Do we have the choice?

Can we perceive the totality of our conditioning, all those influences that we have integrated over the years and that make us think, feel and act as we think, feel and act?

Do we have the choice?

Some of the worst horrors that have been, and often are still being committed, have been done so in the name of love: for a religion, a prophet, a love of country, or love of money or power!  To become inordinately wealthy, one must love money passionately, devote oneself to its accumulation, and even sacrifice one’s entire existence to it: one’s thoughts, feelings, energy and time.

He or she who loves something or someone, inevitably comes into conflict with those who do not share the same object of love.  It often seems that the indifference of others tarnishes the object of their love; it constitutes an affront, an insult, to it.  Wars between religions have started because of a deep conviction and intolerance: “The prophet I love and venerate is the only true and just one; his doctrine is superior to that of other prophets whom I have not learned to love”.

Wars between nations have begun because everyone wants to defend his or her beloved homeland, the one where his or her family and friends were born and live; everyone wants to protect it from threats, to ensure its ‘legitimate’ expansion; and to take back from other nations, territories that are deemed usurped.  Our homeland is always more beautiful than neighbouring homelands, and we are very proud of its people and its history (of which we are a part), for they touch us and move us in a special way.

Love for any one thing can inexorably give rise to hatred for its opposite.  Love for justice drives us to fight injustice; love for our beautiful planet drives us to fight those who harm it; ugliness repels us because we cherish beauty, etc.  The result of all these forms of love is a tremendous roaring inferno of opposition, tension and ruthless struggles that drag humanity into a wild whirlpool.

Can we perceive the totality of our conditioning; all those influences that we have integrated over the years that make us think, feel and act as we do?  No, we can’t, except on rare occasions when our values, aspirations, and views of the world and life, come into painful head-on conflict with a person or group of people.  Outside of these critical moments, we bathe in our habitual conditioning as unconsciously as a fish bathes in its native water.

Do we have a choice?  Do we even accept the idea of having a choice, i.e. of taking full responsibility for everything that happens to us, for our whole life?  Are we ready to embrace autonomy, inner freedom, and the terrible loneliness that comes with it?  For in self-knowledge, which is the doorway to this freedom, there is no longer anyone to blame for our condition, no one we can accuse or hold responsible, no more enemies, no more opponents other than our own resistance; no more allies, no more friends to rely on in complete confidence.

In embracing the totality of who we are, of what life is, we lose the security that community, diversity, ideology, faith, recognition and support, have provided.  The immense space that has been freed up is empty.

Our way of life is destroying the only habitable planet we know; our earth.  This is no longer a secret.  But above all, it is ourselves that we are destroying; the planet Earth will regenerate itself, after the extinction of its ‘predator’.  There will be plenty of time for that.  For the moment, we are running like a hamster on its wheel, and even accelerating exponentially.  But the wheel is on fire, and we are distracted, as we have many priorities other than attending to the fire we ourselves have started.

Our way of life did not just fall from the sky; it was not ‘invented’ by some mad scientist or dictator.  Our way of life is a direct expression of our view of the world, society, and above all, our inner selves; it is the result of our state of consciousness, our state of being.  Even when we are alone in our room meditating, conflict and war are with us.  They are within us; we are their creators – conflict between who we are, who we think we are, and the beautiful ideals of fulfilment that we aspire to, that we have made for ourselves, or that others have instilled in us.  Conflict between the future we wish for with all our hearts, and our daily actions and choices that literally sabotage it.  Conflict between the image of ourselves that we would so much like to show to others, and our mediocrity, our half-heartedness, our compromises.

As long as we do not learn to accept all this as a unity, as an undivided totality, we will suffer and spread around us the suffering and the conflict that remain within us, unresolved, unhealed.  There is a need, even an urgency, to go down to the deep source of our divisions, to open our eyes, to escape the hypnotic denial, and to face our existential reality, the facts!  We need to do this without interposing the filters of our interpretations, explanations, excuses, justifications and peremptory condemnations; the very filters that have thrown us into this muddy and pestilential swamp of misunderstanding, contradictions and unsolvable tensions in which we seem to be well and truly mired.

As long as we do not wish to see, we will remain blind.  And this blindness puts us in great danger, because every day we are obliged to act, to move forward, to decide, to choose this or that option, this or that direction.  Sooner or later, the choices of a blind person inevitably lead him or her into trouble, inextricable complications and increasing suffering.

We have made unfortunate, destructive choices in the past, and we continue to reproduce these every single day.  We have become terribly dependent; addicted to the material consequences of those choices.  Who among us can claim to be able to (or even want to) live without a car, a smartphone, and all the complex, interconnected networks that provide us with food, mobility, energy and information every day?

Look around you: every object you see, every service you enjoy, has been, or is being produced by machines – from bottle openers to computers, from your home to your clothes.  These machines are invariably supplied with energy – directly or indirectly in the case of electricity – by fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal, radioactive materials); the very materials whose extraction, refinement and use, put us collectively in danger, even threaten us with death.  Without machines, and therefore without fossil fuels, there is no production, and of course no consumption!  By living as we do, we are running ever more rapidly towards an abyss, with full awareness of the consequences.

We have become accustomed to considering all of this insane and deadly activity as normal, inevitable and even desirable.  A very small number of people make huge profits from it, but the vast majority suffer because of it: pollution, degraded quality of life, social decline, poverty, damaged health, famines, and exoduses.  We have adapted to this way of living, which is also a way of being, of positioning ourselves in relation to life.  And we are teaching our children to adapt to it in turn, to adopt to its clichés, automatisms, constraints and absurdities.  Do we have a choice, and will our children, once shaped and moulded by our education system, and conditioned by the culture we offer them, also have a different choice?

First and foremost, an internal radical revolution is indispensable, even vital.  Our way of acting and organising ourselves will not change significantly if we do not change the very essence of ourselves.  What meaning, what direction do we want to give our life on earth?  What priorities do we put first?  Will we have the desire, the courage and the strength to draw from the depths of our being the spiritual resources that are the only ones capable of bringing about the indispensable and urgent radical transformation?

Do we perceive this urgency, not intellectually through information from outside, but intuitively?  Are we capable of reacting sharply to the many obvious signals of distress, both around us and within us, or is our sensitivity to life so dulled, so stifled, that we resign ourselves to sinking, both spiritually and materially?  Are we ready to devote our entire existence (our intelligence, our aspiration, our vitality) to the true Life that palpitates within us, and that calls us so insistently?  Are we ready to tear off the caricatured and grimacing mask with which we have temporarily clothed It, and discover Its inexpressibly beautiful, eternal face?

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Date: January 9, 2023
Author: Jean Bousquet (Switzerland)
Photo: Mike Hindle on Unsplash CCO

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