We are multi-dimensional beings. We are at-once both spiritual beings and egoful beings. By ego, I mean the persona – the set of beliefs about who and what we are – we adopt at an early age. By spiritual, I mean our inherent wholeness and interconnectedness/ non-separateness from all existence – the vastness of being which is our True Nature.
Usually, when we think of free will – at least in this culture – we think it means that God-given human quality that allows us to choose to do whatever we choose to do, that our lives are not pre-determined and that we are not driven entirely by instinct. We have both a discriminating and reflective consciousness and the ability to make decisions based on that consciousness.
One summer in the early 1970’s, I participated in an intensive yoga training in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While I was there, I took advantage of the opportunity to have an astrological reading with Michael Erlewine, a world-renowned astrologer. Michael took my astrological chart, looked up a couple of things in a book, made a couple of notes on my chart, and then said the following to me: “You know, astrology is a very accurate science. For example, I can tell you that right around your 24th birthday you had a life-changing experience. [Actually, it was on my 24th birthday that I had a “peak experience” (where I felt completely alive again for the first time since I was nine years old), which marked the beginning my conscious spiritual quest.] And then, about a year-and-a-half later, you had an even more powerful, spiritual experience. [It was one year, four-and-a-half months later that I had what I refer to as a “religious experience,” where I experienced for the first time the “oneness of being.”] And I could tell you about your future, but what’s really important is what’s happening right now.” Michael then proceeded to counsel me for the next hour-and-a-half about what I was dealing with my life at that time.
The following morning, as I was riding my bike to my first yoga class of the day, I asked myself, “Why did I go see Michael, anyway?” The answer came immediately: “To make sure my life was on the right track.” I was so struck with the absurdity of it all, that I started laughing so hysterically that I had to pull over to the side of the road and get off my bike until I could regain my composure. Of course my life was on the right track! What other track could it possibly be on? Given everything that had happened in my life, I could only be exactly where I was at any given moment. All the causes and conditions, all the experiences, all the prior conclusions and beliefs I had chosen to adopt as a result of all my experiences had gotten me to exactly this place in this time. I couldn’t possibly be anywhere else other than where I was. And this is always the truth. Writing this article, I am sharing with you the understanding of free will that I have come to as a result of all of my past experiences and the conclusions I have drawn from them. If you had had these same experiences, you might have drawn different conclusions based on your beliefs created by your responses to your previous life experiences. But I can only be writing this article.
Now, that is not to say that I couldn’t write a different article. Indeed I could. And that is an expression of what we usually think of as free will. But even that article would be conditioned by my past experiences and the beliefs I had adopted from them. I would never write the article that a Catholic theologian or African medicine man would write.
The self must be destroyed, brought down to nothing, in order for self-transcendence to begin. Then the self can begin to relate to powers beyond itself. It has to trash around in its finitude, it has to “die,” in order to question that finitude, in order to see beyond it. – Ernest Becker
So, from the point of view of the ego/personality my will is only free to the extent that it operates within the limitations of my conditioning. But there is a truly Free Will that exists beyond the ego. Paradoxically, this true Free Will opens up for me when I give up my ego-driven free will. Ego-based “free will” is driven by fear – the fear created by belief that there is an “I,” a self that is separate from the Universe/God. This ego-I feels very small and insignificant in relation to the immensity of the All, suffers pain, and stands to lose everything at the moment of death. We try to compensate for this underlying fear by becoming greedy. All of our addictions are our unskillful attempts to deny the fear created by the sense of an ego-I.
True Free Will exists when I surrender my ego-based will – when I let go into the vastness of being that is my True Nature. This is the place of “Not my will, but Thine be done.” And in this place of openness and vulnerability, my personal will is freed to be able to be truly responsive to whatever needs to be done. Because I am not operating from my ego-based conditioned responses, I am able to see clearly the nature of the situation I am in and am able to do exactly the right and best thing in that circumstance. There is no fear to interfere. There is just a simple joy, purity of purpose, and unconditional love for all that is.
Is it possible to live in this state of grace? I’m not sure. But I do know one can experience this state of being. If you’d like to dis(un)cover it for yourself, and are willing to invest some time to “arrive” there (here), simply do the following:
Get into a comfortable sitting (preferably with back erect) or lying posture. Relax as much as you possibly can. Then scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, without excluding any part, to feel what is happening in every part of your body. Now go back and find the place in your body that is most strongly asking for your attention (experienced as pain, tension, intense sensation, etc.), and let go into/ explore/ inquire into/ surrender into this inner space until it dissolves or shifts to the point where some other part of your body is asking more strongly for your attention. Continue this process until there is no more tension anywhere in your body, and you are aware of your whole body all at once. At this point, just be with whatever is happening within and without until you are moved to do whatever you need to do next. Notice where the impulse to action arises from: is it from your fear-based ego-I or from something larger than your little self – my will or thine? If it feels like ego, keep letting go some more until you sense something else – the All – moving in and through you.