For most of us there is usually some agenda operating in the psyche. By agenda I mean something like that there is a sense of something I need to do in order to protect something that is important to me. We are so used to operating from agendas that we don’t see them as such. And yet sometimes there’s the feeling that something is pushing me or bugging me, something that won’t quite let go. Or there is a noticing that the mind is going around and around in the same thoughts, exhausting itself but not quitting. There can also be the feeling of just being exhausted and wanting to give up but not knowing what it is that has been driving me or what I’m so disappointed in not being able to get.
Even in quiet moments of reading, watching a movie, “hanging out” there is much of the time the buzz of random agendas checking in, thoughts running unheard in the back of the mind while the consciousness is distracted. I’m also thinking of dialogue, in which we are hoping to shed light for each other but most of the time what we hear and say reflects unseen agendas, such as wanting to be accepted in the group, not wanting to sound stupid, wanting to reinforce a belief that there is some spiritual activity we can do to become better meditators, wanting to maintain a certain feeling of equanimity and not fall into confusion or anxiety, and so on and so on.
Very occassionally, perhaps very rarely, there is a giving up of all the agendas, a dying to them. This may happen in the presence of something overwhelmingly beautiful. It may also happen in dark despair when there is no hope left and hope dies away, and with it all agenda. As little children we fell into this state often, naturally, because dropping of the filters of agenda allows the beautiful world to be seen, felt, experienced, lived. So the person coming across something amazingly beautiful lets go of all the enclosing agendas and opens totally in order to drink in what is all around them. Similarly, the person in dark despair who finds all agenda, all hope, dropping away, suddenly finds that they are the whole world. When agenda is gone, everything is here but we have lost the ability to live this way. This latter happened to Eckhart Tolle. On the brink of suicide all agenda dropped away and he found himself amazingly and mysteriously alive and boundless.
We long for this faintly remembered existence of undivided aliveness and yet we deeply trust the concepts and assumptions of our agendas, which are numberless. And so through our agendas we try to find a way out of agenda. A person may believe deeply that personal hard work is the key to everything and so they apply this to spiritual work by working very hard at their meditation. Another person may believe that the most important thing is certain feelings of happiness and so they avoid all experiences that might diminish their feeling of calm or peace.
With careful listening and talking together and a great deal of time devoted to extended meditative time, we might begin to discover agendas in ourselves and not be fooled by them. Agendas are not “bad”. They just operate darkly so that there is no intelligence guiding when the agenda needs to function and when it is getting in the way.
When we become interested in discovering these agendas in ourselves, Presence is already operating. I have to take at least a small step back away from an agenda for it to become visible. In fact it is always Presence that is operating because there is nothing else. But one aspect of this undivided energy of life is the ability to create a sense of a divided inner world and this strange energy blocks out the direct experiencing of what we are. This “inner world” thinking makes the mind operate in a strange, enclosed mode such that the mind does not want to be seen. It wants to hide itself. Such a mind operates darkly, suspciously or naively, in a confused way, trying to impose patterns onto a world that has nothing to do with those patterns. Such a mind is opaque to insight, thick to anything new, largely unable to perceive the feelings of others correctly or sometimes even to understand that others have feelings. Of course things are not always as dark as this for us, fortunately. We often work at being loving, caring, understanding, intelligent. But interestingly this is usually experienced as effort, feeling as though love stands in opposition to something else.
At the same time, this kind of thinking affects the body and nervous system, making the body feel tight and conflicted, as though it were battling itself. It ties up the arms and legs, the gut, the eyes, so that we walk and talk and move in increasingly crippled ways as we get older. Eckhart Tolle refers to this as the pain body.
But in a moment when all agenda has let up its grip and the mind is dwelling in Presence, this strange, non-productive mind and body drop away as well, and there is a feeling of freedom and naturalness in the body and the mind operates with an all encompassing love and intelligence because it sees everything as not separate from what it is. This is effortless compassion and effortless intelligence. It is a different mind and a different body.
We can’t monitor whether or not we’re being agendaless. Monitoring is an agenda and requires the mind dividing itself into an evaluator and the evaluated. So it’s a relief to stop monitoring whether we’re in Presence. We can, though, become interested in noticing our agendas – how much fear we have around being seen in certain ways, how much anxiety we have about ourselves, how tight we become in trying to attain our professional goals or establish a safe-feeling environment, how little we’re able to hear the human difficulties expressed by people around us. Presence actually opens in us by surprise. When there is interest and I really feel that it is more important to get in touch with what a jerk I’ve been than to make myself look like I’ve got it together, then I’ve dropped agenda (protecting myself) in favor of simple Truth. That is effortless.
As agenda after agenda becomes exposed, it probably becomes easier and easier for concern about ourselves to die away so that this simple moment here – regardless of what is revealed in it – can shine. In such moments this different body and mind operate naturally, easily, effortlessly, in vast space, not belonging to anyone at all.
As always, these comments are meant to invite your response, disagreement, inquiry.