The title of this blog post, though a statement, actually is a proposition, a hypothesis, a possibility. It fits with a heck of a lot of spiritual teachings, and it fits with a heck of a lot of scientific teachings.
I've been pondering the source of my actions, thoughts, and feelings more intensely now that I'm reading Joan Tollifson's provocative book, Nothing to Grasp. She's a spiritual teacher and writer, with a background in Zen.
But below I'll share some passages from her book that are closely akin to a central message in biologist Robert Sapolsky's book, Determined, where he expertly demolishes arguments in favor of free will from a scientific perspective.
Sapolsky considers, with good reason, that our behavior today flows from influences acting on us seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, centuries, and even longer ago -- potentially going all the way back to the big bang some 14 billion years ago.
So it isn't crazy, from either a spiritual or scientific perspective, to say that what we do, think, and feel comes not from us, but the cosmos.
I find this to be an uplifting and optimistic point of view. It's something that not only appeals to me, but also something that reflects how I am. More and more, I don't worry as much as I used to about whether I'm doing the right thing, making correct choices, being a good person.
I feel that my intentions are just the tip of an iceberg of influences acting upon me that is much vaster that my conscious awareness. I'm increasingly comfortable with not planning my life in any sort of detail, since whatever will arise in my future is only slightly of my own doing, and much more in the hands of forces much larger than me.
This is closely related to a sense of no-self. For the more I feel like an isolated individual with a well-defined identity who necessarily has to make his own way in the world, the more pressure I feel to have that way turn out well.
On the other hand, when I relax into a sense of being a minute piece of the unimaginably vast machinery of the cosmos, that pressure and stress is considerably diminished. That's why I enjoyed reading these passages in Tollifson's Nothing to Grasp.
If we look closely, we discover that thinking happens by itself. Waking up from thoughts and fantasies happens by itself. Paying attention happens by itself. Making decisions happens by itself. Even what appears to be deliberate, premeditated, intentional action happens by itself.
Thoughts arise, impulses arise, interests arise, action arises. Everything is one whole movement -- the clouds, the street traffic, the thoughts, the blood flow, the galaxies deep in outer space, the infinite subatomic universes on the head of a pin -- all of it is one undivided choiceless happening.
There is no actor apart from the action, no doer apart from the deed, no thinker apart from the thought, no "awarer" apart from awareness.
There is a functional identification with a particular form, a thought-sense of identity and location that coalesces and appears intermittently as needed (and sometimes dysfunctionally, when not really needed).
...As Jane Doe, you appear to think things through, make choices and perform actions. That appearance is part of the functioning of life. You know whose name to answer to, which mouth to put the food in, how to cut the carrot and not your finger.
If you had no functional sense of identity as Jane Doe, none of this would be possible. But this functional sense of identity, which appears intermittently as needed, is not the problem. The problem -- the source of our human suffering -- is overlooking the bigger picture, the context in which this functional identification is occurring.
We suffer because we imagine that we really are Jane Doe and nothing but Jane Doe, that what "I" truly am is a discrete unit of consciousness located inside a perishable and vulnerable body, located on one side of the room and not the other, struggling to survive as this separate fragment.
We overlook our true identity as the awake space that is beholding and being both Jane Doe and Tom Brown and the entire universe, the seamlessness from which nothing stands apart, the unborn and indestructible boundlessness that is our True Nature.
...This mirage-like appearance of being a separate person is, in fact, absent much of the time in ordinary, everyday life.
For example, as one is absorbed in reading a good novel, or driving down the freeway, or washing the dishes, whenever there is no thought-story about "me" playing in the mind, there is simply the happening of the moment: pages turning and the plot-story of the novel unfolding in the imagination, or cars and landscapes rushing past on the freeway, or soapy water sliding over dishes -- sounds, sensations, movements of the bodymind all happening effortlessly.
The "me" shows up only with the arising of a thought that posits a subject, for example, "I need to wash these dishes more quickly," or "I don't think I really understand the meaning of this novel." Prior to those thoughts, there was no "me" in the picture, but this me-less experience in between thoughts is so ordinary that it is easily overlooked.