Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Coming About

This is ground we've gone over before, but it always changes. Beth wrote, at Cassandra Pages:

Our attitude toward each day is really a choice that is ours to make; people who live with adversity every day show us that way.

Upon which Tonio commented, in part:

Our ability to choose our daily attitude seems to me to be more like a gift, and not one which every one has been given.

I'll leave aside the theological question of free will, because I don't know squat about it -- I've always had a feeling that the question on that level somehow contradicted itself, and wasn't quite real -- but on a practical level it's important, and it arises everyday. I had a depressive episode flickering in my peripheral vision all day yesterday, but I managed to escape it eventually. I don't think I did anything different, though, from times when it's really settled in, in deadly earnest. I feel like I just got lucky. I could say I chose not to become depressed, and if I were not being very careful I think I would say this: the sequence of mental events was exactly that which we usually describe that way. It feels like a decision. And once I characterize it as a decision, I would also characterize it as an easy one. I just shrugged my shoulders and -- hey presto! -- walked right out from under that impending depression, as easy as you please.

But actually, when I don't walk out from under it, what exactly is different? I'm not sure, but my best guess is that it has to do with karma and the accumulation of merit -- or in non-Buddhist terms, you might say prior action and habit. It seems to me, that when I'm flickering on the brink of depression like that, I'm actually making dozens of decisions very rapidly -- far more rapidly than I can track or control -- and what settles the matter is how many of those decisions turn this way or that.

In the moment I really am relatively helpless. Whether I can even try, or how much I can try, depends not on what I'm doing now -- or not very much -- but on what I've done in the past, when things were moving slowly enough for me to steer them. Its the accumulated weight of prayer, contemplation, meditation, -- and a certain amount of something else -- that determine whether this ship comes about, or misses stays. From a bounded perspective, you'd say that something else was blind luck; from an unbounded perspective maybe you'd call it karma from previous lives -- for practical purposes it really doesn't matter.

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