Friday, April 08, 2016


in relation to the previous post, maybe every thought/belief/perception/narrative inherently has some *value*. it constitutes a motivational gradient.

this would explain why every time a thought comes up, it in some way implies an action.

action vs inhibition


this started from thinking about zen. if you're in sitting meditation, you sometimes catch yourself starting to "do" something. it could be either external (like i need to scratch an itch, i need to adjust my position because my leg hurts, etc), or internal (which is often more subtle, like i'm exciting myself by thinking about some interesting thought).

but the premise of zen is that you don't do that stuff, you just sit. normally, outside of zen, a feeling of "need for action" usually gets discharged immediately as an action (internal or external), which puts us in unconscious loops. not taking the actions breaks the loops, and i think this is part of the value of zen.

but then, i was thinking that sometimes the thing i do habitually is *inaction*. like, i'm afraid to show myself too much, i'm afraid to scream around other people, to look like a baby, or to look stupid by doing something. in that case, would the zen philosophy say that i should try actually *doing* those things?

challenging yourself vs accepting yourself



something i've been interested in recently is the balance between accepting yourself and challenging yourself. maybe we could think of it like a spectrum.

on one extreme, you have accepting yourself in a kind of opium-like way. telling yourself it's ok, focusing on the positive.

closer to the middle, there's a "self-acceptance" that observes that your wants and fears are just carrots and sticks on the treadmill. if you're "motivated" by something, to ask what's the nature of the thing that's driving me.. what's my subjective experience like right now, and what will it be like if i change things to make them be like i want? this kind of approach doesn't necessarily prescribe actions per se. i think this is the concept people often associate with zen (but not necessarily what zen teachers teach).

crossing the mid-point of this spectrum, a bit on the other side there's the challenging-yourself approach that says you can always do better. you should specifically identify what you're afraid of happening, and identify what sort of actions you're perpetually doing to keep it from happening. then try not doing those actions (which is very scary), staying conscious through it...

far on the "challenging yourself" end of the spectrum, there's picking a goal (based on what you want at some level), and working toward it concretely, like fixing a cabinet. going for what you want. there's obviously a lot of value in this.

i guess it's often easier, and tempting, to go for the endpoints of this spectrum rather than the middle. maybe the middle is like "passionate equanimity".

but, it's interesting that using the endpoint strategies can paradoxically lead us toward the middle strategies. for example, if we've picked a goal, but now we see the thing that's blocking us from getting their is our own attachments and anxiety.