One of the more curious questions on the journey of awakening is the changing perception of who is the apparent doer. At first, the experience is that we do and are done to. We act and things happen to us. The field of action revolves around us.
We can see this reflected in ideas about karma. Karma means action but we tend to think of it as good or bad and see it happening to us. We see it as the law of cause and effect, with “karma” as our obligations from the past.
As the soul begins to awaken from the shadow of the ego, we begin to see ourselves as the witness or observer. The body seems to be acting of its own accord. Think about when we ‘come to’ after spacing out on a long drive. The body has continued to drive the car with no conscious input. We were not asleep and the body adjusted speed, took corners, and so forth all in apparent habit. Only now this happens consciously.
After awakening, this sense of separate observer is all the time and often stronger. (the contrast depends on how long and deeply the witness was experienced prior) Many of the former drivers of action (desires) begin to fall away and life seems to take care of itself. Curiously, some of the dramas continue to play out as well.
As the clarity deepens, we begin to see the source of action. We observe the impulse to act arising in the remains of “person”, or the surge of flow from Self. Gradually, we pay less attention to the first and favour the less common push from Self. The Self is seen to only be moved when action is necessary.
But then we begin to see a third aspect of action. Actions that do not arise from self or Self. This becomes clearer as there is less and less small self there to initiate. We could say action arises within itself. It is simply the play of action reverberating through the field of action. The interplay of the 3 gunas (qualities) as Krishna describes in the Bhagavad Gita.
This play is like a game that was started long ago but continues to play on. I am reminded of a retired couple I once knew. They used to play crib a few times a day for years. The consensus was that he won more often. But when they started to keep tallies, it was found that over time, the wins balanced out. They both won equally. Even if the skill was uneven, the opportunities of the cards would balance it off. Such is the way of action.
In another way of seeing it, it’s like an echo of the past, a set of habits or memory that continue to drive the play forward. There is no longer a doer at all. Some things like breathing are of course good habits. But other tendencies to conflict or dramatize are seen through and fall away.
The entire field of action comes to be seen as a dream. But not a dream without value. Rather a dream of self knowledge, of exploration.
And it’s a good dream. A dream designed to know what is real.