August 3, 2012

No Free Will?

(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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