I’ve spent a lot of time in contemplation in my life. I tend to be logical, analytical, and quantitative. That’s just the way I am. This often puts me at odds with the spiritual, and yet, counterintuitively to my logical side, more and more it leads me to spiritual considerations.
There is an order to the universe that is humanly impossibly to understand. I think the best we can do is to feel it in our heart or gut, yet that probably doesn’t quite do it justice. Pick up a bible or a scientific text on cosmology and this much will become clear.
Even what appears random has order, causes, reasons. It may not be apparent to us, but it’s there, a creative force powering what exists. Some believe this order, this intelligence if you will, is God, or evidence or God, and others believe it exists independent of God. I’m not sure it’s important to make that distinction, or at least it’s not important for me to suggest one way or another to you. I think you are fully capable of arriving at your own conclusion, but I do want to point out something that must be true both logically and spiritually.
Despite what we were taught, our minds do not operate on a stimulus——>response basis. That’s the way it appears to our conscious mind, but that isn’t the way it works. Neuroscience is very clear on this. Our minds and their supporting structure – the brain – create hundreds and thousands of possibilities each second, trying to predict how to operate our bodies in the world around us. The subconscious workings of our minds match sensory input, such as sights, sounds, and touch, to these predictions, and we become aware of the best fits. It all happens before we become aware of it.
Sometimes we are right-ish about what bubbles up in awareness, like when we realize we must jam on the brakes to avoid hitting a suddenly stopped vehicle in front of us. Other times we are wrong-ish about our awareness, like when we startle over a stick in the brush that we mistakenly perceived as a snake or when we mistakenly interpret someone’s quiet contemplation as anger pointed at us. In any case, our brain has already moved forward before we are aware of it, actively predicting how to respond to hundreds and thousands of possible new sensory inputs.
Our conscious awareness was already created for us in the subconscious working of our mind. Even the choices we believe we make consciously, such as choosing between chocolate or vanilla ice cream, appear in our subconscious mind before we become aware of them. And it’s not just the choices that appear in our subconscious before we make a decision. The resulting decision is present in the subconscious mind before we are aware of it. Our conscious steering of awareness and choice is an illusion.
I really don’t want to confuse the hell out of you. It’s really hard to understand this stuff and get around in the world as a conscious being. After all, if you follow this logically, it calls into question whether or not we have free will. In a sense we do, in a sense we don’t. We are creative, influential beings, yet our creativity is limited to what occurs to us out of the workings of our subconscious. To be logical and scientific about it, believing we have free will over our minds is like a prisoner believing he has free will because the warden offers him a choice of chicken or fish for dinner. We are puppets to what our minds do on a subconscious level whether we realize it or not. That’s not easy to comprehend. So let me see if I can make some sense of it and help you get around in the world.
This lack of free will may feel a bit familiar to the spiritually oriented. God’s intelligence intervenes or guides in ways we will never truly understand. Perhaps it shapes events, thoughts, feelings, or actions. When we accept that, we gain peace.
To the scientifically oriented, we may have a little more trouble with it because it bucks what seems to make sense, but if we are truly being scientific, we follow the evidence. In this case, the evidence points to our lack of control. We simply do not have a definitive conscious handle on our thoughts, feelings, and actions even if it seems as if we do.
This lack of control can be uncomfortable for a moment. After all, I want control over my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I want control over healing my wife’s cancer. I want control over my daughter’s health and safety. Understanding I don’t have control can feel terrifying, yet when I let that understanding settle, a gratitude sets in. You see, despite my lack of control, there is an order of things that allows me to become aware of certain things in my life that I can only describe as blessings or miracles. These things include the love of family and friends, our general health and strength, the beauty I sense from nature, even the feeling of excitement I receive from football season around the corner. I can come up with thousands of these blessings. The miraculous is found in the common, and that seems pretty cool to me.
Yet even the term me is thrown into question. I am always tempted to perceive this awareness as an individual mind (substitute soul for mind if you prefer). When I do so, I eventually encounter a sign from within or without that points out that I am not truly a lone individual. In other words, I am not truly alone. Everyone and everything is connected. My path in life is not a solo trek. It is a trip influenced by everyone and everything around me. I’m like a wave in an ocean. A spoke on a wheel. Interconnected and inseparable.
This understanding creates meaning for me that unites the spiritual with the logical. When we learn to dance in rhythm with this order rather than trying to pin it down and elicit an answer to our constant questioning, “Why me?!” life gets a little easier. When we understand our connection with others and the world, we begin to roll with life rather than crashing against it.
There is a cause and order of things that I cannot truly be aware of, certainly not as it occurs in real time. My individual perspective is an illusion in that I am intimately connected with this order (I cannot be separated from it and it cannot be separated from me). Despite my lack of control and occasional disagreement, I find love and beauty in this order. I do what I can.
The best analogy I can come up with is that I am an artist. I do not have say over the medium I work in or even much of my skill. These were set up for me by the order and intelligence of the universe that I don’t understand. Yet I am capable of creating something with what I am given, and what I create mingles with all the other creations of the world. If that’s control to you, so be it. To me, I have no need to pat myself on the back for having control. Having the experience is enough, and the experience isn’t really my choosing even if it seems as if it is. It’s my blessing.
That’s as simple and as complex as it needs to be. Everything does happen for a reason. There is an underlying cause and connection for everything. If one sees God in this, that’s cool. If one simply sees physical cause and effect connection in this, that’s cool too. The understanding of connection is the important thing. If this post does one thing for you, I hope it is to plant the idea of connection in your mind so that your subconscious possibilities begin to process connection as part of their predictions for your place in the world around you.
I hope this makes sense and finds you and yours connected in beautiful ways. Have a great day. Do what you can.