliss of spiritual awakening??

On Feb 5, 2007 Sukh wrote:
Maybe being the center of the universe isn't so bad. If, that is, we can see it for it is, see our hard-wired tendencies, and see the opportunities to move away from them. We may never to able to truly leap into another's body, but we can definitely move from being self-centered, to other-centered. Maybe that opportunity to move exists all the time. Maybe doing so is the best thing we can do for our own selves, then the line between doing for others, and doing for self actually blurs.

On Feb 12, 2007 Colleen wrote:
"Being at the center of the universe" is to live in a state of fear, for the self is in a constant “duke’s up” stance against any threats, like pain, rejection, loneliness, loss, etc. Yet, when the self realizes that most others are acting from their own fears too, the self senses a oneness with others, and in oneness there is no center. I believe this is where freedom begins.

On Feb 13, 2007 Rajeev wrote:
"the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master."
This is an excellent point. That said, so who is the Master. It none other than God Almighty...the Holy Spirit.
Let us make ourselves(body, soul and spirit) slaves to the Spirit of God.
We're ont his side of eternity and we'll have to be masters of our thoughts and body.
I enjoy that freedom and joy through my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

On Feb 13, 2007 Conrad wrote:
You frequently send what I am need of hearing. With gratitude.

On Feb 13, 2007 Conrad wrote:
Nipun, I read this "thought of the week" and responded before I finished reading your entire earlier message. I am writing a book and I am a embarrassed to notice that you choose to send thoughts that are expressed much more eloquently than my expressions even though the topics are often similar. With Gratitude.

On Feb 14, 2007 viral wrote:
Thoughts from this week's circle of sharing on Wednesday

  • Many thoughts: the first part says that most of us feel that we are the center, and it's true. A few examples: our life is very significant -- in the Hindu and Jain way of looking at life, getting a human birth is extremely precious, after millions of lives. We squander health for wealth, then we squander wealth for health, and then we squander it all for the tombstone :-) And in vipassana, they teach constant awareness of your speech, your thoughts, your actions, so many things. And so the real education is constantly over and over again, sacrificing for others and thinking about others. And so, we live in flesh and blood, but who will remember us? The show goes on without you. And so you must remember why we are here.

  • This quote hit home, literally. Some of the imagery: there's a little critter living in our attic right now, and we here it gnawing. And last night, throughout meditation, I could here it running from one end of the room to the other. And my mind would run with it. The imagery reminded me of a constant stream of thought. And at home, we are having a constant stream of ants :-) For the last few weeks, they've gone into the freezer, and they just end up dying. This thought, and the imagery, made me reflect on where our thoughts and monologue are going, and where are they going? Trying to get into some bottle of honey that we will never get into. Before we get into "no thought", where should we direct this stream, as long as we are streaming? And the person before me was talking about the beauty of sacrificing for others. Which made me think of: not think of yourself or think of others in yourself.

  • I looked at this thought and shortly after that I read an email about a bomb that was mailed to our office a couple of weeks later, and this thought and this talk about funeral, just reminds me that there's a lot going on outside of me and my world!

  • This reminded me of a quote: when you're sitting in traffic, have you ever realized that everyone else is traffic? :-) It's such a tall order to always do things for others, and I think I was able to breathe a little better when I read the word unglamorous. And it give me a little freedom to be myself and realize that you don't have to be Gandhi, but just yourself!

  • I've been spending a lot of time alone, and I get into my own world, but there's something that allows me to contact others in that space as well. I got something I liked in the mail, and there was something else in the mail too, but that second mail was just not interesting. And it made me think, what happens if I let all of the interesting, glamorous things go, will I be happy? And I just decided to let it all go, and I felt this lightness, this expansion. And I thought, what if I give myself to that feeling, and it all made sense. And so I've noticed that sometimes I look at people and I just see a cage. and my whole world is small. And i try to expand it, and when I let go of it, then literally my brain feels like it works differently.

  • One thing I was reflecting on when I was listening to the passage: there's a difference between being a disciple of your experience and being a prisoner. Something this weekend happened which startled me, in a very different way. I don't think being 30 is old, but when I realized that I was going to be 30 soon, my eyes were closed at the time, and they flew open. It was a difference experience when it was My experience. And I was remembering a poem I'd written years ago titled, "When I turn 30," :-) and it was about when I'm 30 I will have purpose and sharp defined boundaries, and a compass. And I realized I'm not there :-) And I looked outside and I saw these beatiful misty hills, and I realized that those hills have been there for a long time, and will be there for a long time. But every morning, they go through the process of remembering their shape. And so blurry edges are OK! The edges of things are so deceptive, and when you think about the edges of yourself, they are so dynamic, expanding contracting, and so to be aware of those boundaries, there's something powerful about that.

  • A thought occurred when I heard this thought now: we're moving offices at work this week, and so I learned yesterday that I am going to have an office. for the first time, and so that was exciting. But then I saw that others weren't going to have a cube, managers who have been there longer than me. And so I was thinking that I should give my spot up to someone who would be deserves it more. Then the next day I looked again at the chart and I was to be in a cube and not an office! And my first reaction was such that I came face to face with my self-centeredness. Of course I would have given it up, but it's so different when it's not YOURs to give up :-)

  • This basic problem of the self goes very deep. It's almost impossible as a human being. Even if I understand the ordinary selfishness, that's some awareness. But there's this really deep existential issue: no matter what, there's this sorrow, this emptiness. If not your sorrow, then the sorrow of the whole world. In my case, the problem is always there :-) So you have to answer that question for yourself. If you go deep, then you see that all the problems are because of the mind. The body has its own intelligence and it's fine. If you don't corrupt it. And in deep sleep, the thought identification is not present, and so that is big mind. And there's no problem. When you're awake, this I thought comes and you get ego and there's a problem. And that's why you need meditation. So what is the right place for thought? There's nothing wrong with technical thinking, if you are concentrating on it. It's the most important thing. The problem comes from the emotional part: hanging on to the memories of hurt, responding from the past, these emotional things. So where you put the thought is the problem. Once the mind realizes that there's a problem, it's fine, but it can't solve itself. In technical usage of the mind, there's no problem, but this emotional habit is the problem and solving it is meditation. And you realize that you can't do anything -- you just sit. And then maybe there's this possibility that a higher intelligence operates.

  • It's interesting that this thought comes now. It brings some things full circle for me. I heard a few weeks ago from someone here who talked about how at work, when there's conflict, he tries to respond in a centered and grounded way. And so the past few weeks, I've been thinking and applying this to my own interactions. And in order to do this, I had to take myself out of the equation, which allowed me to think about what I could do that is best for the other person.

  • I'm a very self-centered person :-) Whenever I used to take exams, my parents would say good luck and I felt happy. And now also, people are also wishing good luck, but now I realize that everything is for me. Even when we do something for others, we do it for others. And so I was going to an interview, and I thought, should I wake my husband up so that he can wish me good luck. :-) And I could see that it was for me. And I left, and I realized that I was so desperate to have a bye and good luck!

  • I really connected to the earlier reflection about coming from a grounded place at a time of conflict. This whole day was about talking with others at work about how each person had the greatest amount of work. And at the time, I really believed that I had the most work! And the theme was to do what you needed to do to accomplish what was important for yourself. And then some people left at that point. But interestingly, the rest who stayed were really forced to turn to each other and think about the other person. And it was so clear -- that exercise felt so much more valuable than if I had left before that.

  • I really appreciated the quote. And it just clearly resonated with me given where I've been the last few months. I was thinking about if there were moments when you hadn't been the center, and I think there might have been some quasi-moments. But I think most of the time I'm guilty of being self-centered. I was also thinking about the emotional baggage we carry and how that keeps us from having a true connection outside. And so it's really about facing your vulnerabilities.

  • This is an interesting quote and it talks about control, and someone earlier touched on the emotional aspects of how the mind gets into different spaces based on emotions. And so many people ask me why I meditate, and it all boils down to one quote: don't look backwards into the past with anger, don't look forward into the future with fear, but look everywhere with awareness. If we can do that, that's the goal.

  • It's a real joy to listen to everybody. I went to a meditation camp, and I spent ten days with a rock star, without even knowing it! We were together in silence for most of it, and then on the tenth day, we talked and had a great time. And so we were talking about our life situations, and he said, I have a pretty flexible schedule, and I said so do I, and we moved on. And we had a very genuine interaction, but we didn't care to keep in touch. And then I got home, and I tell my brother his name, and I learn that this is a guy who was on the front cover of Rolling Stone! And I was reading about him, and he was talking about how at 11, he wanted to be a rock star, where it would be all about him, and now it's the complete opposite. ... And the article brought out a view that perhaps he was being selfish in meditating, which to me is really about being selfless and egoless from another angle. So any action can be seen in different ways, as self-centered or perhaps not. And so I try to remain open to all the different views, and try not to take the view that determines something to be selfish too seriously.

  • Besides the quote, I had something else on my mind: a friend I've known for some time was just diagnosed today with cancer. And I just happened to call her within half an hour of when she'd found out, and she said she was doing research on the right treatment. And it just came to my mind how these kinds of things just change your experience so drastically. So it was a definite wake up call to realize that things are constantly changing. I guess that Bottom line is that as long as you try to do what is good for the other person and try to take yourself out of the equation, it all falls in place.

  • On Feb 15, 2007 Rajeev wrote:

    Read through your thoughts and it mostly dealt with being selfless. I think there are 2 selfless acts that God has done and which we human beings cannot emulate.
    1. Creation
    2. Dying for the sinS of mankind.
    The concept is old, as old as the beginings of the Universe, as we know it. Acknowledging this brings one to Grace that none of our selfless duties can ever come close...
    Just a thought...thanks for both Nipun's and your ideas.
    On one of your meditation sessions, can you try meditating on this verse from the Bible...
    Isiah 53:5
    But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed.
    Love and Prayers for Nipun, you and your group of friends who make the Internet such a joy!

    On Feb 16, 2007 milap wrote:
    "Bhagyawadi log kuch hone ka intezar karte hai, Karmayogi har haal mein kuch kar dikhate hai. Bhagyawadi kehte hai samay se pehle naseeb se jyada kuch nahi milta, Karmayogi har yug mein apna bhavishya khud likhte hai"

    On Apr 24, 2007 ADEYEMI ADEWALE wrote:
    Freedom that is truely freedom comes from selflessness. The ability to totaly ignore self and focus with keen interest to others needs which God has set the example through his son Jesus christ and which no matter how much we try we can only keep trying we cannot just measure up but will we stop. Freedom is found in grace, placing people above you, exibiting virtue and essence, promoting the beauty in others.