The Limits of Deliberation

Can the subjective self, the source of so much of our pain, gradually and consciously be erased or is that gradual process itself a reinforcement of the self? That is, can objectivity be consciously practiced or is that new consciousness merely subjectivity in another guise? Will confusion choose clarity or just more of itself?

The paradox – and sometimes contradiction – of mindfulness practice is it uses – or appears to use – chronological, physical time to end psychological, subjective time. That is, the accumulated self is negated by accumulation, deliberation is stopped through deliberation.

There is a parallel in the attempt to fall asleep where the dominating focus on sleep is the very behavior that will prevent it. In entry to both the oblivion of sleep and its near-opposite of full awareness the role of the deliberate is to create the structure, the initial steps but then it has to be abandoned in favor of a less focused, wider consciousness. It’s this abandonment that opens the floodgates, without it we are limited and flightless beings.

A true mindfulness practice is an immersive process woven into daily patterns and not partitioned off from our regular thinking and doing. Mindfulness is not a destination but a mode of being. A red flag is a clear dividing line between meditation and its assumed conclusion, a finish line we eagerly await so we can go on with what we were before, essentially unchanged. When we are deliberate, calculating, the very possibility of change has vanished. 

If mindfulness is all there really is, both means and end itself for healthy and joyful living then why does the mind resist it so, reflexively pushing it away as far and as fast as it can? Our automatic habitual thinking dispels mindfulness just as surely as the reverse as if they were two mutually incompatible states. Can mindfulness itself be defined as the absence of mechanical thinking? The reverse at least is more obviously true.

It’s a wonderful effect of this mutual incompatibility that the more time we spend in the mindful state the less tenable time invested outside it is. Instead we find that a meditative state dissolves the usual self-based cause-effect way of thinking: “I will do this to get that and so be happy”. Has anyone ever really found lasting happiness in this mechanical way? 

The directed will is so seemingly effective in some situations that it blinds us to its limits in others, in fact the alternative to it may not even occur to us. The shift in perspective can be transformative, like deposing an authoritarian government. Just to break its power for a moment is enough to never be the same.

Understanding as art and science