Life: How To Live It


Now that we’ve realized that ‘free will’ is basically an incoherent concept, it’s time to align our experience and thinking with this new way of looking at the world. After all, to have realizations and to reach a new understanding about life is pointless unless these are put to practice and turned into a living reality.

In other words, it’s time to change the way I think and reflect upon what I do.

Rewriting the way we think about choosing

Where I had previously thought in terms of “I willed myself to do it,” or simply “I did it,” I must now, in the light of the no-free-will insight, look at an action as if I was moved to do it.

For this new way of regarding—or conceptualizing—our actions is far more in line with what’s actually going on. Of course, I wouldn’t go around and say stuff like that to people. I wouldn’t say “I was moved to pass you the salt” – even though I consider that a far more accurate description of what’s actually going on. It’s just a more correct way of thinking about what’s really happening.

Phenomenally, nothing is different. One’s direct experience of choosing is exactly the same. But the narrative has changed. No longer is the phenomenal sense of choosing coupled with the notion of “I choose to do this,” but is instead regarded as if one is moved to action – and eventually this new way of thinking also starts to shift the way choosing feels. Changing the way we conceptualize the feeling of choosing actually starts to shift the sense of agency from an I-entity as a doer, to a feeling that one is instead moved by the hands of the totality.

Now, let’s break this down into more detail.


The phenomenal aspect of our personal will is the intention-thought. That is, all actions where it feels as if one is the doer are always preceded by an intention.

Where there’s first an intention and then an action, the feeling is that we’re doing something – whereas when there’s no intention-thought preceding the action—when there’s just a spontaneous action—we tend to consider that movement automatic, or involuntary.

In terms of what it feels like, an intention-thought is a like a mental force, or mind-movement, that makes up the very sense of being a doer.

But much of this sense comes from the fact of how we conceptualize and think of it. And since intentions aren’t really ‘intentions’—that is, since we’ve now abandoned the belief in ‘free will’, we can no longer justifiably call intentions ‘intentions’ anymore, since that word implies the presence of a free-acting agent, a concept we now realize to be nonsensical—we must now call that phenomenal aspect of our will something different. Something more in alignment with our understanding. Something that accurately reflects what’s actually going on.

An inclination of the universe.

An impulse of the totality.

By ceasing to regard that phenomenal aspect as ‘intention’ and starting to think of it as an-impulse-of-the-totality instead, we can slowly begin to escape the connotations that give rise to the sense of being a doer.


Towards a better way to live life

It’s entirely possible to live and act in this world completely without intentions altogether.

That phenomenal aspect that precede every conscious action? We don’t need it.

This is the true meaning of the word surrender.

This is what it means to “release the tiller.”

To relax, and let the universe do the driving.

We don’t need intentions. We just think we do – it’s just so hard to imagine otherwise. I mean, what can be more obvious than the fact that if I want to pick up my keys, I need to will myself to do it. Right?

But realize how ridiculously many actions you perform every day that aren’t preceded by an intention. For instance, when taking a stroll, I’m not using the force of my willpower to put my left foot in front of my right – no, walking simply happens all by itself – without any need for ‘intentions.’ And consider the multitude of involuntary hand and arm movements that happen all the time—we’re incessantly scratching and touching ourselves all over—without any preceding intentions. It’s all spontaneous involuntary action. It’s effortless doing without the sense of being a doer.

So, try this out: The next time you’re at the point of making a conscious decision, simply don’t. For instance, let’s say you’re out walking and you’re at a point where you can either choose to go left or right.

“Shall I go left or right?” You think. But then allow yourself to answer a mere “I don’t know,” and then wait. Don’t make a choice.

Eventually you will simply start walking, left or right – spontaneously, without any intention/doing or effort – even if it takes you two hours before anything happens and you’re just standing there like an idiot.

Or sit down on a sofa and decide to not do anything by intention. When an intention arises, simply ignore it; and instead wait and see how long it takes before your body does something entirely spontaneous, effortless, and completely automagical, without any involvement of intention. It probably won’t take very long.

It’s entirely possible to always act and live in this way; to abandon intentions completely; simply live without them – always waiting to see what happens next. But getting there is a gradual transition. To go from intention-based doing to intentionless spontaneous living takes some time.

As you see in realtime that everything is unfolding perfectly fine without intentions, you begin to realize that you don’t have to worry about the future – because you now know, you have faith, that everything will be taken care of exactly as it should, when it should, by an intentionless unfolding of the totality.

By doing these experiments one can gradually grow this faith; to develop a knowing that everything is being taken care of, and that ‘I’ don’t need to have a hand in the game for it to be running. As faith develops, more and more of these intentions can be let go and instead allow for life to express a smooth and effortless living without any ego-obstruction.

Faith isn’t something that you can convince yourself to have. It’s something that you have to slowly acquire by seeing in realtime that everything is working out all by itself. But the whole thing does require an initial leap. A simple step out of the way so that life can begin flowing, smoothly and effortlessly, now that you aren’t always obstructing the current.

Further reading:

33 Responses to Life: How To Live It

  1. Nancy Sutton says:

    Holy Mackerel!! Are ALL of the wise teachers in all of human history telling us the almost-exact same thing? Seems to be that way .. starting with … ?? Buddha ? then Epictetus… and … all the rest? I’ve been trying to absorb earlier essays, but there’s a lot of other stuff to absorb, too 🙂 However, this is the frosting on the cake ….my small life has seemed to repeatedly show me a small irreducible factoid… I always a choice between ‘fear’ or ‘faith’… ‘of’ and ‘in’ what varies from situation to situation…. but always the same choice. Thanks a bunch, Goran 🙂

  2. Fred says:

    Good stuff Goran …

  3. Mandy says:

    Isn’t choosing not to choose, also a choice?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Hi Mandy,

      When I say “don’t choose,” I mean not to imply that you do have a choice – i’m trying to invoke a response to break the habit of ‘following’ intentions, in order to get you to realize that living without them is possible.

    • IRN says:

      How can one decide to break the habit of following intentions if one has no choice?

      How is the concept of ‘trying’ even possible if a purely deterministic universe suggests failure is non-existent?

      Why would you ‘try’ to convince anyone of anything, when you could not possible influence the success or failure in any regard?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      There’s choices. They’re just not free.

  4. Peter says:

    Hi Goran, …living with or without intention – does it really matter?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Hi Peter,

      It matters only from the completely arbitrary perspective of living a smooth and effortless life – otherwise, no.

  5. Ivan Ganza says:

    Great article. Strikes home to truth. The more ‘I’ get out of the way and allow totality to flow — the more the wave returns effortlessly to the ocean.

  6. Marianne Sciberras says:

    I wonder how this thinking would help people who are trying to break an addiction, a habit..I realize we are all addicted to some extent to something.. you know what I mean? We tend to do things automatically and some of those automatic things are harmful, like overeating or smoking. Lately, I’ve had an addiction to reading about enlightenment…so now I’m learning to trust my instincts more..follow my heart. Now I don’t want to search anymore for this enlightenment, I realize it’s me moving as the universe. I suppose one just has to go on with whatever they think will help them until they no longer need to. I’m a counselor for healthy eating and I’m incorporating this new information into my counseling, it’s not always easy. The more we restrict, the worse. The more we judge whether we did right or wrong, the more dysfunctional we get. Like UG Krishnamurti says, there is nothing we can DO about it. It has to play itself out.

  7. Manuel says:

    Hey Goran, great stuff!
    I have a question though: What about planning, and “big life decisions”? When I’m in a forest, no thought and no decision is necessary to know if to walk the right or the left way, whether there is destination to arrive at or not. Most of the time though, the situations in which big life decisions happen are already shaped by other people and their thoughts and to function there, thought and even adapting to their mindset (including viewing yourself as an actor responsible for his deeds) is necessary.

    This has to be also just another instance of just everything happening by itself, including my thoughts and interpretations, but it’s still hard to let go of the notion of conscious planning, shaping one’s own life, taking responsibilty. And on the other hand, the fear of running blindly into a dead end in life. Personally, even though most of the goals I once had have dropped away and with them the urge to struggle to archieve them, there’s still the thought “everyone is planning their lifes for years in advance, what if I let everything flow naturally and it leads my to a point where life then ‘decides’ naturally, but only between paths which are terrible? While NOW, I could have the potential to steer my life into another, better direction altogether (though I have no idea what that could be)?”

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Hi Manuel,

      These decisions, “Should I get an abortion,” “Should I take that new job,” or “Should I hurl myself out this window,” are really no different from going left or right when out taking a stroll. There’s really no such thing as “big decisions,” but only thinking that makes it so. This fear of running blindly into a dead end needs to be overcome gradually by seeing in realtime that things are working out even without intentions.

  8. tao says:

    Good text! Nice to read it!

    Thank you, Goran 🙂

    Manuel, if you can read spanish (I’m thinnkig so because of your name) maybe you would like to check:

  9. Susitha says:

    Thanks Goran, Non Volition is tough to grasp as we are in a habit of intention and action. The suggestions to implement in daily life are very helpful.

  10. Susitha says:

    Goran, in response to Peter’s question “living with or without intention – does it really matter?” . Is there are no difference in the way life unfolds when we let go of the false concept of being a ‘doer’. When I am doer and I have intentions, I am always in reaction and struggle etc. By letting go of the false concept of being a ‘doer’ doesn’t life unfold with our true purpose and other blessings?

  11. Tim says:

    At the end of faith comes consciousness. Ego is obstruction. Surrender is flow.

  12. max says:

    I like the intention-thought concept. It’s a helpful handle. And your suggestions for reconceptualizing it to say, “impulse of the universe.”

    Also I agree with Susitha that your focus on implementation is a nice gift, thanks.

    One fellow at — zendancer — likes to suggest that just sitting quietly (in contemplation without thinking) with “what’s next?” can be helpful for living as a nondoer. ““What must I be doing right this moment?” Your body knows, so listen to it.”

  13. Nancy says:

    Just ran across this at latest post on The Archdruid Report….

    “… Enter Wang Yangming, the great unorthodox Neo-Confucian philosopher. Neo-Confucianism teaches that human beings inherently already know what is good, and all study is simply a matter of bringing one’s natural goodness to the fore (similar to what Socrates called anamnesis). The orthodox method was to study goodness in books, consider whether it was natural, and then try to put it into practice. This is what a lot of people already do here, and they might label it Stoicism or whatever.

    Wang Yangming disagreed. The radical thing that he said was that knowledge and action are one. What is read in books is not knowledge. If you think you understand the right way to live but you aren’t living that way yet, then you don’t really know how to obey your natural goodness. When knowledge is real it determines your next action with total certainty. In other words, your next action has already been determined by the knowledge you actually possess. …”

    Seemed sideways related 🙂

  14. Erika says:

    Really good practical advice…thanks Goran

  15. don salmon says:

    i’m curious, when you said the phenomenal experience doesn’t change… do you find at times, perhaps when writing, talking, playing, or some other “action”, that there is a dramatic switch; not only is there a sense of being moved, but the action is so total that its more a sense of “It’s moving”. But even that is wrong because there’s still a separation between “It” and “moving”

    It’s probably impossible to put in words. But say, in the process of creating music (I’m taking a break right now from writing some music for a video).

    How is this:

    It-moving….-sounds-appear-in-the-moving-and-instrument-selections-arise-and-notes-are-selected; all of this in the “It-moving’ process. awkwardly one could speak of “it moving” as being “behind” the sound making process, but that implies a separation between the two (and worse, an implication of something external – the external world – to It-moving (or it being, which is not separate from it moving)

    Sorry it’s so awkward. But there are moments where the whole experience of “me” making a choice doesn’t begin to capture what’s happening.

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Yes! That’s how it feels in the absence of intentions! Simply an effortless non-dual flow without any sense of separation between actor and action.

  16. jacob says:

    thanks, you’re very clear, I get it, but …. I’m bothered by this voice inside that says ‘you have to do this and this and this, better today than tomorrow ‘ … and then the body doesn’t and doesn’t and I am watching and watching . It’s like being slowly pulverized between two stones.

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  18. MKs says:

    Fantastic article, I have been looking for this for a while. However could you clarify few points pls? Thoughts, desires, distress, intentions whatever you call are coming from unconsciousness. Humanity chase these desires/thoughts as theirs and suffer (that’s why Buddha said attachment is suffering!). However even to live on a spontaneously, one need a trigger which is nothing but a thought. For example, even to write this to you, thought came as trigger then I started writing this. When we are walking there is trigger but I think there should be a trigger to walk. Same way when we are driving all actions are automatic but trigger start driving. Could elaborate these points pls. Many thanks

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  20. George says:

    What you call ‘being moved’ I’ve tended to call ‘allowing’ – because phrased like that it becomes a decision you can make – but it’s basically the same thing. It’s a sense of experiencing rather than controlling the moment. (Aside: Missy Vineyard’s book on the Alexander Technique has a great section on how she developed this approach for everyday life. Your reference to “waiting until your body moves” pretty much captures the essence of it.)

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ‘intention’ – but there is something wrong with micromanaging yourself via it. ‘Intention’ is the setting of a future experience you’d like to have; it is something that can be used in conjunction with ‘allowing’ (or trust/faith, in other traditions).

    We might want a new partner, say. Rather than manually controlling every part of the process by ‘working out a plan’, we instead state our intention – decide that’s going to happen – and then continue to allow ourselves to be ‘moved by the universe’, trusting that the right thing will happen.

    Of course, there’s an argument (which gels with yours) that if you truly desire something then it is by definition aligned with your true nature; therefore, intending is not required, since your natural path will lead there anyway. The difference is that you are consciously becoming aware of the direction, rather than just experiencing it as a nice surprise when it comes…

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  22. Malcolm says:

    Reminds me of Eugen Herrigel’s book “Zen in the Art of Archery.” Herrigel took archery lessons from a Zen teacher of the art. After learning to draw the bow correctly, he had to wait with bow drawn for “It” to shoot. Intended shots were discounted. He eventually succeeded, even though he was a philosophy professor and thus ta great disadvantage with so much thinking.
    But to come to my practice of this idea, I recently started waiting for my body to get out of bed in the morning. Since I am retired I’m not pushed for time!

  23. Your a breath of fresh air. I have been looking for someone that has approached non-duality through philosophy. So far I have only found “Greg Goode” and now you. I have a few questions, I would be grateful if you answer them.

    How do you find unfolding for you now after the realization? Is there an evolution in your realization, in your behavior, lifestyle etc.?

    Is the fear of death totally gone? What about pain? If god forbid you were tortured or got caught on fire, do these things bring back the visceral sense of a self? Or are they experienced in a totally different way?

    And what is the role of virtue, generosity, compassion, and morality in this? Is it related in anyway?

    Thank you for sharing

    • Göran Backlund says:

      I’m still in the process of getting used to it, even though it’s been nearly six years now. In some respects, I guess it’s a kind of evolving also. I feel I’m getting better and better into tapping into effortless flow and smooth navigation, even though there are still plenty of times where things aren’t so smooth, especially with three kids to care for. And there seems to be a deepening of the appreciation for just how cool everything is. How magical.

      I don’t fear death, but that is of course easy to say when everything is fine and working out. I’ll report back if I get cancer or something. I don’t like pain but it is definitely experienced differenty since the awakening.

      I don’t really know what to say on morality at the moment. I think that that has more to do with your particular script within the dreamstate rather then instrumental in getting you to wake up from it.

  24. Tamas says:

    “It’s entirely possible to live and act in this world completely without intentions altogether.”

    I think this is indeed possible, and I’ve been practicing it for a long time now, but now that I turned 30, I think it didn’t got me anywhere. That means, I’m not happy.

    Why is this important? Because – as the Dalai lama put it – the ultimate drive or goal for us is to be happy. All my life I’ve been looking for enlightenment and the thoughts you wrote deeply resonate in me, I also practice meditation, I read Eckhart Tolle many times (Power of now), and I can say I have some sort of an experience in spirituality; and I’ve found that this let-it-go mentality hasn’t worked out for me.

    If you are standing on the sidewalk and you don’t decide if you want to go to the left or to the right, that’s absolutely possible. But you can’t be without intention. Is you don’t decide, then that’s your intention (i.e. to remain decisionless). You cannot act without intention. Then the next thing follows: what’s your goal? I mean, what’s your goal in life? Why do you want to get enlightenment? I think people want to be happy, and free, and the spiritual path is a very good path for this. But I deeply doubt that the writer of this article is absolutely intentionless. In other words, this is a very motivating and nice article, but I think there are only a handful of people who truly live that way (for example, Ekart Tolle, or Ramana Maharshi).


    • Kevin says:

      To the one who wrote he was looking for enlightenment. “You” are the problem. “I AM” is what is real. “You” cannot be happy as you (the psychological self which is nothing more than images sounds thoughts bundled) is not a solid entity. “You” cannot be enlightened. Enlightenment is the absence of you

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