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PhilosophyCenter | Musings

Posts from — January 2013

The Basis of Action

The Basis of Action

When we’re dealing with a difficult, confusing, or intractable problem, we may tend to become preoccupied with the question, “What should I do?”—the idea being that the right action will put the situation right. Clients who are struggling with this question often find themselves in a whirlwind of conflicting options, each with its promise, each with its price, and it soon becomes clear that resolutions rarely are worked out this way. The reason for this is that action doesn’t take into account the self-relation, but primarily concerns itself with outer conditions. In the storm of speculations about these conditions, other people and what they might or might not do, considerations of timing, “what if?” scenarios, and so on, we may overlook a profoundly useful point, viz., that actions flow from our inner life, bubbling up from the depths of who we are the way water bubbles up from the depths of an artesian spring. If we’re in a state of confusion or ambiguity, our actions will be indecisive, exaggerated, or in some other way off the mark. If, on the other hand, we’re in a state of clarity and self-possession, honoring who we are in a given situation and simply allowing that identity to flow unimpeded into action, then that action will be unambiguous, appropriate, and truthful. As a result, it will carry an authority that no amount of running around trying to work out what to do can approach.

Understanding this, we can use difficult, challenging, even daunting situations as opportunities for self-work, reminders that, to the extent that we feel we don’t know what to do, we haven’t asked the right self-question and come to terms with what the situation has to teach us about ourselves, our choices, and the opportunity that lies just on the other side of the lesson. As Joseph Campbell writes, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” This idea can be enormously helpful when we find ourselves stumbling in a situation, unsure of where to turn, because by remembering that the treasure of self-knowledge is close at hand, we can engage the situation in a new way—without resistance or judgment, not trying to get rid of it as soon as possible, but curiously, with the willingness to see something we haven’t seen before. It is during the most trying times, the times that “test our soul,” that it is most important to stay open, to embody the stance of the student, to stay teachable.

Staying teachable, we discover that our problems are instructions. All of our experience is working to bring us along, to teach us, to encourage self-awareness and self-honoring—even the tough times, especially the tough times. Putting down resistance and taking refuge in the truth and the willingness to be instructed, we find that action, like the weather, takes care of itself.

January 10, 2013   Comments Off on The Basis of Action