Free Will

I kind of made this up as I went.


How I’ve come to view free will (keep in mind the specifics are still developing in my head):

To me, free will has nothing to do with what choice you eventually make. Determinism doesn’t harm the dignity of a person. You are ultimately going to make the choice that is determined by who you are and what you’re presented with, and that is a good thing. Otherwise, your choices wouldn’t make sense!

You can always look back and try to think about what your motives were for a certain action, and there are always motives. You never do anything without reasons, even if you don’t take the time to make a mental list of what those reasons are before you do the action.

So I’m not going to focus on *what* decision you make, but the conditions under which you make it. Having more than one option isn’t what makes us *feel* free. What if someone is holding you at gunpoint and you can choose between telling them vital information or allowing yourself to die? Does that seem like a free decision? You *do* have more than one option, right?

I think that simple example is enough to show that our freedom is not based on the options, but based on the conditions. As such, I drew up a little continuum of free will, where the left represents no free will, and gets progressively more and more free as you travel to the right.

<–restraint/force—-marketing—-egocentricity—-authenticity—-harmony with God/the universe–>

Starting on the left, you have examples like the one I gave above. Where some outside force is forcing you to do something. The decision of whether you do what they say is still up to you, but the presence of the coercive force alters the situation quite a bit and makes you feel bound, regardless of how metaphysically free/not free you are.

Next on the scale we have marketing and consumerism. The whole art of creating needs in the people rather than trying to fill pre-existing ones. They’ve done quite a number on us. People think that their identity is tied to what clothes they wear and how they decorate their houses. Men and women are convinced that the only way for a man to show his love is to buy the girl jewelry. We think that our monthly income and what we’re able to buy is what determines our worth…and if not that…then how we look. Such a way of living life and making decisions is definitely not free or genuine in any respect.

Now we come to the ego. This is possibly one of the harder concepts to understand, but we’ve all felt it at some point. Most of us have felt at some point that our actions weren’t really coming from ourselves. Perhaps our emotions seemed to cloud our judgment, or we just got trapped in the heat of the moment. Or it can be even more subtle…as it is a continuum. Perhaps you listen to Switchfoot’s This is Your Life, and you feel saddened. Maybe you *aren’t* who you want to be. Maybe you chose a job that keeps you dead inside, and you long for something more. Maybe you’re just going through the motions. Maybe you’re avoiding really looking at yourself and who you are. Whatever it is, it keeps you from acting out of your genuine self, and in that sense, you aren’t all that free.

If that’s true, then the next step is obviously when you act out of who you are deep inside. The times when the whole of your energy and passion light you up and threaten to set you on fire. Your heart feels like it’s about to explode and you’re just so *present* to the moment. The decision seems clear, even if it means consequences that you don’t really like. Our actions, when they stem from our deepest self, are motivated by love, devotion, and self sacrifice. It’s as if everything inside you is screaming at you to make the decision, and you can’t help but do it. Notice that here, there really *is* only once choice that you can make, but it feels exponentially more free that the first time, when you had more than one option.

But most of us don’t live like that all of the time. Usually we just catch glimpses of that feeling here and there. But if we work at it, and keep ourselves aware and open, we eventually can come to the last stage. This one is more of an ideal than anything else. Imagine that you are genuinely yourself at all times. At some point, making decisions comes as naturally and as freely as breathing. You don’t need to control yourself, you just act. You don’t need to limit yourself, you don’t need to think about morality or law because at this point, whatever you naturally do is in complete harmony with the universe and with God’s will. You’re acting out of a place that is so rooted in unity, in God, in the entire natural order that you just become part of it. You join the dance, and dance spontaneously and beautifully in the complete and utter oneness of everything. Nothing can harm you, at least mentally and spiritually, because you know that every move is part of that dance, and that the dance itself is beautiful. Every action is pure joy.
Most people live somewhere between the marketing phase and the ego phase. When I look at the general population, it just saddens me, because so many people are caught up in this, and are unknowingly slaves to consumerism and their own egos. Those who have just broken free tend to look back and hate the system, and show quite a bit of contempt for the people still chained to the wall. But I can’t feel anything other than sadness and compassion for them. It makes me want to spend my life working to help them, to break their bonds and help them become the people they really are inside.
Reply from subtle seem the stars:

“I’m not sure how i feel about the possibility of interfering (i can see the appeal/compassion from the high level person’s point of view, but not really vice-versa especially if the person is not feeling miserable/desiring of any more), but i just thought the example was relevant to the idea of looking back from the more advanced phases onto those in the lower ones.”

Yeah you can’t just interfere and tell someone they are miserable and can’t see it. You have to kind of taunt them out of their mindset slowly but surely. You have to find a way to get them to look inwardly without insinuating that they currently suck. Basically, you have to write songs like Jon.

The other thing that is worth pointing out is that you *can’t* progress on your own. Like you said, people who aren’t feeling miserable and who don’t desire anything more won’t budge, they’ll just continue being what they think is happy. Something has to happen that comes from outside of you that makes you realize what is going on. And it’s not necessarily an easy process. It can be downright painful, even.

In that way I don’t really want to think of the more free person as “higher” than someone else. In a sense, they are actually lower. They didn’t do it themselves, and they only got to where they were by grace of a number of falls. The other people are just the same as they are, but they haven’t had the fortune to have suffered enough to break down the walls that surround their heart.

So for me, when I look at a close friend, or anyone really, who’s having a really tough time…half of me is drenched in compassion (co-feeling), and the other half of me is shouting for joy. Because every glimpse of pain is an opportunity to move deeper…it’s up to us if we decide to take it or not.

As far as how I interfere…I don’t really. Most of the time is just spent being patient, letting them work things through on their own…but being there as a guiding voice to try to get them to think in such a way as to help them open up, rather than close themselves off and rebind themselves again. Life does the work for me…I just try to guide them in the right direction when the going gets tough.

    • arulba
    • September 11th, 2009

    It is so great to see you here at WordPress! I hope it works for you. Make sure to add your url to your profile so people can link back to your blog if you leave a comment!

    I love reading your posts. They are so thoughtful and insightful and always make me think outside of the box!

    I like Victor Frankl’s definition of free will – that it is the ability to choose to be human, even when on the brink of starvation and being treated worse than a rat.

    The idea of hierarchy strikes me here, too. There has been a trend to do away with hierarchy but thinkers like Ken Wilber, Huston Smith, and Vine Deloria Jr. insist that hierarchy exists and to do away with it is disastrous. I’ve always been scared to think of myself at a higher level of consciousness than others because it seems so incredibly arrogant. But it’s really no different than having been at a company longer than a co-worker. You train the co-worker and that co-worker could easily surpass your abilities at some point. Or maybe not. It isn’t a matter of being “better than”, it’s simply a matter of having a bigger picture of the ins and outs of the company.

    But we always have to be careful about judging ourselves in relation to other people because we all have blinders that skew our perception. I don’t think we ever get rid of the blinders. We simply become aware of them and are able to work around them. It’s humbling. If we seek to help another, we must be willing to listen to their story without imposing our own or we’re really just marketing rather than truly helping.

    As you say, it’s definitely a matter of being open.

    Interesting post!

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