No Free Will?

Via John Dalton
on Aug 3, 2012
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(Photo: Jason Antony)

I came across this talk by Sam Harris the other day.

Once I got past the schmaltzy introduction and Sam’s smarty-pants style of delivery, I found it refreshing and encouraging.

Refreshing, because I wasn’t expecting something that rang with truth from Sam. Not that I’d ever heard of him before but within minutes it was obvious that he was from the atheists-in-your-face crew who love Richard Dawkins and hate Deepak Chopra. Okay, hate is probably too strong a word, let’s say patronize with extreme prejudice. Sam’s talk was encouraging because it pulsed with the sort of practical compassion I find very moving.

It’s a long video (an hour and 18 minutes) so I’ll highlight some of the main points:

“Thoughts and intentions simply arise in the mind. If you can’t control your next thought and you don’t know what it’s going to be until it arises, where is your freedom of will?”

Your genes and environment cause you to make the choices you do—not you.

“You can’t take credit for your talents, but it matters that you use them. You can’t really be blamed for your weaknesses but it matters that you correct them.”

As a corollary, about six months ago I was in the middle of meditating when something arose in me. I keep a pad and paper close to hand when I meditate because usually the sorts of things that arise in me are to do with putting the cat out or an email I simply must send. My mind will latch onto these sorts of things and will keep “arising,” so rather than make the focus of my meditation dropping these thoughts, I write them down and get back to the mystery.

What arose in me this day was different and when I watched Sam’s video I was immediately reminded of it.  Here’s what I wrote.

I am not my money.

I am not my debts.

I am not my work.

I am not where I live.

I am not my wife.

I am not my child.

I am not my friends.

I am not my recognition.

I am not the things I create.

I am not my achievements.

I am not my talents.

I am not my body.

I am not my life.

I am not my pain.

I am not my joy.

I am not my past.

I am not my future.

I am not my experience.

The bit that Sam leaves out, the most important bit and the hardest to talk about is the presence these thought arise into.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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About John Dalton

Born in the craggy foothills of suburban Dublin John Dalton staggered along the spiritual path until he got himself enlightened in 1996. Deciding against a career as a celebrity guru he became a cranio sacral therapist instead. His first book Why Do We Get Sick? Why Do We Get Better? A Wellness Detective Manual is an undo-it-yourself book for sickness and unhappiness and is popular with people of all ages. His latest book Maya Noise describes what happens after enlightenment and what it's like to live an ordinary life with extraordinary knowledge. It reads like The Power of Now meets Pulp fiction and has become a firm favorite with spiritual teachers and gurus the world over. Passionate about cranio sacral therapy he oversees a project called Open Source Cranio which aims to provide free online cranio sacral training resources for people in developing countries. He lives in Dublin, Ireland with his wife and smiles a lot when cycling. You can see all of his Elephant Journal articles here. He also tweets and has recently discovered talking about himself in the third person is disturbingly easy.


2 Responses to “No Free Will?”

  1. Thanks for posting this, John. Interesting perspective.

    Posted to facebook and homepages.

    Bob W. Associate Publisher
    Enjoy Best of elephant journal