If Life is an Unfolding…


If life is an unfolding then where is the need for control, and where is the need for the black-and-white models of reality which guide that control? If life is in essence an unfolding then where is the need for definition, for regulation, for ‘management’, for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and the rules that determine right and wrong? Where is the need for any of that?


If life were not an unfolding (which is to say, if life were just a repeating pattern, a mechanical ‘acting out’ of certain all-important ‘fixed truths’) then living in this world would of course be all about control and the theories or models that guide this control. Life would in this case be all about rules and regulations, right and wrong. Life in this case would simply be a matter of passing on (or perpetuating) the right rules, the right values, the ‘right patterns of being’. If this were the case then how simple it would all be! Life would then be entirely about ‘doing the right thing’. Life would then be entirely about right and wrong, ‘do’ and ‘don’t do’…


The astonishing thing is the degree to which to which we believe this to be the case! This is the view of life that we pretty much always do have – it’s our ‘default view’ on the matter, so to speak. We live as if it were self-evidently true that life is only a matter of finding the right system, the right set of definitions, the right pattern of being, and then adhering to it. This actually is how we live life – we have a particular set of rules and values and we do our level best to pass these rules and values on to each successive generation. If we manage to do this then we feel that we have ‘done right’; if we succesfully perpetuate the pattern then we feel that we can ‘rest easy’. This is what society is – a fixed pattern of thinking and behaving that we do our best to adhere to and pass on.


It’s not just society (our formalized set of interpersonal relations) that is a fixed pattern which keeps on being acted out, acted out, acted out, come what may – so too is the rational mind. The mind is the very same sort of thing. This is what David Bohm says – that the rational mind and all the structures it produces (including the designed environment that we spend most of our time living in) are all the one logical system. It is all the one seamless unit. It is all the one construct – a construct which David Bohm calls The System of Thought. If both the thinking mind and the world that this mind has created for us are all the same thing (if it is all ‘a fixed pattern which implicitly demands our unquestioning adherence, our conformity, our allegiance’) then this isn’t a very free situation for us to be in! It’s very far from being free. It’s the antithesis of ‘free’ – it is complete bondage.


The reason that we don’t generally see that the system we’re sewn into is completely unfree (or even that it is ‘a system’ at all) is because there is a ‘type’ of freedom that goes with it, a type of freedom which isn’t actually freedom at all. What we are offered in place of genuine freedom is the freedom to adapt ourselves ever-more-effectively to the determinate system that we exist within. We are offered the possibility of ‘optimizing our game’, in other words, so that the more we optimize the bigger the rewards are that we stand to gain. We all know this perfectly well of course, the only thing being that we take it very much for granted, and because we take it so much for granted we hardly ever think about it. We hardly ever think about it and when we do it seems perfectly OK for things to be this way. This sort of a set-up seems perfectly normal and so we never pay it any heed; it simply doesn’t occur to us that there could be another way to be in the world, that there could be another way to live.


To exist in a set-up where life is a game that we have to optimize our performance within (and where the only meaningful form of change seems therefore to be the type of change by which we adapt more effectively to the given system) is normal for us! It’s normal because we have made it normal. It’s normal because it’s what is going on, it’s normal because it’s what everybody else is doing. This doesn’t mean however that it is in any way good (or healthy) for us! Normal doesn’t mean healthy, by any means! If life is an unfolding then to be stuck in some kind of an ongoing, non-terminating ‘optimization strategy’ where we are working away at getting better and better at playing some arbitrary game is actually downright perverse – we’re going against our own nature here and whatever else the result of this endeavour, this experiment is, it’s certainly not going to involve us being happy! Such a set-up is simply not in our own interests – if it is in anyone’s interest it’s in the interest of the system that we’re adapting to, and this system isn’t us! This system is not us, it’s what is oppressing us!


If life were NOT an unfolding then everything would be so much simpler – life would come down to a matter of ‘conforming to the established pattern’ and so those who conform successfully would be ‘the winners’ and those who don’t (or can’t) would be ‘the losers’. One way is the good way, the other the bad. How simple is this? How easy to follow is this? And it is of course because this view of life is so simple that we like it so much! We don’t want to be challenged to work out for ourselves what life is all about – we want to be told. We want to be told what it is all about so that we can just ‘get on with it’. This is human history in a nutshell – it’s all about us fitting into whatever the established pattern of the time is. Very few people have had the interest or inclination to against this type of ‘equilibrium-seeking’ tendency. Going against the established way of doing things is not seen as what life is about at all. In one way it could be said that history is all about our oppression by one system or another, but we could equally well say that what history demonstrates is our need (or hidden desire) to be told what to do, to be told what to think, to be told how to see reality. We want to hand over our freedom to some external authority! We want to hand over our freedom to the agreed-upon conventions of society, to the rule-based rational mind…


If on the other hand life IS an unfolding then things are not so easy or so straightforward after all. This changes things in a big way. When the established and unquestioned pattern is the template that guides our thinking then all we have to do is ‘get with the programme’ and this is easy. It’s easy because it’s just repeating the same old thing, over and over again! ‘Acting out the established pattern’ is a repetition of the old so all we have to do is ‘learn’ the old, ‘fit in’ with the old. An ‘unfolding’ on the other hand is continual newness, and so how do we ‘learn’ what is continually new? How do we fit in with what never stays the same? How do we adapt to continuous change? Very clearly, there’s just no way to do this. There’s no ‘external authority’ out there that we can adapt ourselves to. If we want one then we just have to invent it ourselves!


If life is an unfolding then the demand that is being made on us is  – we might say – to be ‘sensitive to the new’, rather than being – as we usually are – ‘aggressively protective of the old’. As soon as we put it like this we can see that there are two possible orientations that we could take with regard to life – one is where we are sensitive to the new (or to the different) and the other is where we aggressively protect or defend the old. It’s either one or the other – it can’t be both. As it says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.”


If we go for the second orientation then we will automatically imagine that there are two ways for this endeavour to go – either we will be ‘successfully aggressive’ or we will be ‘unsuccessfully aggressive’. Either we will win or we will lose, in other words. Either we will get what we want or we won’t. In reality however there AREN’T two ways in which aggression can work out at all. There aren’t two ways because there can be no such thing as successful aggression – no matter what we all might think!! Aggression means ‘protecting and perpetuating the old’ but in a universe in which there is – essentially – nothing but ‘unfolding’ there is no such thing as ‘the old’! How can there be such a things as ‘the old’ when life is a continuous unfolding of the new?


If there seems to be such a thing as ‘the old’ (or ‘the established’) then this perception is simply an hallucination, which means that what we are doing in our aggression is protecting an hallucination! This begs the question therefore – how can an hallucination be successfully protected? There can be neither success nor failure in the endeavour of protecting something that isn’t real. There can be neither success nor failure because the endeavour itself isn’t real…


This brings us back to the first type of ‘orientation’ that we can take in life (the second type not being a possibility at all!) – the orientation of being sensitive to the new. In this orientation we are being sensitive to the unfolding of the new rather than being aggressive to it. We’re being courageous rather than scared! Instead of saying ‘sensitive’ we could also say ‘aware’ – we are being aware of ‘what is’, we are being aware of the unfolding of the new. In the ‘aggressive’ mode (which is our ‘default orientation’) we are protecting an hallucination and the hallucination that we are protecting is who we take ourselves to be. In the ‘sensitive’ mode we are aware of the new, aware of the unfolding, and this non-aggressive (i.e. curious) awareness is who we really are…







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