Tag Archives: Observing Thought

The Free Will Debate Part I

The free will debate has existed since ancient times. Anyone can read the various ins and outs of the debate as argued by various people. I think what is more important is the debate that goes on inside the individual.

On the surface, if I do not think about it too deeply it does feel as if I have free will. I can choose to turn left or right. I choose to make the moral choice (as I understand it) or not.

But it is conceivable that I am only experiencing the illusion of free will. When a thought pops into my head I take ownership of it. I claim the credit of my creativity. But if I think about it, I really have no idea where this thought originated. Perhaps someone, somewhere sitting at a computer is implanting these thoughts in my head and I assume they are of my own doing. In this model of consciousness there is a “me” capable of observing but that “me” is under the illusion that the thoughts I think are my own. But even under this model I seem to have the choice of choosing whether or not I will take ownership of these thoughts. But then again, this choosing could also be implanted by the guy sitting at the computer.

So I am stuck in the position where I cannot prove or disprove that I have free will. My religion teaches that God endowed man with free will. My hunch tells me I have some degree of free will but it is probably less than what I assume it to be without thinking about it too much.

Recently a white-supremacist who has been regularly commenting on my blog made the argument (if I understand him correctly) that “God ordained free-will” (his term) means actually having the limited choice between choosing to do God’s will or choosing not to do God’s will. See the comments to my blog post Procrastination When Writing is Essentially Laziness Only More Complicated. I am sure if I misstated his theory he will correct me in the comments to this post.

The question that arises in my mind is this: How can I know what is God’s will in order to properly exercise my God Ordained Free-Will in order to make the correct decision? From a Christian perspective the answer is that the Bible is the word of God and tells me what His will is. The only problem with that is the Bible says a lot of things that are open to interpretation. So I am still stuck in the position of not actually knowing the will of God.

This white-supremacist commenter also argued that the opposite of exercising God Ordained Free Will is the exercising of Radical Autonomy (his term). He goes on to say that Radical Autonomy leads ultimately to Self-Annihilation (his term yet again). Again, I am sure he will correct me in the comments if I am misstating his position. From my perspective, there are a great many hoops he needs to jump through in order to square his theories on, God Ordained Free Will, white-supremacy, and Christianity not to mention Radical Autonomy and Self Annihilation.

Of course this white supremacist has the free will to respond or not respond to this post in the comments. If he does respond (which I suspect he will) I assume he will believe his choice to respond is an exercise of “God Ordained Free-Will.” The debate will then proceed from there.

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In meditation you can’t always get what you want.

Sometimes when I meditate and I do not achieve the levels of peace and centeredness that I desire. I expect to not get what I want all the time in waking life. I want to more interesting job. I want more money. I want to do more interesting things in my free time. But I meditate (at least I think this is in part why I think I meditate) so that I can take refuge from the disappointment of waking life. When I do not find this refuge there is the sense that I have failed or am wasting my time.

The obvious solution to this problem is to treat the desire and disappointment as just another thought or feeling and  that when they pop into my consciousness I observe them non-judgmentally and return my mind center. But returning my mind to center does not necessarily always bring me happiness or satisfaction the way I want it to.

I can treat this as a question of discipline. To maintain a meditative practice takes effort and sometimes it is difficult. Dissatisfaction can be seen as just another stumbling block. But there is the space within this where the question arises why am I doing this at all? If meditation does not bring satisfaction, why do it? What is the point of abiding in the present moment if it does not bring me peace? Of course this sense of pointlessness can also be viewed as another stumbling block. Just bring the mind back to center again in the face of it.

Because it is the mind and ego that wants a point to all this. It is the mind and the ego that feels disappointed when it does not get what it wants. The true self is whole and complete already. Or so I have been told. I cannot know that for certain. But I can be certain that thoughts and feelings are temporary. They change so quickly and easily and for reasons that do not seem to entirely warrant them changing. They elude rationality. To hang my identity on thoughts and feelings seems a little like playing the lottery and even if I win the lottery the next moment is another spin of the wheel.

In this context, bringing the mind center seems to be a rock in the midst of a stormy sea. It is not defiance because that is ego. It is not putting myself above the stormy sea because that is ego. All labels are ego. All judgment and comparison are ego. And there is nothing wrong with ego. Judging ego is also ego. Bringing my mind back to center and abiding in the present is akin to coming home to myself or simply being myself and not being tossed about by thoughts and emotions. It is choosing not to play the lottery. If I do not feel at peace or centered when I do this I can take refuge in the knowledge that it is a temporary situation.

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My thoughts are not your thoughts

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.


As the heavens are higher than the earth,
 so are my ways higher than your ways
 and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

In a similar way that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, the thoughts of my true self are not the thoughts of my ego. When I meditate this becomes more apparent. As I mentioned in a previous post I think of my true self inhabiting this reality by wearing “reality spacesuit” which consist of both my body and my mind. I think of the mind as a computer built into the spacesuit itself. The spacesuit’s mind is my ego. Because my spacesuit has a mind, it thinks for itself. When I am not aware, I mistake these thoughts of the spacesuit with myself. But really, its thoughts are not my thoughts.

When I meditate I can observe the spacesuit’s thoughts in action. With practice, over time, I begin to see this distinction in my every day life. Without practice I cannot distinguish between myself and the thoughts of my spacesuit. This realization carries with it two conclusions. First, the “I as observer” is different from the thoughts I observe. Second, if I must wear this spacesuit to inhabit this reality, then this suggests I am not indigenous to this reality (otherwise I would be able to naturally inhabit this reality).

I suppose my true home is heaven. For some reason I have forgotten what heaven is really like and I do not know the reason why I have forgotten this information.

My ego (the mind of the spacesuit) is bound up with my reality spacesuit. It identifies with the spacesuit. My ego wants my true self to remain asleep so that there exists the belief that the reality spacesuit is the real self and this reality is all there is. As such, my ego is inherently dishonest and perpetuates falsehoods constantly.

By contrast my true self is inherently honest but has a tendency to fall asleep within the reality spacesuit. Perhaps inhabiting the spacesuit is taxing to it because this reality is not the reality it was designed to inhabit. Regardless, meditation seems to be a way to wake my true self up and keep it awake. Regular and continuous meditation develops this muscle of staying awake. The stronger the muscle the better able the true self can maintain awareness.

But then again, this is all speculation. I do not know for certain that any of this is an accurate depiction of the underpinnings of my experience in this world. Parts of it seem to make sense at times. Meditation, however, does not go down the road of speculation. It abides simply and clearly in the present moment. It observes. That is all it does. There is a beauty in this simplicity.

Where did I come from? What was it like there? Why am I here? As for these ultimate questions, it seems that I can never know the answers while I inhabit this reality. Again, I can speculate but speculations without confirmation seems to be of limited value.

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The Point of Meditation

In every group meditation instructional session I have ever attended someone will inevitably ask the question, “What is the point of meditation?” The instructors I have observed are usually reluctant to answer this question. Clearly meditation is practiced for a reason but the relation between the practice of meditation and the reason it is performed is subtle and not easily articulated to someone who is new to meditation. The instructors usually fumble a little and say something along the lines of meditation will make one calmer, or more peaceful or will make one better able to handle stress in everyday life. There seems to be a tendency to shy away from assigning a goal to meditation because goals are not rooted in the present moment.

Personally, I find meditation to be relaxing and a sort of mental reset. If I am stressed or angry, if I can find a place of meditation I do become relaxed and calm. However, I see this more as a by-product of meditation rather than its primary purpose.

The “Transcendental Meditation” advertizing describes their method as “effortless.” I do not know if this is true because I am unwilling to pay $2,000 to learn their method. To me, meditation takes some effort because it is a mental and spiritual exercise in that it strengthens these aspects of the self. It takes effort to be aware that the mind is wandering and then to return it to center. This is not the same kind of effort as lifting weights or running a marathon but it is an effort and making the effort strengthens these “muscles.”

I have heard some meditation techniques describe meditation as observing the thoughts. If a thought appears (they say) don’t engage it but simply observe it go by. This is difficult for me because I often find myself getting lost in the thoughts I am trying to observe and then I have to pull myself out of them when I become aware that I am lost.

Other techniques (I believe TM is one) talk about repeating a mantra or focusing on breathing to anchor awareness in the present moment. Similarly, when I employ this technique I find myself becoming lost in the mantra or the breath. When I am lost in any of these objects of concentration I become that object of concentration.

However, when I am able to observe a thought I realize that I as observer am not the same thing as the thought I observe. It is like I inhabit a “reality spacesuit” that allows me to function in reality the same way a spacesuit allows an astronaut to function in space. This “reality spacesuit” consists of both my body and my mind. Because the spacesuit has a mind, the spacesuit thinks for itself. In everyday life I make no distinction between the thoughts of the spacesuit and my own identity. When I meditate I become aware of this distinction and in a sense I come home to my true self. This (I think) more than relaxation is more to the point of meditation.

 

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