No Particular Path

In No Particular Path on August 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm

No Particular Path

There is no particular path to any particular end. There is no particular end to any particular path. Rather, we create the path with every step we take, and each new step is both ending and beginning.

Perhaps the most fundamentally human activity is choosing. In every human endeavor — as distinguished from our instinctual, biological, reactive, genetically programmed behaviors — there is an element of choice. It is that element of choice that allows us to be creative and adaptive. It is the consciousness with which we choose that allows us to see meaning in our experiences, to make judgments about our lives, to develop morality and ethics, to be individually unique, and to respond to stimuli in ever changing, ever evolving ways.

Each new choice generates consequences that require another choice that generates new consequences that requires another new choice and so on ad infinitum. It is this endless series of choices and more choices that, step by step, builds the path of our lives and, moment to moment, makes and remakes us and the individual perceptual universe in which we live. Each new choice is predicated on the past and carried into the future; and both past and future are changed in the process. Each present moment exists only in the reality of our choices as they rush along, both carrying us and carried by us.

Perhaps the second most fundamentally human activity is the creation of meaning. We are rhetorical beings. Everything we are, everything we do and everything we experience has meaning for us and others. We create and express this meaning through language, both verbal and nonverbal. We choose words and actions that both create and express the meanings we have for our experiences. Thus, meaning is the first consequence of choosing, and the basis for subsequent choices. In addition, it is our awareness of choice that helps create meaning. Since I know, at some level, that you choose the messages you are sending me, then I can interpret those messages and create meaning for them that is accurate to the extent that I can understand the choices you have made. I will misunderstand you to the extent that I cannot accurately assess those choices.

Consider the present moment. Where are you? What are you doing? Whom are you with? What is happening about you? And how are all these things affecting you? Whatever answers you come up with to these questions, they will be incomplete. You may be able to recognize that you are physically in a specific place at a specific time, but where is that place? What is its relationship to other spaces? What is its latitude and longitude? What is the time of year and so where is the Earth relative to the sun, and where is this spot on the Earth relative to the sun? Or the moon? Or the whole solar system? The galaxy? Keep extending the space, and location and time become less and less clear. And in any case, these things are all arbitrarily determined by language. “The United States of America” is simply a name we have given to a location, “the western hemisphere” names a relationship to other places on the planet, but what does “western” really mean on a sphere? Similarly, you may be able to name the person you are with, but how much of who that person is do you really know, understand, even have language for? You may be able to say that certain events are occurring, even say something about your relevant feelings and responses to those events, but this will be selective, because all you observations and experiences are being filtered through the perceptions you have already formed over the entire course of your life.

Now try to consider how it is that you have arrived in this place, at this time, under these specific conditions. Can you walk yourself backwards through your life, reconstruct your choices and say how or why they have brought you here? Can you even identify just one or two choices which, if you had made them differently, would have changed your life so that you would now be somewhere else, under different circumstances? Can you say whether things would, as a result, be better or worse? It’s a hopeless, impossible task. There have been too many choices, too many changes, too many consequences on consequences. And even trying to remember the past requires us to reconstruct it anew each time; and the reconstruction changes the memory, is selective about the details, and is filtered through our perceptions as they are now, not as they were in the past we are trying to recall.

And yet, that is the process by which we construct our lives. It is not simply a process of accumulation, however. We are more than simply the sum of our experiences. Because we are constantly creating meaning, we are also constantly reconstructing our lives. We are creatures of perception; No two people are ever having precisely the same experience. The events swirling around them may be objectively the same, but each is having his or her unique experience of them, and each will leave the experience changed in unique ways.

Life is a continuous process. There are no end results, only the process itself. All consequences are consequences of the moment, followed immediately by new consequences. Suppose that you are walking along a fence rail and you fall off and break your arm. Was breaking your arm the consequence of choosing to walk the rail? What was that choice a consequence of? Perhaps you took a dare. What led you to take the dare? Perhaps you felt you had to prove something to someone else. What led you to think that way? And is the broken arm the final consequence of that chain of causality? What if you then become fearful of taking risks? What if the cast becomes a sign of pride, a symbol of your courage? What if the bone never really heals properly and the arm remains forever weak? What if surgery is required and you are left with a visible scar? Whether you look to the past or the future, there is an unending and ever changing sequence and pattern of events. At every moment we carry with us the totality of who we are at that moment, all of our experiences and perceptions — physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. At every moment we carry with us the infinite potential for whatever future we might create out of choices not yet made. At every moment we have only that present moment in which to choose.

Of course, this is not a simple process. These are no simple choices or simple consequences. We are physical creatures, emotional and psychological beings, and (most of us would agree) spiritual entities. As we live the process of our lives, we are choosing at all these levels, experiencing consequences in all these ways, creating meanings that are formed by all these influences, and all of this is happening simultaneously, continuously, and mostly unconsciously. I recently saw a magazine cover with the teaser headline “Happiness is a Choice.” I want to be clear that this is not what I mean when I talk about choosing one’s path. We cannot simply choose happiness, or choose wealth or power and have it magically appear for us. Happiness is one possible outcome of many paths. We can, however become conscious enough of our own choices so that we can more often make choices which help us meet our needs, and thereby make us happy in the present.

This is what I mean by the “no particular path” statement.  Life is a process of making choices in an attempt to meet our needs (which may, of course involve helping others meet their needs).  How consciously make those choices, how much awareness and presence we bring to them, the better able we will be to choose well, and the more satisfied we will be with the path we are creating.

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