The thing that struck me most in this reading is something it left out, and the picture with the caterpillar, pupa, and butterfly reminded me of: which is the role that conditioning plays in who we are. The caterpillar is somehow born with the conditioned destiny to evolve and the detailed instincts to accomplish it.
We are born into this body with the genetic heredity of all past generations, our nervous system and brain, and then we grow up surrounded by family, culture, society, and others who tell us who we are, and how to be in this life. But somehow being just a predestined repetition of the past throughout this life is not satifactory for most of us, and that very dissatisfaction itself and longing for freedom may also be an inherited inclination as well as something we have been told.
I firmly believe that the purpose of this life is for each of us to discover what the purpose of our life is, and discovering who it is that undertakes that exploration is a beginning, so I choose to to explore that whole-heartedly, and with the best diligence I can manage. I also look forward each week to see how Mark chooses to label himself in this circle.
Insight meditation as some of us may have been doing for the last hour provides a powerful opportunity to undertake the process of self discovery consciously by starting with the mind- what thoughts are there and why? Where do they come from? How do the sequences of thoughts shift and change over time? How do I spend my time? Can I choose and direct my thoughts? Who is it that is observing and aware of all this?
At first it may seem like all the factors of my life are the effects of some external cause or condition, but looking deeper I can recognize a hereditary pattern preferring comfort and familiar predictability, and another equally hereditary pattern of being bored with the past, needing the stimulation of adrenaline and seeking any distraction from the past- and I DO have a choice of which of those conditioned patterns to prioritize in any given situation.
In this reading, the image he uses of the threads weaving together to make this life is reasonable- we all have roles and relationships in this life with beginnings and endings, the role of being a child and relating to our parents, the role of student in school, the role of being friends with another, perhaps the role of a job or as a married partner or parent of a child- yet who we are goes beyond just that accumulation of threads- there always is someone or something that is playing the roles, and more importantly determines how they are played- whether the role is endured with resentment or perhaps embraced whole-heartedly with joy. The experience of life depends much more on those, rather than just on which specific roles were played or for how long.
In the final paragraph he mentions the experience of autonomy and self-determination, of controlling our attention and behavior perhaps just being adaptive reactions to the circumstances of this life- but that just begs the question of who or what it is that has (or wants to have) that experience of independence and choice.
So do we perhaps have a soul that temporarily has this body, and can become enlightened, or reincarnate, or perhaps visits heaven, nirvana, or hell as well as this earthly life at some point? Or are those perhaps just mortal thoughts that attempt to capture something too vast to fit into words or concepts?