Frame 1 and Frame 2: Liberation and Navigation

There are a pair of distinctions I want to offer, which I call “Frame 1” and “Frame 2.” These are different perspectives for observing life. They present different views of who we are, of causality and responsibility, and of time. I think they can resolve a great deal of confusion and suffering.

To put them simply:

Frame 1 liberates us from suffering.

Frame 2 enables us to navigate life.

The more familiar perspective is Frame 2, which is the frame of (apparent) free will. In it, we see ourselves and others as having agency, as being individuals responsible for our actions. We talk about making choices. We communicate with others as responsible individuals. We make requests. We make promises. We make decisions. We understand that others count on what we say, and that trust is essential. We take past and future as givens: we reflect on the past and make plans for the future.

Frame 1 is much less familiar. In Frame 1, there is no free will. In Frame 1 neither we nor anyone else has agency: we do not act intentionally. Instead, we recognize that people respond to the moment in the only way they could based on their background, perceptions, and understandings of the moment. In Frame 1, it makes sense to talk about people as systems: the systems respond moment to moment in the only way that they can. No one is to blame. And no one gets credit.

Traditions involving enlightenment often discuss life from a Frame 1 perspective. From Frame 1, the only time is now. Nothing can be different than it is. There are no separate individuals. All there is, is the flow of reality. Nothing is, or could be, wrong. All is whole and complete, exactly as it is.

Frame 1 is numbered such because it represents the view of life as an unfolding unity. Oneness. Frame 2 is the perspective of duality—twoness—the duality between subject and object, the duality between self and others.

Which frame is true? Both are. They are different frames for observing life and each has value. In Frame 2, we navigate life. In Frame 1, we achieve liberation.

If we live only in Frame 2, we can easily become trapped in suffering. We can think about events in the past and feel great guilt for things we did. We can feel victimized by others or life. We can feel anxiety or fear about the future. We can compare ourselves to others and feel self-invalidation or envy.

In Frame 1, none of those reactions are possible. We recognize that life could not have happened other than it did, therefore regret or victimhood makes no sense. We recognize that life will happen as it will, therefore fear for what might happen makes no sense. Any comparison to others, as though they or you could have done anything differently, makes no sense. In Frame 1, suffering dissolves.

In Frame 2, we navigate life. We talk about the past. We make plans for the future. We assess our performance against others. These actions are completely sensible in Frame 2. Indeed, we need to operate in Frame 2 if we are going to live with others.

In Frame 2, we learn. Our system is capable of developing new patterns until death. In Frame 2, if we understand ourselves as a system composed of patterns, we can assess the patterns and take action to change them.

If we assess we did something in the past that we regret, there is a healthy Frame 2 response: make amends to whomever we hurt and learn from what we did. The unhealthy Frame 2 response would be to fall into a belief about ourselves as a result of what we did: “I’m really a bad person.” From Frame 1, we know we cannot have done other, so there is no basis for guilt or self-denigration.

In this way, Frame 1 is the frame of forgiveness. No one did anything—the worst criminal act was done without volition. We can forgive everyone, including and especially ourselves, of our transgressions. It is the frame of unconditional love. There is only Being.

Wisdom, in this account, is being able to stay grounded in Frame 1 while participating fully in life through Frame 2. Wisdom is being able to view what we did in the past as an opportunity for learning, while knowing nothing could have been different. Wisdom is engaging fully in making (seemingly) important choices about the future, while knowing that nothing can be other than it will be. Wisdom is appreciating others’ actions, or condemning them, while knowing they could have done no other. Wisdom is being grounded in love and wholeness, while engaging with everyday living however it shows up.

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