How unintended consequences wreak havoc on our expectations concerning the connection between intention and responsibility.
I’ve been looking for ways to illuminate the space hidden behind our expectation that the only way to be responsible is to plan and then act out our intentions. Everyone I know, including myself, has had a hard time dealing with the vertiginous leap away from our habitual sense of cause and effect, planning and implementation, desire and control; any of the ways we customarily respond to the gap between what we find and what we would like to see. Yet all of the results of my research and meditation lead to this conclusion:
If control is an illusion and intention is an expectation of control then action without intention is NOT a step away from effectiveness, but the path towards merging our actions with conditions as they exist.
It appears that this is the discipline that leads us to Emergence, to Action that Emerges from Conditions Mediated by Mind and not just as a reflection of our conditioning.
If there is a change we can make that grows out of what we have, a change, the desire for a change, that is not simply a wish to jump out of our skins or to force our perceptions to match our expectations while maintaining a blind obstinacy to the disjunctions this uncovers, then this appears to be the way to get there. More precisely, to BE there.
Action without intention, or the suspension of striving is not non-action. It is not “passivity.” It does not preclude any particular path of action at all. What it does require is a profound shift in attitude.
This chafes many people who see themselves as “practical.” My answer to them is the “equation” highlighted above. It is an E=MC² for Emergence. Follow it along, prove or disprove its statements, and arrive at a result. This isn’t “mystical.” It’s eminently practical. It is a path, the only one I’ve found, that leads beyond futility. That it requires an “internal” adjustment instead of pushing for redoubled efforts to gain an external result is a sign that it is a way out of the futile, deeply-rutted, and dead-end path of intention and the striving after control.
Looking at a rusted and frozen gyroscope for the first time, it would be almost impossible to deduce that it was an instrument that maintains balance. A spooled-up gyroscope insists on what it is with every attempt to move it or change its direction. The same is true here. The attitude of action without striving or intention is hard to fathom from outside, but if it has spooled-up and its dynamic properties have been unleashed, it cannot be mistaken for anything else. It is fundamentally a way to spin-up into a dynamic relationship with the actual in which equilibrium is maintained by the dynamics of our perspective. It is a direct coupling of strength with balance.
Let’s look at these two terms. Strength differs from power. Power is an accumulation of force that is directed by intention at conditions seen as problematical with the end of winning control. Strength is an ability, not a repository. It is the capacity to withstand as well as project force. It’s relationship to the world is conservative in the sense that it maintains balance first and foremost before any other action. Balance is not stasis. It is not a static state, but a dynamic condition. It is a prerequisite to wielding a force – Archimedes and his lever – and it is a prerequisite to the clarity of perception we need to make judgements on how force should be used.
A dynamic that maintains the connection between strength and balance acts like a gyroscope in that its actions are self-correcting and don’t require an outside “control.” This is what makes it reliable. It’s what makes our physical skeletal-muscular-nervous system’s balance reliable. There is no “I” that “oversees” its operation. We simply trust it. We can develop our capacity and increase our trust, or we can abuse it and lose trust, but we cannot control it.
This attitude of clarity towards the relationship between intention and responsibility is no more a filter to what our ultimate actions might be than a gyroscopic guidance system is to a craft’s navigation. It doesn’t tell us what we should do, it only provides us with a stable platform from which judgements can be made with the benefits of the clarity its “balance” has given us. This seems like an abdication of control, but only if we insist that the possibility of control is real. Try to control a gyroscope, say by holding its rotor firmly in hand, and it will not work. Set it spinning, let it go, and there it is!
The world does not require a formulation of the properties of gravity to work, erosion, the flight of birds, the pounce of a Tiger, all just use gravity. We do too, unless we are outside the comfort zones of our conditioning. Then we gain comfort from Newton’s Law. The same is true here. The reality behind this principle just is. But for many of us its delineation is a comfort as we turn away from conditioning that has proven untrustworthy. In the end, practice establishes, or restores, an innate trust in our relationship to the actuality of existence in this particular and we don’t need postulates to maintain it.
Take this, as strange as it may seem, as a rationalist, even scientific approach to finding a path out of the dead-end of rationalist, scientific conditioning. I’m not by nature “mystical.” I have glimpses into a world that is unbounded by categories and analyses, but my habits are definitely constrained by expectations of such “answers.” I need help developing my trust in what Krishnamurti and Bohm call Mind, in developing habits that promote Being instead of Striving. In the end, or more precisely in a mode of being that does not recognize means and ends as valid justifications, there is no longer the need for these “explanations.” But to get there from this particular place we find ourselves, this process seems helpful.
7 thoughts on ““I never thought of that!””
I share your perspective – and it’s so hard in the rational objective world of engineering to sell the idea that loss of control and less planning are a good thing.
You must go, and I must set you free,
‘Cause only that will bring you back to me.
Most recently in July the link to Branson in this post.
Action without intention. This is what I am experimenting with these days… since action led by intention has for many years sabotaged my endurance, and my willingness to keep “getting things done.” The inner parts of me mostly just hate it, it ends up feeling like getting bossed. Bossed by words, bossed by rationality, bossed by goals. Internal domination.
What you describe as sabotaging your endurance is what I’ve identified as the trap of futility. Our systems have evolved to be buoyant. They can also recognize when life is closing in and we are running out of options. In this way a creature whose “time has run out” shuts down. In its proper place this is a mercy. When our systems recognize that we are blocked at every turn and cannot perceive a way out we shut down in that same way. We suffer a “failure to thrive,” call it depression or some physical disease or a combination of psychological and physical expressions of this dynamic. If we can see these for what they are, our system warning us that we have been trapped by and in futility, we can ease our way out of this narrowing spiral leading to death. This is where the bounce we get once we push past the original discomfort that holds us in its thrall comes from. Like someone dying of cold, the way out seems at first uncomfortable and not worth the effort. It’s only as we regain our vigor – or gain it for the first time – that we see just how close we came to giving it all up!
This sense of hating to be bossed, that we send so much effort in trying to correct – so that we can be “good” children, “good” employees, “good” soldiers, etc. – is a life-line. It’s been a compass and a touchstone for me since I began to recognize why it was there. We resist being turned into means as much as we are repulsed by using another as a means. – Another compass, right action, that is built-in. The only way out is to avoid focusing on ends. My writing on intention is directed at exploring these connections and putting the lie to all the habits and cultural assumptions that have conditioned us to accept this insanity as normal. As with so many terms, the consequences of control, intention, striving – and their relationships with responsibility – have been turned upside down by civilized culture.
Internal domination is the How and the Why our conditioning is so pernicious. We barely need stormtroopers to hold us in check, we do it ourselves. Too bad this one thing we have proven to be so good at is so universally destructive! There’s the rub.
On the other hand, we do have these instincts, this natural buoyancy built in and ready to operate, IF we learn to allow it, learn to trust it. There is a clear path available to us. Practices that move us towards their expression abound. None of this “costs” anything in the end. Good news as we lose the ability to “pay!”