How a To Do list can reveal the hidden nature of reality

I've found that one of the most useful things I've come to understand through insight meditation over the past few years is how most of the time we aren't interacting with our life as it is, but rather we interact with a series of emotional force fields that lay over aspects of our life.

It's usually quite early on that we realise we don't perceive physical reality, but rather we perceive a model of reality produced by the our limited senses and brain processing. Distortions are inevitable, and the Truth unobtainable. This may induce a brief existential crisis, but then we can settle down into accepting the fact that our senses and mind produce a 'good enough' model of reality, and we can largely forget that what we think is there may differ from what is actually there.

The emotional equivalent of this is more rarely considered. When we think about our life – by which I mean events in it, people in it, things we have to get done, plans or ambitions we may have – we aren't seeing it rationally. Rather everything we consider is layered over with emotion – preconceptions, fears, guilt, obligation, ego-expectation, a whole mess of complex feelings.

A great way of demonstrating this to yourself is to look at a To Do list that you've created. Read through it item by item. If you're anything like me you'll have an experience like "1. Phone garage. 2. Find a new GP. 3. Mumble-Mumble. 4. Supermarket shop." Frequently, very frequently in my experience, there will be something on the To Do list, perhaps several things, that your mind skips over. Sometimes your eyes will jump directly over them, you won't even read what's written there. It's like there's a tiny force-field protecting your mind from interacting with a particular concept.

That force-field is there because something about that required action or activity makes you uneasy. It might 'give you the fear', or have a weight of guilt associated with it. You might have made an assumption that this act will inevitably lead to an uncomfortable conversation or situation, or some other discomfort you don't want to think about.

Each item on the list might physically have the same weight to them – might not require any different physical act (e.g. it's another 'make a phone call, ask a question') but this particular act has a quality to it that makes it difficult or uncomfortable. In fact, if you look carefully you may find that each and every item on your To Do list has a different emotional field around it – some gently push, some push hard, some may even pull, drawing you in to get on with them right now… and you'll find yourself prioritising that activity over the others… even if the others are, logically, more urgent.

Decision making processes for what to do next are often emotionally driven. And processes that 'feel bad' will often be ignored, denied, or 'forgotten'. This is the classic 'I'll just do some tidying up before writing this important email' issue. But by starting to look at those emotional fields, but starting to really notice them, something else begins to emerge…

Its not that items on a To Do lists are tricky. It's that our whole life has the same quality. Every concept that our life contains – career, relationship, place, person, fantasy, desire, plan, hope, activity – has an emotional field around it. Some pull us in, some push us away. Some hide things, some make things far more prominent than is logical. And just as with a To Do list we don't make choices in our life based on simply what's logical – we don't choose 'this is the best thing for me' or 'this is what will make me happy' or 'this is what will fulfil me' or 'this is the next step towards making my dream come true'. We get pushed around by little emotional force-fields – sometimes able to make the best decision for us, but too often blinded to the fact that the best decision is even exists, because it's behind a force-field we can't see through.

I said this had become apparent during insight meditation because… because sometimes the right insight will make those force-fields vanish. Switch off completely. Suddenly you can see your life exactly as it is, rather than through a haze of emotional filters. Decision become clear and obvious. Self-sabotage ceases. Procrastination goes away. Lives change.

I highly recommend it as an experience. I'll try and write about how I got there (if only all too briefly).

One Response to "How a To Do list can reveal the hidden nature of reality"

  1. autumn says:

    Have you been able to keep it off? I've only been able to shut it off while meditating, but once I open my eyes, it isn't long before it "wares" off. I think it might be a matter of practice over time. Love this article!

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