And on the other hand...

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do You Have A Choice?

Another post for The Rambling Taoists---but you can read it here first:

Do You Have A Choice?

There's been an issue raised over the past day or so in posts by Ta-Wan and Scott having to do with decision, choice, and passivity that has sparked my earth-based yin-respond-to-yang impulse to talk about actually living in the red dust. 

In "Yes...But" Scott referred to "the freedom of allowing ourselves to be carried along by things," wondering if Zhuangzi was really suggesting that we be so utterly passive. And Ta-Wan in "Have You Ever Done a Thing?" suggests that we never really make decisions or choices because we aren't selves to make them in any case.

Though my behavior is certainly influenced by how I apprehend the esoteric aspects of Tao (being and non-being, yin and yang, change and material impermanence, etc.), I posed the question to Ta-Wan (but perhaps I should have used the pronoun "one" instead of "you"), "If you really believe this no-self-ness, really act like this, how do you live? Do you take responsibility for your actions, no pleasure in your daily affairs? How can you be employed? How can you raise a child? Love a friend?" And much as I like to meditate on where I was before I was born, I also must contemplate who pays my taxes.

Indeed, the sun and moon do their dance, the tides ebb and flow, the seasons change, trees flower and shed their leaves, the oxygen and hydrologic cycles keep us and our environment vital. As "Taoists" we recognize and honor these things (and as a female, I am perhaps more sensitive to these things than some men). They occur quite apart from our intervention (hopefully, will continue in spite of our intervention). But still, Taoists (at least those of us who have not achieved immortality) are humans affected by ever-changing material circumstances. Through training and deep understanding, we can become well-equipped to respond to situations--make choices-- that do not impede the flow, finding paths of least resistance and conserving energy. (The Tao of Electrical Engineering?) Practices like martial arts and Chinese painting, even qigong, are not passive and involve skill and choice/response. I make that painting; indeed it is impermanent (although looking at Tang brushwork on silk gives one pause in that regard.) I am loathe to destroy it as Tibetan Buddhist monks cast away their sand mandalas, though I understand why they do that. I am also loathe to paint interminable enso's, though I understand that too. (Bamboo and mountains are more interesting and convey complex messages.)

I didn't decide that a dead car battery and a failed waterheater would manifest on the same busy day...requiring the assistance of mechanics and plumbers and mechanics...although it certainly can be argued that intervention through preventive maintenance might have avoided these things. (And getting TAO 61 started was perplexing until we detected a failure of the jumper cables!) I respond to these things with Tao-inspired patience...and decision-making. I dare say the Confucian lost his temper with the fascist condo manager who insisted that our lack of water was not an emergency. Better him than me. I might have pointed out with some rage the manager's ongoing poorly worded "warnings" about delays in a building painting project that has caused much disorder in my personal life. I try to avoid the tendency of the characters in the Asian dramas I enjoy, to sweep things off desks, overturn tables, when they are angry and frustrated. Bad anger management. But this IS life. Sometimes it is disordered. It is likely a yin to yang shift going on. As there is always chaos between dynasties.

Modern humans manage things. Life in a Taoist community, attending to nothing but the condition of one's body and spirit, climbing temple steps to meditate, eating vegetarian food, wandering like a cloud in the mountains, is lovely. I experiment with it from time to time in China. It sustains and heals me. But I always return to everyday life, making a living, engaging with loved ones and friends, trying to live a low-impact lifestyle. Tao is there, it informs my decisions.

The decision before me at this moment? Post or not to post?


Kittie Howard said...

Wow, very powerful and elegant post. I've often wondered about some of what you mentioned, i.e., the failed car battery and intervention.

baroness radon said...

HI, nice to hear from you!

This post is actually part of a dialogue going on in another blog, but I like to throw it out here too. We like to talk about esoteric spiritual mystical things, cosmology and subatomic consciousness....but when the rubber hits the road, there are dead batteries and failed waterheaters and plumbers who want paid immediately. Real life.

I think if my husband had bothered to drive my car a few times in my recent absence, the battery would not have been drained. That's's HIS fault!!!!

baroness radon said...

I do note that I didn't choose the changed font in my format. Don't know where that came from. But, it's not important.

Cym said...

Yes, we make choices everyday. Ta-Wan's post focuses exclusively on instinctual actions, or actions that are outside our conscious control, as if that's all there is, while ignoring or minimizing the choices we do make every single day of our lives. For instance, the choice to continue living, or the choice to end it all. The choice to be kind, or to be cruel; to say something nice, or to say something mean; to focus on a person's strengths, or to see only their faults. Just because many things appear to be outside of our control, doesn't mean everything is.

Also these posts don't write themselves, a choice had to be made to turn on the computer, to even own a computer in the first place, to spend time writing a post, and the decision to publish it. I chose to comment here. I also chose to ignore my impulse to submit "Are you Crazy?" as a blog reaction to Ta-Wan's post.

We may not choose all of our circumstances in life, but we do choose how we react to much it. Even if you don't choose the cards you're dealt, you still get to choose how you play them...and whether or not you respond to a losing hand with anger, or with equanimity, is entirely your choice.

So I personally think Ta-Wan's post is ridiculous, but I do like yours.

Cym said...

But suppose I'm wrong. Even if you believe that choices are an illusion, that everything is in fact predetermined, and there is no free will, what is the value in believing that? Where does it lead? Does it help your life in any way? I personally don't think it does. If it does, how so?

baroness radon said...

Cym -- You got it. I appreciate your level-headed grounded-ness.

And your last questions are precisely the point.

sybil law said...

"If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice" - RUSH, "Freewill".
I'm definitely more of a floater, meaning, I try not to be disruptive and mostly react to everything around me, but just the conscious choise not to react, or however I've chosen to react, is energy directed towards some kind of outcome I WANT...
Holy crap. I will babble on for pages and pages if I don't just stop now.
Anyway, I am glad you posted. :)

baroness radon said...

Amazing. All of the commenters here are women...yin prevails. Tao 61 forever.

Brandon said...

Well, I gotta screw up the yin thing here by posting, don't I?

Great post you have here. I wonder if it's true or not. We think we make decisions, but, how deeply do we examine the process? Hard to really say. I tend to agree with you though, that we aren't robots. Still, it gets weird to consider the relationship of mind to brain, the free to the material and determined. Like Alan Watts points out, we think we know how we make a decision, but we don't know how the "machinery" works that underlies it. The mind/brain arises without choice in an organic, natural way, and somehow with that origin we are able to make free choices? Choice from non-choice... It's a boggler.

baroness radon said...

Without yang there is no yin!
I think in the end, we all act "as if" we make choices. If we don't have any real choice, then it hardly matters...but if we act as if we do, we still take responsibility.