Apparently a lot of you are facing some big decisions and you want the weight of them gone. Enough people have called or written to challenge the ideas presented by Alan Watts in the video from last week’s Friday Dose that I’ll use this week’s Dose day to offer a response. This will attempt to clarify why our decisions about how we live life aren’t as important as the decisions we make about how to look at the choices we’ve made or are making.
Every example I was given presented a very high-stakes dramatic version of a choice that would seem to define something as definitely good or bad. The differences in their chosen narratives pointed to the central fears each person would have. These hinged on either an “unjust” death or the removal of someone from people’s lives, or someone “betraying” someone else’s love in a central relationship like those between siblings, spouses, lovers, best friends or parents and children.
Simply because it’s easier to write about, I’ll use an example of someone dying because of a drunk driver. As many people posited: surely we could say that the killer made a bad decision to drive.
Indeed it will feel appropriate to go through Kubler-Ross’s five stages of death immediately thereafter. There’s nothing “wrong” with that; that is merely the experience of a life. Like a roller coaster, its highs depend on its lows until eventually things start to level more as our momentum runs out. So that pain is enlightened pain. That’s why it’s so profound. You’re being with it in that moment fully. Those experiences are always bigger.
So on the day of the accident or shortly thereafter, if you felt compelled to label the decision to drink and drive you would say it was a bad one. But that compulsion is not a necessity. You didn’t have to label it and push against it. You could also accept it and be at peace because you understand the Buddhist concept of causality.
Zillions of things had to conspire for that accident to happen, so to blame it on the recent ones is an incomplete look at reality. If the Dad never beat the kid he would never have started drinking and the accident wouldn’t have happened. Otherwise it’s like saying the last goal in a one goal game is the “winning goal.” You needed all of them.
Once everyone is dead there will be no one to remember the accident or maintain the “wrongness” about it. Will it still be wrong? This is what they mean when they say, “when a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Without being able to impact an individual’s expectations no conflict in life can exist. Like a wave is both trough and crest equally, “issues” exist for people wherever their expectations are impacted by reality.
So let us imagine that the brother of the victim was having a difficult life himself with alcohol. Racked with anger he used the death as motivation to change and he dedicates his life to curing alcoholics. But in that time he learned that drinkers aren’t drinkers, they’re someone with something in their past that they think too much about and they use the alcohol as a kind of sedative. It works temporarily until the depressive qualities kick in. He drank for the same reasons his brother did, and he ends up feeling sympathy for people like his brother’s killer.
And say the person who was killed had a family too. If we ask his wife, yes it hurt terribly at the time and she hated the driver of the car but, the truth is, after time passed she did meet another man and both she and her children had a better companion in their life. It was a horrible way to find one and thoughts about that make her feel guilty, but there’s no denying it improved her life overall. Maybe because of his accident they had to leave where they lived and emigrate for work and the kids have much safer, brighter futures now. Is the father’s death a bad thing then if his children miss him on special occasions or when they’re otherwise prompted to recall him in their memory?
Due to his drinking the victim’s parents feel the children are better off with his wife and new husband and since they are old and the children are their only legacy, they die happy that their lineage will go on. Plus, maybe even with enough life experience they come to realize how many times they personally were in a position to kill someone but didn’t more by fluke than plan–we all do this a lot as kids and almost everyone I know except me has driven drunk before. In that fact you can see the role of causality.
So the question becomes, if the person is missing but the total of happiness for all the people connected to him rose as a direct result, then is it a good or bad event? And when would you decide this judgment of good or bad and how long would it last? Because their life conditions could change again and the very same incident could lead to back to great bitterness. It’s up to the person doing the judgment of the event, which is Watt’s general point in the video below.
Our view of the past is constantly being rewritten based on what we believe on the day we recall it. If the person is in a good mood and grateful for their life, then they will be blackly grateful for the death. If they’re getting their car fixed because a drunk hit it, then they’ll be thinking that all drunks should just be shot. This is akin to the “sound of one hand clapping.” Without opposition to something there is no noise, no “emotional content.” Flow flows, conflict with flow claps.
It’s not that a decision can’t be called good or bad the moment it’s made, but that’s like taking a photo of a river and saying it’s a photo of the river rather than of one small section that this particular bit of water happened to be passing at this particular time. The water is you, the world around you is the shore. In short, life is made of facts and their context. Change the context and the fact gets changed too.
So this is what it is to flow: you endeavour to live in each moment without stopping to judge it. You move fluidly from experiencing this feeling to that feeling without every doubling back to reassess or reevaluate events. And if you do you realize the entire exercise is taking place not in the world but in your consciousness and that makes it both real and strangely harmless.
This is a very weird and persistent part of the illusion of reality. I hope this helped clarify more what Watt’s point was. Have a great weekend everyone.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.