Compulsion To Closure

Joan Tollifson
674 words, 8K views, 13 comments

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Somewhere recently, I heard or read the phrase, “compulsion to closure.” I can’t recall how it was used by whoever said it, but it feels like a great description of our human difficulty in tolerating unresolvability and uncertainty, and our compulsive desire to pin things down, get a grip, secure a foothold, nail down the right answer, figure everything out, and know The Final Truth with doubtless certainty. This compulsion has obvious survival benefits in practical matters, but when it translates over into other realms, it easily becomes a problem.

This compulsion to arrive at the Final Truth is, of course, foiled again and again by life itself, which simply doesn’t seem to stay put in any of the neat and tidy little boxes into which we try to put it. And so, for as long as we are trying to find this kind of certainty, it is pretty much guaranteed that uncertainty and doubt will always be nipping at our heels.

That nipping produces a kind of anxiety in us, an uneasiness, which sets us up to be easily attracted to people and systems that offer seemingly comprehensive answers that explain how the universe works and that promise us the kind of safety, security and certainty for which we long. But for many of us, these answers never really satisfy us. And paradoxically, when we stop searching for certainty and focus instead on the immediacy of present experiencing, without trying to grasp or understand it, this anxiety vanishes. We don’t actually need any Final Truth. [...]

 My friend and teacher Toni Packer always stressed that she was not an authority, that anything she said could be questioned or taken further, that we should test it out for ourselves. She was always willing to look at a question freshly, to start from scratch. She was open to seeing something new, to changing her mind. She was like a scientist in her approach, but she was also religious in the sense that her exploration was not the objective (dualistic, subject/object) kind that science engages in, but rather, it was a nondual subjective (contemplative, meditative) exploration of our firsthand experiencing.

This living actuality can never be pinned down or grasped. It is moving and changing—never the same way for even an instant. And yet, in another sense it is immovably always right here, right now in this ever-present immediacy or presence that we can never actually leave. This one bottomless moment is infinite and eternal, without beginning or end, without edges or limits. It has no inside and outside. It is undivided and indivisible. There is infinite diversity and variation, and yet it all shows up as one seamless whole. There are apparent polarities, but they only appear relative to each other, and they can never actually be pulled apart.

Reality is simple. It is right here. Present experiencing, just as it is. The morning breeze, THIS cup of tea, the beloved dog trotting toward me, the green leaves, the blossoming flowers, the galaxies dying and being born millions of light years away—this whole amazing magic show. And yet, we can never really pin it down, get hold of it, or explain it in any final way. We ARE it. This indivisible present happening is both obvious and inconceivable. It never resolves into any final shape, it never departs from this present immediacy, and we are never separate from it.

So is it possible to be okay with not having any Final Truth? Can we live with the openness of not knowing, of groundlessness? Can we be at home with the absence of closure, and with the fluidity and multiplicity of dimensions in which life is presenting itself moment by moment? Actually, we have no choice. But in not resisting this, it may turn out to be enjoyable and miraculous, even when it apparently isn’t.


Excerpted from Joan Tollifson's newsletter. She is author of Nothing to Grasp, Painting the Sidewalk with Water, Awake in the Heartland, and Bare-Bones Meditation. Tollifson writes and talks with people about the living reality here and now. She has an affinity with both Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta (in Hinduism), but belongs to no formal tradition. 

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