The final nail

Guest post

George wrote this article as a comment last night. I think it’s so helpful that I asked his permission to reprint it as a post. –Freddie

By George

The glimpses I mentioned were like powerful flashes of non-duality/not-self, having the feeling that reality was watching itself with no person involved, or suddenly seeing the world as if for the first time in a fresh light. My mind would go like ‘WTF was that?’ and then go off searching to recreate the experience, which of course would prevent it from happening again. Then I started waking up in the night feeling completely depersonalized, like I couldn’t remember who or what I was, as if my whole personality had been deleted from memory, and these episodes would last up to several minutes and were frankly pretty terrifying. My hypothesis is that they were due to emotional repression/psychological defense mechanisms which had made me pretty disconnected from my body and living in my thoughts a lot. But over time I got used to them and my baseline converged more to that (so there was just less “selfing” going on in my thoughts).

The final realization involved realizing that no one experience is better than any other. Up until that point I was still holding onto the idea that the “endpoint” was going to be some special kind of new experience where everything was different/better. However I had done enough meditation and self-enquiry to accept that the “good” experiences always pass and you can’t stop the “bad” ones from arising, so it’s the attraction/aversion that is the problem rather than the experience itself. That made me realize that experience isn’t ultimately going anywhere in particular. Even though my experience of life had improved a lot through practice, I had to drop the assumption that this needed to keep happening, i.e. it was already good enough as it was.

The final nail in the coffin was realizing that the past & future are just thoughts & images (memories & expectations) arising in a kind of eternal present moment. Even though I had mostly seen through the sense of being an individual by that point, I was still clinging to time as if it was an external reality (i.e. the future and past are “real” in some sense apart from thoughts & images arising in the present). Combined with the attraction/aversion insight, this essentially made me realize that my whole life up to that point, all that trying to get away from the bad and searching for the good, all of that experience was already perfectly “ok” as it already was. And the “future” was always going to be like that as well – perfectly fine whatever happened. It was a kind of ‘OMG this is already it’ kind of realization. Like the flashes before, but it just totally synchronized and stuck, reality experiencing itself, totally fine as it is, absolutely no way for it to be any different from the way it already is. That’s where the seeking & suffering collapsed, because things can’t be any different from the way they already are. Obviously physical pain, discomfort and illness still arise and the body dies, but the mental suffering of wanting/expecting things to be different from the way they are basically vanished, which makes life a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.

Actually the realization opened up my psyche and a lot of childhood emotional stuff came out over the next few months, mostly repressed shame. I feel my emotions much more powerfully and immediately than before, there’s no escaping them (which basically means I don’t act out trying to avoid them like I did before). There’s no question any more of needing to make more effort to have a better basic experience of life, everything is just exactly what it is and perfectly determined by prior causes & conditions (even whatever intentions still arise, which are not the same kind of big future oriented plans I used to have). Experience tends to have much more of an unknown and unpredictable quality.

There’s still a lot of powerful energetic stuff going on in my body, related to old emotional stuff which is still working its way through the system. I’ve recently started getting some help with this, and it’s pretty interesting how that stuff is connected up in a karmic way with the wider web of interpersonal relations. I came from a very analytic background and was very insight focused. I started meditating about 3 years ago due to serious depression and the “final insight” occurred 1 year ago. I meditated 1-5 hours a day most days and never went on retreat, so my energetic/emotional development was probably less than a long-term meditator/seeker and I was starting from a place of pretty poor mental health (which meant that I was very motivated and felt like I had less to lose!) But there’s no point making comparisons, everything is already happening exactly the way it was meant to happen and it just appears to take the mind some time to adjust to that realization.

16 thoughts to “The final nail”

  1. George, I enjoyed reading your post. It seems to me that you’ve summed up everything there is to know, from the Advaita perspective.
    I want to ask you about the last stages of awakening. Ramana Maharshi addressed this issue with the saying about the stick stirring the funeral pyre.
    I have less intermissions in my consciousness, but the thought that says I have them, is still persistent.
    A thought can’t do anything, there is no free will, but there is such a thing as intention, or inclination, or karma, right? Can you write something about it?
    Thank you, LB

    1. Sure:-

      Thoughts are just thoughts … some of them are useful, but most of them are nonsense!

      I’m not sure exactly what you mean by intermissions in consciousness, but if you have an expectation of achieving some kind of permanently clear mental state then that is probably a barrier to awakening. Awakening is accepting the reality of everything you are already experiencing, variable mental states and all. It’s the illusion of having some permanently better mental state to escape to which is preventing you from waking up to the unavoidable reality of the continually variable present, whatever that is for you.

      Free will, choices, intentions, inclinations, urges … these are all the same kind of thing – the feeling/assumption we have that we could do something different from what was already going to happen. But when we look closely enough we that that it’s impossible, every action/thought has a prior cause and the chain of causation goes all the way back (that’s karma, or dependent origination, or cause & effect, however you want to call it). After awakening it’s not like you stop being able to make choices, you can still do all the stuff you did before (although some of it loses its attraction), but every time you make a choice you are aware (or can easily see) that that the choice really just happened by itself as a function of antecedent conditions. So most of the stress around choices/decisions vanishes because you know that life takes care of itself much more than most people think (obviously you do still need to take care of the basics, just not all the irrelevant extra stuff people mostly stress about).

      Lots of children have an intuitive sense of not-self and cause & effect (I certainly did), but they tend to lose it as they grow up and have to learn to make their way in the world. Awakening to me felt like a moment of recognition, seeing something that I had always know and had always been there, but which I had somehow convinced myself to ignore in favor of looking for stuff I assumed was “out there” (education, relationships, career, enlightenment the way I imagined it would be when I started out seeking).

      I don’t know if any of that is helpful. Basically awakening is very simple, much more simple than most people imagine. This is it, it’s already here, there’s nothing missing and nowhere else you need to be, indeed nowhere else you can be, whatever is going on (as long as you are taking care of your basic needs …)

      1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts George. I agree with LB, they are very insightful.

        I really resonated with this line (“enlightenment the way I imagined it would be when I started out seeking”) – especially because as I’m evolving in my journey I’m too shedding concepts about what awakening/spiritual journey entails. One of the notions I didn’t realize I still have (its stuck me while reading your note) is after ‘final insight’ one no longer needs/desires any help as everything is seen to be an illusion. Do you have any thoughts/opinions on this? If you don’t mind sharing – what sort of help did you seek out?

        “I’ve recently started getting some help with this, and it’s pretty interesting how that stuff is connected up in a karmic way with the wider web of interpersonal relations.”

        1. Hi Metta, that’s good – you could indeed describe the process of awakening as systematically shedding all your preconceptions about what awakening will entail! Enlightenment is by definition the exact experience you are already having in the present moment, minus the expectation/hope/craving that it be different from what it is, so anything that involves thinking ‘when I am enlightened my experience will be different’ is by definition not enlightenment! (To be more precise – the thought itself is arising in the awakened state which is already here, but it is causing you to think that you are not awakened and that awakening is waiting for you at some point in the future … a thought which is ALWAYS false!)

          You have to be careful about saying everything is an illusion, because it can lead you into a kind of disengaged nihilism/spiritual bypassing which can also prevent awakening from being realized. Yes all experience is a creation of the mind, so it’s an illusion in that sense, but it’s also the only reality we will ever have, so reality = illusion, but that doesn’t mean it’s bullshit which can all be dismissed. You still need to take care of your basic material & relationship needs to survive and be happy, you just don’t mistake it all for an external reality which is forcing itself on you and you have better ability to see through/deconstruct optional stressors.

          The best analogy is a lucid dream – you realize within the dream that you are dreaming, the dream still continues, but you have some control over the course of the dream. If I spend a lot of time meditating then I can get into some pretty far out blissful formless states, but if I spent all my time doing that then my family life would fall apart. We don’t all have the same karma as Ramana Maharshi! Think about Nisargatta’s life for example, totally different. So yes, abandon all preconceptions about what your life WILL be like when you are enlightened, because the day after awakening everything will still be the same! It’s just so strangely unexpected, not at all what you think it will be like – everything changes because your viewpoint on everything changes, but everything stays the same because it’s only your viewpont which changed. Over time that does mean less stress, more acceptance, more fun, joy etc. But it’s not a permanent blissful stress-free state, because old karma still needs to be lived through and worked out, and then there’s misfortune, accidents, sickness, death etc. … and that’s fine, that’s just the way life is, no problem, we are all in the same boat. And although you see everything is a creation of your own mind, because you realize you can no longer escape your karma for one minute, you simultaneously find yourself taking the “illusion” more realistically – not stressing needlessly, but engaging more because you know there’s no other imagined place of “future enlightenment” you could hope to be.

          The Buddhist 3-fold division of morality, concentration & insight is a good way to look at it. Morality is getting your life together – not getting obsessed with trying to be perfect (delusion), but creating enough stability and space that you can see start to things clearly. Concentration is getting into deep meditation states/samadhi (relax, peace, calm, bliss etc.) In that process you are disrupted by the hindrances (anger, ill will, restlessness, physical/emotional/psychological discomfort, craving, doubt etc.) which is your old karma working itself out. The more of that the better, subject to not avoiding your responsibilities (karma!) and not getting addicted to the bliss states (jhana junkie!) Insight is the awakening itself – seeing reality as it already is – realizing that future enlightenment is a craving mind-created illusion.

          Traditionally they put them in that order – morality, concentration, insight – because it’s the psychologically safest and socially least disruptive. Theoretically you can have the full realization of insight at any moment (“enlightenment”), but if your life is a mess and you have unprocessed emotional/psychological issues then it can be an extremely disruptive experience (psychotic even). The downside of this order is people that get stuck on morality (attached to trying to behave perfectly, repressing their anger issues, judging everybody and everything). Or get stuck on concentration (jhana junkie, expecting permanent bliss, or perfect concentration etc.) But that’s generally safer than having a bunch of enlightened assholes, dodgy guru cults etc. (although wars have been fought in the name of moralistic religious stuff). There’s no perfect answer, everyone’s path is different depending on their conditioning, but there will always be some balance of morality, concentration and insight going on.

          For me personally I was 45 and in pretty poor mental health when I started meditating, and I was very insight focused and went through the whole thing in two years of super intense meditation, seeking & enquiry, so there was a lot of emotional & psychological stuff I needed to deal with and still am to a certain extent, although it’s much easier now. But yeah a few months ago I recognized that there were still some old blockages and I heard someone doing a podcast who sounded like they would be good to work with. It is very free, open association, just gently teasing out unconscious stuff with no specific agenda. I find it hard to explain how it works, this person is just very skilled at listening and working with energy (all by video) and it’s just helping a lot of allow the insights to settle and be integrated into my existing life (I live in a big city, young kids, no in person spiritual connections, lingering chronic fatigue).

          One of the insights of not-self and dependent origination is that all experience is connected, there’s not really a “my experience” vs “your experience”, although there is of course conventional appearance of me and you interacting. You will always need help of some kind, of course when you get old or sick, but also just any interactions can be mutually beneficial or not. Even helping others is helping yourself in some way, if the intentions are genuine on both sides. It’s a crazy old world, it wouldn’t be unconditioned freedom if there was a fixed plan about how it should go! Life is laughter, tears and everything in between! Even the pain becomes kind of sweet when you no longer resist it and just accept it as a normal part of the human experience that it is.

          One final note, I went this path pretty much solo because I wanted to focus on insight and not get distracted by the whole spiritual scene. I read a lot and watched talks, but I was always trying to figure out the dynamics of the seeking and spiritual scene. I did actively post on a meditation forum where I got help from other meditators. A lot of spiritual stuff is just telling people what they want to hear, and gurus/monks etc need to do enough of that to get fed. Since enlightenment already here and marked by absence of craving, there really is nothing to want/sell/pay for (on the insight front, of course you may still need help with therapy or energetic stuff, and may need to pay for it fine, just don’t mistake it for enlightenment/insight itself). So when you come across gurus, monastics, teachers (any kind of spiritual “professional”), it’s always important to ask about the background, what are they “selling”, what’s the intention, are people really getting liberated or are they just getting stuck putting them on a pedestal (and feeding them/their communities). Once enlightenment is realized you are pretty much free to go your own way, get on with your life (chop wood, carry water), and many do, you would never know. The ones that stick around and go public … well what’s driving them? I’m not saying be cynical about everything, but keep your wits around you, question things. If all their followers became enlightened too quickly then they wouldn’t have any followers!

          1. Thanks George! I really appreciate you taking the time to pen down your genuine thoughts as they poured out. It all makes sense and helps me in clarifying/deconstructing false beliefs.

            One more question – how did you arrive at the understanding that the realizations (that there’s no me that’s orchestrating anything; or that time is a thought-construct) are permanent (as you say, the final nail)? Have they been permanent?

            I too have had glimpses of such understanding but they haven’t stuck around. I can still observe myself getting caught up with usual triggers (anger, pride, jealousy, dispair in particular), slow myself down, remember this understanding exists and often (though not always) the sting/pull of the trigger is eliminated for that moment but it doesn’t feel permanent.

            That’s what Freddie also mentioned recently re: his bar for self-realization and awareness that the bar hasn’t been met yet. Freddie – feel free to chime in if I’m mis-quoting.

            1. I read a lot, watched what people were saying, meditated a lot, tried to figure out what the common ground was, what the experience of enlightenment could possibly be … until I realized that it couldn’t possibly be anything other than what I was already experiencing! I basically painted myself into a corner!

              Triggers still arise, but they are not the problem they were before. I did work a lot on them. First the years of therapy. Then meditating and figuring out how to experience emotions naturally in the body without the obsessive thoughts and reactive behavior patterns. You don’t need to clean everything up, but you need to be comfortable enough with your life as it is to give up false hopes for a “better future state of enlightenment”. And/or you need to be really focused on liberation, maybe even quite sick and tired of searching for enlightenment for all these years!

              I’m happy to discuss further if you want to email me at agnostic246 AT gmail DOT com

            2. This makes a lot of sense George. Thank you for being so open and bare. I will take you up on your offer when I have more “thoughts”. 🙂

      2. The last paragraph I fully understand, it’s my experience too.
        Asking you the question about last thoughts and awajening was itself…a thought. Next ;
        What you wrote was interesting, I’ll read it again

        Here’s another question….Before thoughts ceases to interest, can they show up even more? Especially those difficult or annoying patterns..
        They do show up so I’m guessing they can (:
        Have you experienced this state?

        1. No the moment of awakening was not a thought. There was a lot of thought leading up to it – figuring out what it could possibly be – but the moment itself was like a full-on experience of total recognition – recognizing reality as it always had been but I had been avoiding. It was a very powerful experience in my mind, no question that it was something extremely significant.

          I had questions afterwards like – could this really be it? Is this really awakening? It’s so simple and mindblowingly obvious. It was kinda funny really, realizing how misguided I had been looking for some kind of special and different experience all these years. Of course it was an extremely special experience, but it was realizing the specialness of the ordinary if that makes any sense. And the realization stuck and deepened over time, rather than faded. It’s basically a self-validating kind of thing – every possible experience is already included within it, it’s the sum total of all experience, so there’s nothing that can happen outside of it. I sometimes catch myself wondering – Is this still it? Am I still awake?! Because it seems so ordinary a lot of the time, almost like nothing happened, or at least that the decades I was asleep were like a bad dream. But yeah it’s obvious the moment I look that this is still it.

          Honestly a lot of the supposed “specialness” comes from interacting with seekers and picking up on their energy of looking for the special. It’s easy to fall into a mindset of ‘I have something special here’ and I often need time to relax, do ordinary stuff and let the energy drain. I think that dynamic is what fuels a lot of spiritual type communities where the guru is assumed to be having some kind of special experience which the followers don’t have and need to aspire to be like the guru in order to have. All of which of course prevents them from realizing the liberation available in the experience they are already having. It can get pathological at the extreme, but even in mild cases it’s still kinda sad, a form of co-dependency in a way. You are your own person, you don’t need anyone else to tell you what it’s like to be you, that’s it.

          Sorry ended up going off topic there! Yeah thoughts and patterns still show up. Sometimes they can still be a bit sticky, but they are nothing like the problem before. The resistance is gone – I only have to sit for a while to see how everything is happening perfectly in line with its prior conditioning – what could I possibly have to complain about? Of course my wife probably has a different take and thinks I still complain a lot! But yeah the existential angst is gone, and that was the worst of the suffering. The rest is just usual day to day stuff and physical limitations of being a human being. Happy to discuss further if you want to email me at agnostic246 AT gmail DOT com

          1. “But yeah it’s obvious the moment I look that this is still it.”
            How do you look? What do you see? Feel?

            As for gurus, never worshiped anybody, I was an avid reader though.

            Thanks for your email. Maybe I’ll pop in sometime, we have similar experiences, you just got t/here before I did. (I’m kidding of course (: )

  2. hey George, Freddie, LB:

    I’d been reading a ton and contemplating a lot these past few weeks which led to a finer and more intimate understanding of what I’ve been exposed to so far via reading/meditating/contemplating. I’ve resonated which what each of you have written in comments here and elsewhere on Freddie’s blog so I wanted to get your thoughts on this.

    1. I get it now on an experiential level seeing that “I” as a concept is an arbitrary collection of images, ideas that I’ve accumulated and stored in memory that appears, disappears and morphs in a ever-present knower. I see what folks mean by ‘it is not real’ – though, ‘not real’ isn’t what resonates with me.
    2. another observation in my recent experience lately is this ‘doer’ that I think of myself isn’t doing life. Life is just happening. It’s only this sense of ‘doer’ that takes credit for what is happening. In the conventional identity world – I still am the same person, doing the same job and living the same life and when I drop this sense of me doing this life – practically the same things continue to happen (work tasks getting done, bills being paid etc)
    3. Contemplating #1 and #2 further – all mind-bodies out there (you, I, people around us) are just experiencing life happening and some/most people think it’s them making life happen and some know/realize it to be not the case – this difference is also happening within this ‘consciousness’, ‘it’, ‘self’ (different names different traditions call it).
    4. Which stoked this 4th thought – this whole notion of spirituality, seeking, deconstructing and then realizing itself is also a concept arising in ‘consciousness’. There is no sadhana, meditation, reading books etc “I” am doing. It was meant to happen and just is happening. It is neither necessary (that I should do more of it) nor unnecessary (it is unfolding perfectly as it should). By that token – a lot of things make sense (especially the back-n-forth recently on Maharishika and whether good/bad teaching exists or who/what a guru is, whether someone should have on or not. If someone is meant to have a realization/understanding – all the causes and actions will happen automatically.
    5. Finally, what is the so-what of this? I used to read ‘carry wood/chop water’ phrase and it did make sense initially. Now, it does even more deeply. If there is more spiritual unfolding to happen, it will happen for me. All I can do is to listen to the inner impulse (borrowed from Maharishika… also from Michael singer) and continue seeing that it’s not me doing anything – but doing regardless is happening (life will happen). Even if I don’t listen to this impulse – the same thing will happen inevitably (I’d have just ascribed a cause to it – which is “I” making it happen). So everything is just IS.

    Two other ‘impulses’ are present in addition to above:
    1. that I am not done with whatever realization/understanding i need to have but I don’t feel compelled/have a burning desire to know what it is but that if there is something that I need to know/unlearn it will happen automatically.
    2. at the end of the day, this whole thing is also a concept. This is more of a suspicion (a nagging impulse or just delusion), this originated while reading David Carse’s (perfect brilliant stillness) but has hung around as a background thought/theme.

    I don’t have any questions for you all – but would love to invite any thoughts/comments on it to help me refine my understanding.

    1. Hi Metta,

      Very nice, sounds like you are in a good place. Things get quite subtle towards the end. It’s hard for me to say exactly where you are, so I’ll just respond point by point in the hope of turning up something helpful.

      1. This is spot on. “I” is not real in the sense that most people think it is, but it’s not the case that it’s not real either. When people first have the insights of not-self they can go to the other extreme of trying to convince themselves that they don’t exist at all, which is clearly ridiculous. You’re always going to respond to your name and use pronouns. You can spot it a mile off when someone is pretending to be no one, it’s just as stupid as pretending to be someone. In a way the insight feels like recognizing what you have always been, despite all the delusions. You sort of end up dancing between real and not real, able to hold both in mind at the same time.

      2. Again spot on. Life is just happening, living itself. You still make decisions and choices, but you simultaneously see that they are just a function of causes and conditions, not the big deal you used to stress over. When I feel like I need to make a choice these days it’s more like an act of relaxation and discovery – what’s is the choice that’s already been made and wants to show itself? The future is already here according to our karma, if we are willing to relax into it. That doesn’t mean doing nothing, just doing what needs to be done.

      3. Correct, just be careful not to reify anything! You can’t actually find a thing called consciousness in your experience, it’s an assumption but when you look closely all you can see is sensations. Did I just reify sensations? Clearly there seems to be something, but when you look closely you can’t say what it is. What you say in point 5 is close to the mark – isness, thusness, existence itself. It’s no thing which exists, but it’s not nothing either! Again, dancing between existence and non-existence. When you’re not getting caught up in concepts there’s no problem.

      4. This whole story of being a seeker on a journey, looking for the right teaching or guru … just another bunch of thoughts, constantly being updated. Nothing right or wrong with it, assumed to be terribly important until you realize it’s not getting you any closer to the truth of things as they already are. After that it tends to lose its interest, except other people are still getting caught up in it so there is still some pull towards trying to help them see that it’s not the big holy deal they think it all is.

      5. Yup, everything just is what it is. Trust your intuition. It’s the elephant in the room. Actually it’s the whole room, everything in it and whatever thinks its in the room looking at it all. Because that sense of existence has always been there you take it for granted. The minute you try to pin it down and get a good look at it it’s gone. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, not doing, thinking, not thinking, saying, hearing, seeing, feeling, thinking you understand, thinking you don’t understand, thinking you need to try to understand better, realizing you don’t understand at all etc. It’s always been there and it will always be there whatever happens … and it’s not an it!

      Foyan expresses it well in Instant Zen:

      “Whatever you are doing, twenty-four hours a day, in all your various activities, there is something that transcends the Buddhas and Zen Masters; but as soon as you want to understand it, it’s not there. It’s not really there; as soon as you try to gather your attention on it, you have already turned away from it. That is why I say you see but cannot do anything about it.

      Does this mean that you will realize it if you do not aim the mind and do not develop intellectual understanding? Far from it— you will fail even more seriously to realize it. Even understanding does not get it, much less not understanding!

      If you are spiritually sharp, you can open your eyes and see as soon as you hear me tell you about this. Have not people of immeasurable greatness said this truth is not comprehensible by thought, and that it is where knowledge does not reach? Were it not like this, how could it be called an enlightened truth? Nowadays, however, people just present interpretations and views, making up rationalizations; they have never learned to be thus, and have never reached this state.

      If people with potential for enlightenment are willing to see in this way, they must investigate most deeply and examine most closely; all of a sudden they will gain mastery of it and have no further doubt.”

      Just keep doing what you are doing, going about your business while gently mulling it over, contemplating, enquiring etc. Realize the impossibility of trying to have a different experience of what you are already experiencing. Realize that awakening is not really an event that happens within time, in the imagined future of a life story of an individual which is constantly being made up on the fly. It’s something that always been here all the while we’ve been looking for it and imagining it to be out there in a future which never actually arrives …

    2. Hi Metta

      The exciting insights phase about self includes the insight that insights are taking place and I see them and it’s all happening right here right now.

      Insights don’t relate to the seeing, they point at it, they appear to it or in it. Insights can’t register or exist without seeing them, but seeing is perfectly capable of being without them. It is first.

      I’d watch that seeing and not the thoughts about it. That takes practice. It’s funny to practice what I already am or rather, is, but that’s the way it goes as the I thought or doer or ego got in its way.

      The “big bang” happens when there’s a profound, deep, shocking realization that I am that seeing, and it’s very simple. No wonder those who get it start to laugh uncontrollably. All of those books we’ve read are finally making sense. Ah, THAT’s what they meant by saying “I am that”, I get it..

  3. Thank you George and LB, beautiful notes. Make a lot more sense to me.

    I’ve been mulling over it some more these past few days (I’d come here everyday but somehow the impulse to write didn’t arise before).

    Here are some more observations I had:
    1. I used to think of things in set terms (e.g. teacher charging money for teaching isn’t a valid teacher) and what I’ve come to realize is it doesn’t matter what I think. Things are unfolding in a perfect manner – nothing needs to be added or subtracted from it. Therefore, if someone is meant to be ‘enlightened’ from such a teacher (or no teacher or any other means) it will happen so.
    2. In the same vein – George – your impulse to go tell people to not rabidly seek or chase the big holy deal is simultaneously needed and not needed. Some people will rabidly seek and realize it, some will drop the seeking and realize it and many through other flavors. There isn’t really a law/causation we can deem/know for this. It will click with people when/where/how it is meant to and perhaps that is why there are so many teachers, religions and flavors to this life. Doesn’t mean what you’re saying to them is true or false. Because true and false don’t really exist. Relatively speaking, it’s true when the conditions are ripe and it’s false when the conditions unripe.

    3. This one I’m still not quite convicted on so would love to invite thoughts on. Is there truly no agency? It feels it is and is not at the same time. In each and every moment that’s unfolding – the causes (that precede the thoughts being formed) for the eventual action are already pre-determined but there still feels a choice that is being made. It certainly feels easy when the self is absent from it, but choice it is regardless. The metaphor that comes to my mind is a system where the output is fed to it as input along with many other inputs. So, we possibly have agency over what we do in a moment, but not over the outcome of it (which is more eloquently stated in Gita).

    1. Exactly – couldn’t agree more with points 1 & 2.

      Agency? Like you say – both is and is not. There are choices, but no chooser. It kind of depends on the scale you are looking at it. When you’re not looking closely it feels like a choice is made. When you look closely you can see that it’s not possible to make a causeless/independent choice. One exercise you can do is: try to do something that was not already going to happen … it’s impossible! Or another thing you can do is watch yourself going about your day and see how most of “your choices” happen automatically by themselves. This is the state of “agencylessness”. Or going in the other direction, you can play with deliberately “making a choice” and really see how it feels in the body to summon up the sense of agency. Notice how the sense of self solidifies around the idea ‘I am choosing to do this’. So yeah, just play around with agency/lack of agency and notice how it feels and what the effects are. Have fun with it! There are no rules. Everything is happening by itself, but you can equally well convince yourself that it is not.

      Outcomes are really interesting. Unexpected outcomes usually occur when we are not clear about our deeper intentions/motivations/repressed emotions. You can play with setting an intention and seeing how closely the outcome matches the intention. For example, I might set the intention for the day to be nice to everyone I see. It goes well for most of the day, but then in the evening I find myself getting into an argument with my partner over something trivial. Now I realize that my intention to be nice was really an attempt to push away a deeper feeling of anger! This kind of stuff happens all the time, so we can learn a lot from studying the situations where things don’t turn out the way we want or expect. It’s like the old saying – be careful what you wish for!

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