"What should I do?" This is a question that the mind is confronted with every day, often many times a day. After a long spiritual journey, I am no longer confused about who I truly am. The Self shines clearly, but the mind and the body go on. Action and thinking go on. And so questions of decision-making, too, go on. And it remains a tricky puzzle how to go about it.
From the tiniest decisions to the largest ones, every decision requires numerous sub-decisions. Even something as simple as what restaurant to go to requires making decisions about how much time to spend on the decision, which information to heed (my own past experience, reviews, word of mouth?), and so on.
If you try to think it all out, you get stuck. If that's true of figuring out where to eat out, it is far truer of bigger decisions: choices of how to start a business or career, how to navigate a relationship, how to relate to yourself.
It's true that in real life we simply cut the decision-making process short for lack of time. But in theory we would like to know on what basis we cut it short. How should we think about how we make decisions -- including the decision of when to cut the decision-making process short?
Spiritual realization gives the whole discussion a massive twist.
nonduality is not opposed to duality
For Reality — aka the Self — the “realization” of which is "enlightenment" — is nondual, but nonduality is not opposed to duality. It is not a separate realm; rather, it is that which is beyond the realm of separation, of concepts, of duality. It is so beyond that realm that it co-exists quite comfortably with it, in and through it, over and around it. It underlies it.
Which brings me to an intriguing notion that I am playing with right now. My hypothesis is this: though the intellect is not opposed to nonduality, it may be the case that a certain species of thinking is opposed to it. And that species I shall call means-end thinking. To do this in order to do that. That’s means-end thinking. Means-end thinking is incredibly useful for many things in life: for survival, mainly, and for understanding in many realms.
How can you make decisions to help someone who doesn't exist?
The problem is that if you take means-end thinking to its logical end, one goal is a means for another, and that for a third, and so on. Life is actually a pyramid of such goals which link to a central purpose. The problem is that that central purpose — which obviously differs from person to person — cannot sensibly exist with the experience of nonduality. Why is that?
Any such central purpose depends on the notion of your existence as a separate self: i.e. the "ego." The ego does not vanish in nonduality, but it is transformed. It is “burned,” it becomes defanged, it becomes a mere instrument. These are true at one level, but at another level it does disappear. For it can no longer coherently serve as that central point from which all other purposes in life flow.
We cannot build our decisions, from the question of which restaurant to visit to the questions of career and mate, on something we know to be an illusion. We cannot build our house on sand.
We want to see ourselves as a unified decider, but we aren't the decider at all
The problem is: how can we believe in a common purpose and unified decision-making when the person whom that purpose serves, that is, the one who chooses, the doer, the agent, the actor -- is shown to be a mirage? There is a strange trap here. "I can't go on. I'll go on," says Samuel Beckett in his novel, The Unnamable. This is something like our predicament.
With the realization of who you really are, of true nondual experience, a thread has been pulled that slowly unravels that entire mode of being, a change that slowly ripples from the top, or the center, outward.
I believe intellect is still called into play, but it then becomes an instrument of…something else. One still seems to engage in means-end thinking in limited domains but at the behest of something which is itself not an end, which is not a central purpose, which cannot even be said to be "play." Means-end thinking cannot be used to organize one's life anymore.
People often ask: if the Self is beyond individuality, if our sense of ourselves as separate is “merely an illusion,” why do anything? There are many answers to that question, but one is: there is no reason to do anything. There is no reason not to do anything. But things happen regardless, reasonlessly, but not arbitrarily or randomly, using the intellect but not depending on it to supply any kind of coherent purpose, for no such thing is available. So how do decisions get made?
When the mind is quiet, they simply do get made. And when we see the fact of our own non-doing, the mind gets quiet. And yet from the quietness, thought can emerge spontaneously.
And so it is not the end of thinking, it is not the end of trying to figure out, it is not the end of puzzles. Not at all. Perhaps what slowly disappears is not means-end thinking, but one version of it. It dies and reincarnates as something related but different.