I can of Myself do nothing
The Bible; New King James Version
We cling so firmly to the idea of free will and choice because the thought of not steering our own ship terrifies us. Without the freedom to choose, without a sense of agency and control we fear we’d veer wildly into the abyss or find ourselves dashed on the rocks in the next storm that comes along.
It sounds contradictory but one of the most profoundly liberating discoveries down the rabbit hole of spiritual inquiry or a realisation that may come through meditation or quiet contemplation is the discovery that ultimately, I have no control over anything and that in essence I can own nothing.
It’s not conceptually difficult to conclude that if there is no self to be found then the question of control or ownership appears settled; no self equals no control and no ownership. Game over so it would seem.
And in one sense, yes the game is over. The game of seriously and earnestly investing every event, experience, sensation or narrative with a sense of self. But as many have found, after such discoveries as ‘there is no me anywhere here’ or ‘all is one and I am that’, the game of life blessedly continues and so we play along with the illusion of being in control, making choices and owning this or that.
To know however that it is ultimately a game and that in reality, I can control nothing and own nothing is to live in sheer wonder at the genius and never ending creativity of life itself.
I may play along with the illusion that I can control the flow of money into my bank account or that I can choose to be a better person, to improve my lot in life, to choose to help those less fortunate or create a better world, to vote for this party or that one but when I truly stop to look, it’s a simple fact of observation that I find no chooser, I find no actual centre of agency making decisions and taking one path over another.
What I do find though is the game of choice and free will being played and so the freedom for all of that to happen is there. That’s to say I find the thought and idea of choice, the words and concepts surrounding decision making, the discourse the images, pictures, sensations and feelings that all dance in the game of one who appears to be in control.
For some, the language around the absence of a solid separate self simply serves to confuse matters since after recognising that a separate self cannot be found the game of self-hood naturally continues and personality often flourishes more fully. It’s a complete paradox and a vexation to the reasoning mind.
And yes, there may be no me at the centre but that does not mean that passion does not flow, that anger does not rage or desire does not burn. Life dances even more freely and sometimes more wildly than before, where much of the juice and pith of being alive was tempered, regulated and monitored by a conditioned sense of what was and wasn’t permitted.
So, while one might realise that there is no me in here after all, it’s still necessary to answer to ones name, embrace personal pronouns and refer to ones relative experiences in order to participate in everyday life and to be understood by most other people. It’s a complete paradox (and very much a divine one) that while I may not be able to find a separate solid me anywhere in my experience, I still might prefer tea over coffee or choose to help those in need or work to bring money into my bank account and pay bills to heat my home.
And there you have it. The game of me and mine is played but no longer is it with such dread and grave demeanour. It’s not as frivolous as a game of monopoly (though sometimes it might be) and plenty of games can be taken deadly seriously, but ultimately it is played with a sense freedom and security that wasn’t really there before.
Nothing can harm, destroy, mark or mar the infinite. Discovering that it is not I that chooses, not I that owns, not I that steers this ship through waters calm or stormy is to wake up and know that it is life itself sailing, life itself as the water, life itself the ship, cargo and passengers.