Riding the Crest of the Unknown
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Nov 11, 2006
Thoughts from this week's circle of sharing on
This thought is from a book that is not generally published, from a friend of mine who is a very kind person, and is always hosting people. At one time, he was hosting this person named Dada, and soon after his visit, my friend gets into a near-death car crash. Just a little while later, he gets a letter in the mail, from Dada, saying "You've got a second chance. Don't waste it." Since then, his life has changed radically.
Regarding this thought, it points to why we choose. An interesting book by Barry Schwartz: the Paradox of choice, goes deeper into choice. The premise is that we think that choice is good, but then we carry that forward and think that more choice is better, but at some point, more choices is actually worse. 21 types of chocolate cookies, and 81 types of cereal, and 30,000 choices in a supermarket, out of which 20,000 fail every year. One of the interesting questions isn't just how we choose, but why we choose. If I think about how I choose, there was one conversation with a monk I had in the hallway, and that has defined many of my decisions in the last 8 years: he said, "whenever i have a tough choice to make, i do what's hardest on the ego." and that has been priceless, and i haven't regretted any choice i've made in that way.
Something about choice struck me. A bunch of friends and I volunteer at a nonprofit for underprivileged children in San Jose. And one of the things they do is they allow the children to gain points, and then with the points, they can buy things. So I was at the Kindergarten table -- because they give the best hugs! -- and what struck us was that kindergarteners knew right away what they wanted. But teenagers were always a little perplexed by what to choose. And so that made me reflect on choice and how my mind has gotten tainted by it. And the message from childhood on was: be prepared. Whether it was for school or society. And from that, I created a mental model out of this, and every stimulus was subject to checks and balances against this model. If something checked off, I felt good, otherwise I didn't. And so patterns got more and more rigid, and when I didn't get what was pleasant, I would shirk away from it, and so my comfort zone became smaller and smaller. And it's only something recent that I've come across: being in the moment, and how that creates so much of a sense of freedom.
What this thought reminded me of was the concept of "black box," such that you know what goes in and you know what comes out, but you don't know how that process in between occurs. So if you trace thoughts back to the source, it all comes down to this black box effect.
When I read this, I was reflecting on some of my practices with the Gita, and how what defines heaven and hell is what your thoughts are. The second thing i was thinking was about free flowing, and letting go of thoughts. And the third thing, with some choices, you need to sleep on it, and be relaxed. When there's a salesperson that offers a good deal and you have to respond by the end of the day, it just creates more stress, and so I just don't do it.
I really like choice. If you reduce your choices further and further, it all comes down to two or three. Once I become clear, through the process of reducing choices this way, you actually learn and become clearer about what you are oriented toward.
I have some problems with choice sometimes, and I do find that giving it time does work for me.
Something about the nature of having choice and being choiceless both frighten me. There was something else in the quote: sensitivity. I've always thought of it as two types, external and internal. And when you think of tyrants of the last century, they are thought to be desensitized, and they could never come to terms with their actions. And then the internal notion of sensitivity is about listening to yourself. And that meditation being the source of sensitivity, to me, was a profound thought.
I like this quote very much and I like the notion of having choice more than not having choice!
In my opinion, lesser choices makes life easier. A lesser number makes it easier to manage.
One thing that struck my was about finding out where choice comes from. When I have my students, if a student hits another student, in my capacity as a teacher, I have no choice -- I have to act. But when they are just conversing, I have choices, and I feel that having choice becomes a reflection of my own uncertainty about the right action.
The origin of Dada's thought about the origin of thoughts reminded me of Yogananda's notion of thoughts being universally rooted. So a thought would draw our mind to the realm where that thought resides. So our thoughts aren't just contained within us. Whenever I hear the story of the monk and the choice brought up earlier, I think of this time about four years back, where I was in a pretty good position in a company, and there were a lot of challenges internally and external. It was hard on my ego, being there, and I felt that taking off, going travelling for four months, was the right thing. And so this advice would come along, about doing what's hardest on my ego, which was staying at work, but something didn't feel right about that. And upon reflectin, I realized that sometimes it's not clear what's hardest on the ego, and in those times, I think it's just about doing what's best for the soul. That has never failed me.
So I was thinking about why we choose. There are things we choose, like what we eat, and then there are things we don't choose, like your DNA. And one of the reasons to choose, why there's a pressure to choose, is the current message that we must reach our potential. So if you're an engineer, you must be the best engineer, if you are a singer, you must be the best singer. And that pressure ends up driving a lot of our choices, and I think that's too much. Also, on this notion of 3000 choices in the supermarket, it's a general issue of information overload. The solution is certainly not not having choice. In summary, I would say, I choose, therefore I am.
Something that stood out for me was the line that says you know nothing about yourself. And when you are in tune with that, then it's easier to make a decision being rooted in the unknown. I have a joke: two deer meet in the forest, and one asks the other, is it noon yet? Why, because when it's noon, we can graze! But deer don't do that, because deer aren't vested in time. Nor are they in the realm of ego. So why do humans have this complex baloney of time and ego? It exists anyway.
Two thoughts. Sometimes it's good not to have a choice. You know the outcome and it's easier to accept. But if you choose to not choose, it's harder to accept. The other thought was that sometimes choosing gets in the way of being. All the decisions I make throughout the day, sometimes I feel like they are too much. I don't need 50 different types of oranges, and that makes it harder. And when you feel like there's so much, whatever you select, you feel like it should be the best, and then if it's not, you feel guilty for not having picked right. So, too many preferences can get in the way of enjoying what's there sometimes.
The basic response I have is that it's all a mystery. It feels like we're trying to describe the moon, and all we can do is point to the moon. (And that's from someone describing zen.) The other thing I heard today: "It's not the truth unless it's a paradox." I was going to stop at "it's all a mystery," but then I reflected on the posture of buddha as perfect ethical behavior, and I thought about karma and how it's the vibration of our choices.
This thing about choice reminded me of something I read: if you have a tough choice to make, toss a coin, not because the coin will determine the choice, but rather that while the coin is spinning, you realize what you really wanted. But going further, as far as where they come from, I have no idea!
Sometimes it's easier when you have lots of choices, to know what you don't want, as trying to figure out what you want is more difficult. So you start from not knowing. And a cluttered mind is an obstacle to knowing what you want. Going with the flow, or being in the zone, is about knowing what choice to make without thinking about it. And I think it's because it just comes down to fewer options when you are in that state.
The subject of choice gives me context to bring up the quote from mother teresa. Before that quote, my own two cents: there is a general notion, especially among so called progressive people, that the degree of freedom can be expressed by the number of choices we have. But that notion, in my experience of life, seems to be a wrong notion. Two people have already alluded to that, that insistence on having too many choices comes in the way of spontaneity of behavior. This also refers to the other speaker who said that the little kids had no problem knowing, because they acted spontaneously and naturally. But as time goes on, this becomes weaker. So the emphasis has to be how we choose, or why we choose. The quote: http://tow.charityfocus.org/index.php?tid=107
I don't remember where I read this, that people don't want more choices, they actually want better choices. About how Microsoft gives many options, but the Google philosophy is to give better options. The other thing: I don't know if it's the American culture, and this may sound sexist, but I think women like having more choices than men! I have the same grocery stores, and the same restaurants, and I get confused by having too many choices!
Being a monk, I have only one choice in terms of wearing clothes! One of my teachers used to say about food, to not be picky about wanting this or wanting that: ultimately, it's just energy! Another teacher said to me, "Choosers are losers. Choice comes from the ashes of desire." A Buddhist Monk friend of mine, Heng sure, relates this story of an interaction with is teacher before going on a pilgrimage: they had packed all these texts to take with them to study, and his teacher said, "Just choose one and enter into that so deeply, that you will get them all." Master Hsuan Hua said, "To investiage chan (meditation), one must have patience..."
few things I thought about: twenty years ago, there wasn't as much choice. And the man who was responsible for that was malcolm gladwell's teacher. And he did research with pasta sauces: Ragu and Prego, and he was hired by Prego, who was lagging behind. And he found that people wanted more options, and so he advised Prego to come up with "Garden Style" etc, and Prego initiated that and gained a much larger share. And so interestingly, Gladwell thought that this man was truly fantastic, because he gave people choice, which means people are enjoying more. And barry schwartz's research contradicts this, and my own experience confirms Schwartz's findings. The confusion that sets in in the abundance of choices, is that consumption will make you happy, whereas when you don't have all those choices, you look within and realize the true source of happiness.
What came to my mind when I was thinking about choice, as well as the origin of thought was a quote from the movie, Waking Life, "To say yes to one moment, is to say yes to eternity." So saying yes is a choice, but it's not the kind of numerically oriented choice we were talking about. This choice is more of a fundamental choice: there is reality and I can either resist it or accept it. And if I do say yes, whatever happens after that, in that happening, saying yes ends up meaning that you have accepted the unknown. One might confuse this yes to be the literal yes, but it's about saying yes to whatever is occuring within. I was in this restaurant, and as you walk out, there's a huge basket of free fruits, and this is after you've eaten. So there's a story of a grandfather and grandson, and the grandpa tells the child to take the fruit, but the child says I'm full, but Grandpa says, "Take it -- it's free!" But the kid refuses, and so the grandfather takes more on his behalf. And much later, the kid was asked why he refused, and he said "I wasn't hungry and so I don't need it, but also, in saying no, I got more, because grandpa's hand is bigger!" Another story, about Buridan's Donkey: In front of the donkey are two stacks of hay, both of which are equal distances away, and the donkey, unable to decide, as a result, starves!
I thought this was a very good thought. Choiceless Awareness was a very powerful phrase for me. And Krishnamurti was the first person I came across using it. So choicelessness is the ground. And in normal existence, we have a division, with consciousness perceiving, and everything being filtered by ego, desire, will. If you go back to the origin, it goes back to awareness: since I'm aware, everything is happening, even according to modern science. Before quantum mechanics, everything was based on the objective world, and they forgot the person looking at it. And Heisenberg said that the observer cannot be distinguished from observed. And so choiceless awareness is a witnessing. And ego holds us back from that. And so in meditation, you can come to that space of choiceless awareness, or even if you're doing some simple task: just be aware of what you're doing. It starts as a simple thing, but once it takes root, there's an awareness such that it eventually makes the will subservient. But this is dangerous, because normally we identify personality with ego. And so ego is always threatened. And so in the quote, talking about going beyond the will, the will will always resist, but once you start this process of overcoming, you can't stop. Both forces will be there. So choiceless awareness is this deep meditative state.
I appreciated what was just explained: about choiceless awareness regarding the choices within. If you take a child, they don't care about choices, but eventually, the idea of looking at other things comes in, the conditioning evolves, and so as soon as you create a choice, there is ego involved. So unless you drop that, it's very difficult to make a pure choice.
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