How often do we act out of reaction, and how often is it truly a conscious choice? We like to think we have free will, and indeed we do, but more often than not we act blindly from conditioned belief and habit. This is reaction, not action. The 2 of swords appropriately conveys this double-edged message: on one edge, do not act blindly; on the other, weigh your actions objectively and be blind to both preference and prejudice.
But the message runs deeper than that: where does true choice sit?
From where can one act without reactivity?
What conditions our responses and removes free will?
The answer to all three questions is our own interior world. The two of swords is either blinded by her choices, or has chosen to blind herself of external influences so that she can navigate her interior world before making a decision.
True choice—or rather, decision—comes from a place of clear knowing. This is what Krishnamurti actually called “choiceless awareness”. That is, although there may be 2 or more choices in front of you, living in choiceless awareness automatically negates those choices because you *know* what to do, leaving only one course of action.
But what about reactivity? How is choiceless awareness different from the choiceless response of our conditioned behaviour? When we act out of reactivity, this can often *feel* like the only course of action, the only *right* way to act. But is it?
The answer is within your body. It exists in your body’s sensations and your reactions to those sensations; how you manage those sensations. When you are faced with choice, with a challenging situation, what are the sensations in your body, and what is your capacity to truly feel that set of sensations? The greater your capacity to rest with sensation—without suppression or release—the lesser your likelihood to act out reactivity and conditioned habit. This requires you to sit, rest, and check in with your interior world. The sooner thought or action arises, the more likely it is to be reactive—an attempt to detract from the body’s sensations, the body’s intelligence.
It’s not only that we suppress bad sensations, the painful ones, but also the good ones! Joy is such a powerful sensation, it’s really difficult to feel in its entirety! Most of us don’t have the capacity for such intense sensations, and so we block them. Often, after we’ve developed the habit of blocking intense, but positive sensations, we start seeking more measured sensations to remind us we’re alive. Unfortunately, pain is a sensation that is typically easier to measure out than joy, happiness, or love—these are expansive in nature, and so they can become overwhelming quickly, and that’s often scarier than restrictive sensations that, although they hurt, can be controlled.
At the same time, those who freely express love, joy, and happiness, sometimes don’t fully feel the body sensations first, and so that expression, which is great for everyone around, is also a deflection of overwhelming sensation. Nothing wrong with that, in theory, but it doesn’t develop the capacity to contain and feel sensation as a whole… so when “bad” sensations arise, they may not have the tools to manage them, and either express negative emotions as freely (to the detriment of those around them) or interiorize, suppress the sensations and emotion to maintain the image of a joyful person… this can then lead to anxiety, panic, and autoimmune disorders.
Feel first, and act not out of reaction.
When choiceless awareness arises, the decision is clear. It cuts through thought, it cuts through the situation, it cuts through bias and conditioning—and as such, it cuts through karma. I may go into karma more at a later date with the Wheel, but simply, the karmic effects of an action are directly proportionate to the reactive nature of it. In other words, act out of reaction, out of conditioned response, and expect the karmic effects to unfold… no matter how good your intention. Act out of choiceless awareness, and the karmic effects are minimal because the action is clean.
More often, however, we are uncomfortable with our body’s sensations, and we seek to minimize those sensations in one way or another. Commonly, those methods are: discursive thought, suppression, and discharge. For instance, when I see an injustice, my natural reaction is to either ignore it (suppression), rationalize it (discursive thought), or discharge (fight with someone, yell, argue, tell people how wrong it is, etc). All of these methods reduce the necessity for me to feel the ache in the pit of my stomach caused by the injustice. But, in acknowledging and truly FEELING that sensation and others that accompany it, clarity comes.
If clarity lacks, I must sit: swords in hand, ready to act, but blind until clarity is revealed.
Image courtesy of Alice Smeets, more about her work and this project here
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