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I recently got that question while teaching a retreat.

I answered no.

I don't believe in free will. So how could I believe that meditation is for everyone? Since we don't really get to choose whether to be convinced of its benefits or not.

Just because I don't believe in free will doesn't mean that I believe that everything's already been written in the stars, and that, therefore, we can just sit back and relax, because everything that is destined for us, or that we are destined for, will happen regardless.

Not believing in free is a hard pill to swallow. I get it.

Because it very much feels like we're making decisions. It feels like I chose to drink a cup of coffee this morning, and that I could just as well have chosen to drink a cup of tea, or a glass of apple juice instead.

It seems that if we handled a situation poorly, it was our fault, and that we could have handled it better.


When I look into my own mind I recognize (quite easily) that thoughts merely appear and disappear. I have no control over them. I don't author them. They are not located anywhere. They just come and go. So at some point a thought came into 'my' mind and convinced 'me' to have a cup of coffee. Another thought (or impulse) made me pour out the last of the cup because I could feel that the caffeine was making 'me' edgy and my stomach upset.

The first time someone told me about a 10-day silent meditation retreat -- it was back in the early aughts -- it sounded like absolute madness to me. Why would someone subject themselves to something like that?

Why was that my response? My response came out of the the giant web of causes and conditions that we're all embedded in. My response was the result of everything that had ever happened to me before. Everything my parents taught me, everything society and my culture taught me. It was the result of the weather that day, what I had eaten, whether I'd had an unpleasant or pleasant interaction with someone before.

And how come I eventually changed my mind? Well, I changed my mind due to the same giant web of causes and conditions.

I changed my mind because I had the good fortune of being exposed to the practices of meditation by a teacher who through their skill at transmitting the teachings managed to convince me that going on a 10-day Vipassana would do me good.

And it did.

We are not separate entities, we are not independent agents that can operate outside this web of causes and conditions. I think that's clear to see. Different countries' cultures and values and beauty ideals vary. Fashion trends are real. A jean cut we previously thought ugly, we'll often change our mind about when we've been 'convinced' by people around us, by fashion magazines and billboards that this cut actually is nice.

If we live near a lake and hang around people who love fishing, chances are much greater that we'll also get into fishing than if we lived in a land-locked place and none of our friends fished.

This is why it matters who we surround ourselves with.

This is why presenting good arguments matter.

This is also why, if you're not convinced that meditation is a worthwhile thing, something that greatly could affect the quality of your life (for the better) you're kind of off the hook.

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