Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Running away from Decisions

Time to get organized. I write out a long list of things to be done. Then all of a sudden something pops into my head. Something that absolutely must be done first. And it doesn’t even make the list. I devote myself to it completely. Finally, at the end of the day, I look at that list and laugh. The list of things I won’t do today!

Is it just me?

Or else something must be done. It absolutely needs to be done. Then, for sure, I will either leave it until the last conceivable moment to get started, or else I’ll pause, and let go of this need, perhaps after having delayed and procrastinated so long that it makes no difference. And then occasionally, snap!, out of nowhere, I’ll do it after all, with a resolution quite unexpected. Isn’t the will a strange thing? For in that pause, the vice-like grip of needing and wanting is released, its message cast out into the winds and sometimes the wind in its grace blows it back, and with that new-found momentum at our backs we can set sail. (Music can help too, as can the inspiration of imagery, or merely the setting limits on how long to spend on it, all of which occupy the little mind, so the big mind can go about its business unimpeded.)

Notice that image of the wind! The wind is at our backs. We can never push the wind. So it is with our lives. We like to plan and organize in advance, to push the proverbial cart of our desires. But this is something I learnt just yesterday. Those two-wheeled levered trolleys for transporting boxes… try to push them, and they veer left, right, and all over, but pull them behind you, and you make a beeline to your destination. The horse must indeed come before the cart.

Is there anything you’ve learnt recently which you should have known ages ago?

And so it is with life. Why anxiously plan ahead when so often we will veer from our plans when the time comes… and then look back with guilt at not having done what we had planned? Or perhaps, you know exactly how things should be, in which case you’ll enjoy this little experiment:

Imagine tomorrow as your ideal day. Run through in fast motion everything you would like to happen, the places you would go and the people you’d meet, and all the unresolved situations in your life and for each, running through all the possibilities in your mind’s eye, settle on how you will resolve them or how you will begin to resolve them on this day. Do you have clear and distinct ideas, or worlds of contradiction?

This is actually a great way of reminding oneself of decisions we’ve made in the past, decisions we’ve often forgotten, so they couldn’t have been decisions after all, merely possibilities to remember when the time comes, and the reminder is useful! But the imagination is boundless, and the possibilities also.

So if, like me, you are lost in worlds of contradiction, then you’ll appreciate my call for spontaneity:

  • to concentrate almost all one’s thoughts and actions and importance in the present,
  • to trust oneself to make the right decisions in the future,
  • to make those decisions and run with them leaving a gap of silent mind which the resisting thought can’t breach, and
  • to loosen wilfully the desire for complete control.

You know, pulling the barrow of desires behind you, some of them might fall off without you noticing. But don’t worry! Anyway, the best things in life, at least in my experience, have always been those that were completely unplanned and totally unexpected! Ah, bliss!!! :^)


  1. Thanks okei, really enjoyed this cause I know exactly what you are talking about. We make plans and the universe laughs at those plans. So no plans for me anymore. :) In many ways it is a surrender to life (a beautiful thing!) and then, because you indeed start to live in the present moment- you can laugh WITH the universe! I too have been fighting with guilt over procastrination, but... I always realize that things do get done eventually and nothing bad really happens if you leave it for a time it sort of happens naturally, cause it will if its your hearts desire.
    Much Metta!

  2. This was a fun read Okei. A real nice article.

  3. Unplanned things happen faster than the planned ones... hahahahahahh!
    Maybe it's the detailed thinking and the bits of worry that come with it that log time down. As we plan, we find out there's more and more other things to fit into it. In the end, we grow tired even before things get packed.
    So,.. beer or milk?

  4. Well said! Yes I was a planner in my past and I came to the same conclusion as you!

  5. Great article, Okei! I enjoyed reading it. :)

  6. LOL! Yes, it's remarkably difficult, but thanks for the encouragement. I just saw some comment by another of my contacts about the distinction between surrender and giving up. Surrender is not at all about giving up.

    Oh, and I was delighted to see you drop by, and it was totally unexpected. :^)

  7. Glad you enjoyed! You'd been pestering me to write a blog for a while. ;^) Inspiration takes a long time for me to foment, and then this just came out of the blue.

  8. Hmmm... green tea please!! (Milk for the cat and beer for the German.)

    Indeed, and "gaps" in planning just disappear into time-wasting.

  9. Funny thing is that I was never a planner in the past, but the "age of responsibility", i.e. when I grew out of teenage years, made me start trying to plan more. I need to go back to how I was...

  10. Thanks Carol! A nice surprise for you to drop by also!

  11. I make goals for the week... planning days is a recipe for a nervous breakdown

  12. Yes, Cyn! Goals not plans... or as I think Erica would say, intent not intention. I'm still trying to grasp that subtle distinction which she introduced to me.

  13. ((((Okei)))) Thanks so much for waving me over here - it was just what I needed :-)))))

  14. :-)))) It is a subtle thing. And I still struggle with it too....

  15. Hi Okei,
    For me I have a general goal, but leave the possibilities of achieving it open. It seems that most times, it is achieved unexpectedly. I run around on intuition. I am not recommending that for everyone though. It is a bit scary for most folks!

    Hey Erica!

  16. Hi Cyn, I so love your avatar by Estevez.

    I read something the other day that studies had found that the big picture, abstract, fancy-free, vision approach that you use is best for working out whether and how to accomplish something without procrastinating, so before and during and finishing a complex task. Yet it is the opposite concrete and practical way of thinking that is best for working out when to do it (so in between before and during, getting started) and for judging how we are doing especially when failure is likely (so between during and finishing for complex tasks - because this is really about getting started again when things aren't going well).

    So we actually alternate between different parts of the brain, and apart from "getting started" on things it's best to be in that intuitive big picture mode of thinking that you recommend, that allows for spontaneity.

    Apparently they did the research by showing subjects abstract art and pointillist art to get them into the respective parts of the brain. How cool is that!

  17. Oh, and one other thing the studies found was to forgive oneself. Because those who thought that by being hard on themselves to make sure it wouldn't happen again actually created a negative relationship with their task, and thus had even greater avoidance issues. So forgiving oneself, letting go of the burden of guilt, was a more productive way of making sure they did better next time.

    To use the concrete-abstract paradigm, it's probably best to be self-critical or critical or praising of others in the concrete, and that's ok because the concrete can be changed, but self-forgiving at the abstract level. The abstract should be free from judgment, spontaneous and free. So never letting concrete criticism and failings eat away at our inherent being, relationship with our capabilities, trust in ourselves.

  18. Could you give me the links to that?

    I think it is fascinating!

  19. YES!!!!!!

    It also prevents internalizing mistakes... something most successful folks do not do... :-)))

  20. I think the trick is making the shift between the concrete and abstract fluid. It's so easy to get too caught up in one or the other. I tend to get a bit too caught up in the abstract sometimes I think lol :-)

  21. Oops! Here is the link which summarized the findings, and more links within... I stumbled upon it by accident.

    Summarizing again, "whether" & "how" need abstract thinking, "getting started" & "assessing" need concrete thinking. In truth, we have an inner wisdom to do this subconsciously, but I think understanding the process is helpful when things stop working and we need reminding.

    Another thought... from your "doing over" thread, and also of the warning against idealism that if we do not know history we are destined to repeat it. There are actually two forms of concrete, the concrete "inside the box" and the concrete "in context" that is a pointer, pointing towards an abstract. The concrete "inside the box" is without recognition of mistakes, recognition of the status quo, history, a "higher view" of things. It's the madness that makes us know our mistakes, and yet keep repeating them. The concrete "in context" is how we learn to change them. I wish I could think of a good example...hmmm...

    How about golfers and their swing... if they think about it, it goes all wrong, yet if it's going all wrong, then they need to think about it in the concrete. Concrete "inside the box" might be working out what they're doing wrong. Concrete "in context" might be the bigger picture of how they used to do it, what's changed and why. The real reason might not be on the golf course! It requires abstract thinking at a lower more concrete level. And the concrete once corrected can be left to the unconscious again as they return to the abstract "bigger picture".

  22. I agree! And of the two, I think the abstract is a better place to get caught up. Mind over matter!

    It reminds me also of the left-right brain and the spinning woman. On the one hand, I think I can switch between the two, and yet for the spinning woman, I find it almost impossible to reverse the direction of her spin.

  23. Having written those comments, I feel like I've confused myself with abstraction, so in the spirit of that article, here's a pointillist painting to remedy the situation.

    Detail from Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon".

    And let's just do a little experiment! After staring at the above, which way is the lady spinning? Different from normal? Oh well, worth a try...

    Yes! Yes! Yes! This actually worked... tilting my head one way or the other, doing a calculation, or looking at the painting above for a couple of seconds all made no difference, but really staring at that painting for a good ten seconds at least, and the woman spins anti-clockwise after! How about you?

  24. Now, I was going to post an abstract painting to keep you all happy, but I can do so much better!!! Here is an abstract-pointillist painting...yep, both... stare at it from near or far, then scroll to the spinning woman... What do you see? Is it just me?! I'm not going to say what I see. It might spoil it... and who knows if it will happen again.

  25. Well this is weird! Twice for me after staring at the abstract painting - after scrolling up she spinned counter clockwise for several revolutions and then it returned to spinning clockwise...but just staring at the spinning woman she never changed direction for me....maybe I'm just not awake yet lol

  26. It always spins clockwise for me lately!

    Thanks for the links.... I am going to read them and come back!

  27. Yay, it worked Erica! Me too... The woman spins clockwise when we are using our right brain, and anti-clockwise our left brain. It's some strange illusion, and I don't know why... But assuming this, looking at a painting really can switch which side of the brain we are using! For me, it usually stays switched.

    But what I held back from saying earlier was that for the orange abstract & pointillist painting, it did something amazing for me... I saw the lady swing half a revolution one way, then half a revolution back, and keep changing direction!!! Both sides of the brain activated simultaneously...and in some sense this is what the spinning lady is 'really' doing, but I don't know. What's 'real'? She's 'really' spinning both ways, depending on perspective.

  28. When I first saw this last year, I thought she was undeniable spinning anti-clockwise and how could anyone think otherwise. Since then, I've seen her always spin clockwise like you Cyn, and I could only change that 'artificially' by looking at her ankles (if you try that you'll know what I switches her spin, but it feels like a cheat).

  29. Yea- looking at the ankles does do it LOL

    It really is pretty wild! :-)))

  30. Sometimes it does seem I am so busy with so many things and than stop to do something that wasn't on my list of to do but had to be done. I can understand that.

    "Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing so they say."
    So I can appreciate the blog.

    Jane Austin says-“Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.” I guess people have felt that way for a long time.

    Balance is so important. Time to do the things that must be done, the things we would like to do, time for ourselves, for creating.

    "Is there anything you’ve learned recently which you should have known ages ago?" Your post asks
    I don't know if I didn't know it--but I am using my time better.
    You don't become a better person by being too occupied with the unimportant things. You improve your life by developing yourself spiritually, physically and mentally. We must find time to study, to reflect and to just be.

    I remember a story (maybe I mentioned it before) a legend that says that he walked about in broad daylight with a lantern in a determined but vain search for a virtuous man. His name was Diogenes, a philosopher who lived in Athens in the fourth century B.C.E.

    Whether that legend is accurate cannot be confirmed. Still, if Diogenes were alive today, he might be forgiven if he had to look even harder to discover moral individuals. Many seem to reject the belief that people should embrace any fixed ethical values.

    I find that important for my life too. More and more. We live in times of information overload and switchable morals to our wants but how much is true and valuable to better our lives now and in the future?

    I was always laid-back yet productive in life but I think I learn to do that even better as time goes on.

    You must nourish your mind with new knowledge. I always knew that and so I love learning new things. But I have learn to not waste that knowledge. Or fill my mind with garbage that isn't true or meaningless to a better life. I look for truth--and I look hard. You won't grow beyond where you are right now if you refuse to read, to connect , to correct and spend time with the important people and fill some space in your life with things, which will nurture your soul. That I am doing more (which reminds me I do need to do some page cleaning soon--laugh--not on my list)

    Good post. Always a good read on your blogs. Enjoyed

  31. Ha!

    It is always right brain for me... maybe my left side is nonfunctional.. lol

  32. That's great, I wish I could say the same!!!

    Here's something I learnt only a couple of years ago: that when tying shoelaces if the first knot is right lace over left, then the second must be left lace over right bow and vice versa because if the knots are both made in the same way then it's a "grandma knot" which comes undone much too easily. I'd been doing it the wrong way until then!

    From two years further back, I always used to tie up bags (e.g. bin bags) by spinning them round to make them narrow at the top like a single piece of rope and then knotting the rope into itself twice. But then I saw a friend just magically tie it up in two seconds flat without any spinning, because he just took the two handles of the bag like two laces on a shoe and did a double knot. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of that before!!

    From a film by Truffaut, the guy is trying to butter a cream cracker and the girl says to him, no let me show you and puts another cracker underneath it saying, "see that way is much easier, it prevents the cracker from breaking - we can teach each other lots of things like that."

    But your answer is at a much wiser level.

  33. Thanks Had for much food for thought. And thank you!!!

    Yeah Cyn, it didn't work so perfectly next time I tried it, but looking at paintings does seem to have the ability to jolt the brain into seeing things differently, maybe a little jolt and it was not enough to change things for you... funny thing... I'm seeing her going anti-clockwise over half the time now, whereas before I did this experiment I was pretty stuck in clockwise.

    Erica, glad you enjoyed!!!

  34. It might depend on what you were engaged in for a period of time which might be longer than staring at the pics...

    If I am reading non fiction or factual information for the entire morning and shift to look at the pic, I do not think it is enough to alter the direction... If I am not engaged in anything prior to looking at the pics, I bet it is more effective.. would love to see if I look at them right after waking up to see the result there.... ;-)

  35. Exactly! And you know the very fact that I was "doing an experiment" could have the curious outcome of "altering the experiment".

    It's very hard to avoid that. I know that psychologists often pretend to test one thing, when in fact they're testing something completely different. That way the "subject" is more likely to behave "naturally". Still, the fact that the "subject" has to say what he/she thinks, for example clockwise/anti-clockwise might make that critical difference to the way they engage. They are not being allowed to "just look". To put it another way, the act of formulation of what they see might alter what they see!

    Reading factual information for the entire morning might be more likely to switch you to anti-clockwise... because anti-clockwise is the left brain analysis side.

    Just waking up, we should be in right-brain, like in dreams. That was my understanding from you... on the subject of which, I think it's possible in dreams to have the thought "I must be dreaming", but this isn't lucid yet... it needs the left brain analysis side to kick in and realize what this actually means... that "I'm dreaming" means "this is not real". In that moment when we wake up, we know it's been a dream, but we might still imagine many of the things within the dream to be true... it takes a further moment to make the deduction that they aren't!!! That final deduction after we've fully awoken.

    So, I'd say lucid dreaming is to somehow make both the realization and the deduction within the dream. I bet it uses both sides of the brain.

  36. Well,

    Dreaming is a right brain activity but it must be more than that! I know people who can read in dreams.... that must involve the left brain.. though it is rare.

    to know you are dreaming, also implies left brain activity...

    I am not sure, but I would wager that folks who have left brain dreaming are probably not either left or right brain dominant....

  37. You talking to me ;^) hehe... I was taught in a dream to read... definitely the coolest dream-thing to happen to me.

    "to know you are dreaming, also implies left brain activity..."
    Yes, that would make sense. So there's a logic in trying to get both sides of the brain active...

  38. Well...

    logic? hmmm.

    It seems to me that whatever part of oneself monitors things....connects to the language center which is in the left brain and disrupts the process.

  39. Yes! And you give me a perfect opportunity to link to a related article I posted recently on BT...about the self getting in the way of any process of self-renunciation/self-acceptance, because the latter is not a precept, there can be no self that 'does' it, because it is exactly this director of things that we are trying to go beyond. We work at self-improvement as Had said, but paradoxically it just happens to us with something like the Christian concept of 'grace'. Or luck!

  40. And that is in the right brain!

    thanks for the link. I will go see now

  41. But most of us know that

    we will not, and probably cannot do it—that we shall continue to cling to our habitual ways of life with all

    the helplessness of addicts to a destroying passion. If this begins to sound like a sermon, I do not mean it

    that way, for I said at the beginning that the words about finding one's life through losing it were not really a

    precept that could simply be practiced and obeyed. This is what makes all the talk about the necessity of

    selflessness or the task of transcending the ego so fantastically misunderstood. Treated as a precept, it

    makes for every kind of moral and spiritual phoniness.

    oh jeez! this applies to our consumption of oil in a big way

  42. Yes! You're right!

    There are those who deny the problem and those who would like to tell us what to do about it. Both do us no good, because both have agendas tied up in it.

    Technically, what makes the problem of "self" tricky is that the self is that which needs to change itself (what Watts describes as trying to prick a needle with its own point). On the face of it this is not true for oil, but actually as you say it is... We are so tied up in it that we do identify our way of life with it and cannot imagine life without, so it's very hard to step "outside" the problem. Unlike the "self", maybe not impossible, but almost impossible! Good analogy you draw.

  43. Great article, Okei! You make a lot of good points (and I like the little experiment). :) There's a lot to be said for freedom, isn't there? Blessings!

  44. Ahhh, if only to experience freedom... even from the concept of freedom. ;^)

    So which way does she spin for you? And can you get her to change direction?

  45. Okei, I have to admit that I am a living contradiction. I do not like labels, yet I have to use them all the time (yes, as in freedom, and freedom from it). To answer your question, I find that I am a go-with-the-flow kind of person, so whichever way that wind blows is where I manage to be. I have few "needs" and "shoulds"==or let me rephrase that==I probably have many things I should be doing, but I choose (!) to be mindful of doing those [decisive actions] which are life-affirming/healing and do not harm others. I have a few parameters, but other than that, it's up for grabs. :) It's led me to some interesting insights. Blessings!

  46. That's the place we all strive for. :^)

    Do tell how the experiment works for you when you get a chance! ;^)

  47. I have an idea for another experiment... in the pointillism painting... I wonder if there's a difference between focusing on the painting as a whole or focusing on the dots or thirdly... focusing on the 'spaces between the dots'!!

    I think this is an idea for meditation also... the dots are like the points of phenomenal experience...!! We can choose to focus on the big picture, or the 'points' of sensation, pleasure, pain, doubt etc. or... we can put our attention on the emptiness in between points. It is a kind of refuge perhaps.