On repentance and Upheka

Upheka, if we practice it, creates a measure of freedom from past determinations. If collectively practiced, it might lead to a world of greater freedom. Repentance says, I do not want my future to be determined by my past. It is a narrative re-writing of the past in a present that connects to God – in hope that the future can bring absolute consolation. It comes with an overflow of emotion. Upheka meditation, in the same way, is a detachment from the past, an appeal to take actions today that, by their own weight, will lead to positive consequences. It is anchored in the present, finding its boundless possibilities.

In a complex system, the consequences of our action are radically uncertain. Calculated efforts to control outcomes might have severe unintended consequences. Therefore, holding on to firm values becomes a better way to lead our lives. I was invited to write about my biggest fear for the future at a leadership retreat that I joined a few weeks ago. I realised that, after three years working on global catastrophic risk, I no longer feared the material collapse of civilisation itself, the deaths of billions, resource exhaustion. My fear had gone deeper, touching on the moral and spiritual consequence. Should we try to stop climate change, or reduce its effects – certainly we should. But there is another task ahead: when the consequences come, how will we live then?

On repentance and equanimity

Repentance, if we practice enough, can liberate us from the burden of past determinations. It says, I do not want my future to be determined by my past – and believe I can get rid of whatever ruts are currently there in my life. It comes with tears, melting the solid shape of our individual past: in the moment of repentance, we are fully present with God – that is, with everything that is. New connections can be made then, and a different trajectory becomes possible.

The same is true of Upheka meditation, or the practice of equanimity: it is a deliberate detachment from the past, an appeal to take actions today that, on their own impetus, will lead to positive consequences.