What makes humans truly unique? I remember hearing this question posed as a kid in various venues and the answer was always: our thumbs! Seemed like a good answer at the time, but now I lean more towards an answer relating to (on a Body level) our pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of our brain that has to do with our “executive function.” In terms of the spiritual elements, it best manifests itself as Freewill, working in concert with Reason. Reason gives us logic while Freewill steers the course through it, making choices to arrive at conclusions, judgments and decisions.
I can also read the Judeo-Christian story of Genesis and infer that Freewill is the distinguishing characteristic of the two human protagonists involved─ Adam and Eve─ and symbolically for humankind in general. Our thumbs did not play a major role in that story.
Adam and Eve were told not to partake of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The name of the Tree itself implies choice and the fruit may imply Freewill, or the ability to discern and choose between good and evil. The specific choice itself to partake of this fruit constituted an act of Freewill for Adam and Eve. Other creatures partake from the Tree of Life, staying connected to Divine will. This is not to say that other creatures don’t exercise some forms of Freewill, just not in a manner that separates them from the Tree of Life/God. Adam and Eve chose to separate from the animal kingdom/Tree of Life instigating Freewill as a matter of disobeying and separating from Divine will.
Before we bit that fruit, we just did what God told us to, abiding by God’s will, which is also Divine Will. We also abided more by our basic survival instincts. We did not judge or compare. We did not yet consider ourselves more important than any other aspect of the Tree of Life, or anywhere near equal to God. We deferred to God, naturally. We were entwined with the magic and the mystery that surrounded us in the natural world in the Tree of Life.
The symbolism of the story is that the strength of our Freewill is the unique characteristic of humankind and it has lured us away from God’s grace. In essence, it is also what keeps us away from God and separated from the Divinity of others and all of our surroundings. Freewill keeps us in judgment of everything and in a constant state of “chasing knowledge.” This is the key component of the human condition, as per the story. Now we have the knowledge of our own being and the ability to make choices as well as the ability to judge others, a set of conditions that naturally (and unfortunately) lend themselves towards self-importance and lack of humility. The story implies that we get a “package deal” with Freewill. It is bundled with ego (hence the sense of shame when Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness for the first time) as well as the propensity for judging others, which can lead to self-importance (ego).
I wonder if, in this most basic symbolic story that led us away from our Communion with God, there is a clue as to what may lead us back. I wonder if Freewill or the suspension of it, in some regard, can lead us towards Communion again and to sustaining ourselves more on the fruit of the Tree of Life. Can we just reverse the process of what happened in that Garden of Eden? Is Freewill the rudder that either leads us away from or towards God?
“The education of the will is the object of our existence.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Freewill is fundamentally having a sense of choice. Choice means that one thing can be selected over another. Freewill gives value to Divinity when we make the conscious choice to embrace it, despite the temptation to wander away from it. Freewill can mean the freedom to wander away from God as well if we choose.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” –Viktor E. Frankl
Intuition is Stubborn: Loss of My Freewill
I have noticed that as I do more and more spiritual and personal work, I have come to abide by my Intuition more and more. I meditate every day partly as a method of honing and developing this skill. It represents an inner knowingness that we all have, whereby we can “hear” and be more in tune with our Divine Truth and our unique mission here on Earth.
How it works for me is that my Intuition relieves me of all choice. It relieves me of my Freewill. When I get a strong Intuition, I simply don’t have a choice but to abide by it. It would be easy to say that I do have a choice, but to me it sure as heck doesn’t feel that way.
What it feels like instead is that I am surrendering to my Truth or Divine will. In doing so, my life path, as directed by my Intuition, sometimes flies in the face of practicality.
Writing this book is an example of the suspension of Freewill. I felt I had “no choice” but to proceed in writing it (and in a manner that dismissed practicality). I closed down my counseling practice and moved away from all friends and family to follow what seemed to be a certain directive with no variation allowed. The book was to be written with no specific outcome in mind that I could conceive of, either implied or directed.
The reality is that it feels like I have no choice but to abide by my Intuition, and that if Freewill were reinstated, there would be a danger that it may direct me away from my path in order to appease some other forces, i.e. fear, social convention, good old-fashioned practicality. If I had, in fact, varied from the path of writing this book, I would have been suppressing my Truth and this may have manifested in inauthenticity or unhappiness on one or more levels.
Ironically, I had to use my Freewill to get to the point where I have learned how to suspend it and listen to my Intuition. I made a choice and took action to hone that skill. I then used my Freewill again to take action and implement my Intuition.
Using Freewill to suspend Freewill is a skill. It is related to the element of Surrender. Freewill can be said to “not be free” to the extent that it is a prisoner of its own propensity to be on the constant lookout for stimulus and ways to be engaged.
Freewill is a real head-scratcher. It takes us away from home if we let it take the lead. It helps us go back to grace if we let it serve us and our connection to Truth and the Divine. Most importantly, Freewill is a tool, not a master. Its True purpose is always to serve Divine Will. Our task is to allow it to do so, which is no easy task.
I think of Freewill as being exercised by the pre-frontal cortex, which is often labeled as the “executive function” part of the brain. Its “function” is to exercise judgment and makes decisions, kind of like a CEO. It draws on other parts of the brain to gather information as necessary to perform its job.
People with executive function disorders can have trouble making decisions, focusing attention or planning in advance. Alcohol can sometimes interfere with executive function. Dogs are said to have about 7% of what humans have in executive function, while cats are said to have zero (i.e., they really live in the moment).
The phenomenal development of this part our brains is what truly gives humans intelligence and problem-solving abilities. At the same time, it may be a double-edged sword in that it can allow our minds to be wander aimlessly when not otherwise engaged, constituting the so-called “monkey-mind” that jumps from vine to vine, thought to thought and worry to worry. A “monkey mind” is the kind of mind that is outflanked and distorted by emotion and survival dynamics; it is one that is constantly scanning for threats, opportunities and related patterns.
The executive function part of our brain is like the conductor of an orchestra when performing well without interference. It is directing all the actions of the brain; it draws from different sections and instruments available, controlling pace and pauses. Theoretically, it is directing a series of decisions that will result in a beautiful symphony.
The issue is that our conductor can wander. El Maestro can fall asleep on the job. It can be over-controlling, not knowing when to hold back direction. It may favor certain instruments. It may be playing the same tunes over and over. It may be a busy-body, over-reactive to outside forces of emotion and survival. It can be all over the place. It can get in the way of the beautiful music it is trying to create in the first place.
It seems to me that our conductor is doing its best when we want it to solve a very specific problem and when emotion and survival dynamics are not engaged. In any other conditions, it can get overzealous and try to control too much or, on the other hand, it can be apathetic, allowing for chaos.
Another head-scratcher arises regarding our goal of getting closer to Communion, i.e. the Tree of Life, which Freewill has led us away from. When we want to do this, then the conductor has to stand down at times and play a softer symphony that our new instruments can be in tune with. We, in essence, have to learn to suspend our Freewill if we want to Commune with the Divine (as stated before, this is an act of Freewill itself). There may be fear that makes relinquishing control difficult. An act of Surrender and Faith is required to move forward with Freewill in suspension, deferring to Divine will, that greater symphony that we are intimately connected to.
When we pull the plug on Freewill, we learn to just be. We shift into neutral gear and the heart engages. We hear a greater symphony. Certainly, our instruments are not stifled. We are not trying to control the tune. We are not striving to perform. We listen. We feel a Divine tune and play along with it.
The Illusion of Freewill
There are those who believe in an omniscient Creator who authors our existence, with each decision predetermined long before we were “created.” In this scenario, there is no Freewill. Any thought or feeling of such would be an illusion.
I do not share this belief, but I do see how Freewill is often an illusion greatly impacted by social constructs, emotion, ego and survival dynamics.
If you live in fear or in constant survival mode, you are abiding by your basic survival instincts and the emotions that surround that state of being. Above that, social constructs and conditioning can severely limit the choices you make. This latter influence can be as simple as your family implying rejection should you take a path outside of what they think is conventional, appropriate and practical.
If you are fearful enough, you may not even leave your house, as is the case with agoraphobics. In this case, fear overrules Freewill so that Freewill itself seems like a distant illusion. If you are from a culture that requires strict compliance with social norms (for example, submissive roles for women, with threat of punishment or rejection for non-compliance), Freewill may again seem like an illusion, or an option that is just too overwhelming to contemplate. Even if these factors are not the reality, we may still have emotional wounds and addictions that severely impact our choices and ways of being. These wounds can hold us back from making choices that might expose and heal them for fear of the pain exposing them might involve. We fear that we may not survive that pain.
Ironically, Freewill is not free in that it is a prisoner of its tendency to be constantly engaged for survival purposes, always on the lookout for stimuli that relates to threats or opportunities for survival.
For some, Freewill is surrendered to another person for any number of reasons, including the need to please others (and “survive, in a manner of speaking, by being accepted by others). Individuals may seek to overtake your Freewill in a manipulative and controlling manner, sometimes very subtlety, for any number of reasons that serve them in some maladaptive manner. Others may also impose upon you their idea or interpretation of what Divine Will is, again limiting your Freewill.
We have to use our Freewill to steer out of these states of limited choice. We can use Freewill to discern social conditioning, to see our own fear-based thinking and addiction and to choose a path away from them towards a state of freedom where we can better discern Divine Will without the clutter of limitations.
Divine Will Hunting
In the bigger picture of spirituality and awakening, I see paradox in Freewill. It is its judgmental, problem-solving and wandering nature which can lead us away from Divinity and yet it is also the tool that can lead us back. When we suspend it, we get views and hints of our Divinity. When we engage it from this place, it helps us to get there and keep us on track. So we suspend, engage, repeat─ with the ultimate goal of being totally in tune with the Divine. In a state of total attunement, I suspect that Freewill wouldn’t have much to do anymore in our lives beyond being a tool for day-to-day problem solving.
In a way, Freewill and Divine Will are inversely related. Suspending Freewill allows Divine Will to bubble up and guide us.
Freewill as a Tool
Freewill is an incredible tool at our disposal that ultimately can be utilized for its own demise (or a greatly reduced role), such that a greater master, Divine Will (which I feel often manifests itself as Intuition) can take over. I think of Freewill as both a steering wheel and an accelerator to be applied towards our greater spiritual journey (as well as to everyday life). It represents Choice, Intention, Planning, Volition, Discipline, Impulse Control, Effort, Initiation, Attitude, Individuality, Commitment and Will Power.
Freewill drives us to Divine Will, which is like stopping and asking a wise sage for directions. We then hop back in the car and Freewill takes us to our next stopping point for some more Divine guidance.
When we learn to use this tool─ and more importantly, how and when to suspend it─ the results can be phenomenal. When we practice suspending it on a regular basis, other neglected tools can rise up, Wisdom and Intuition for example. These in turn can inform Freewill, along with other elements like Reason, so that direction and volition can be applied to whatever path Wisdom and Intuition has provided us to travel through our day.
We can use Freewill to effectuate Change that steers us towards our Truth. We can use Freewill to drive us forward towards Healing and awakening, yet always suspending it when the time is right to allow for greater guidance.
Ideally, Freewill always serves Divine Will. It is the apprentice to that master.
“Trying to control the future is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place. When you handle the master carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand.” -Lao Tzu
One Fundamental Act of Freewill as Our Ticket Home
If we resonate with the symbolism of that Genesis story, then, according to it, there was one fundamental act of Freewill which pushed us away from God. We bit from the fruit and, basically, that was it. Can we simply reverse it by spitting it out and biting from the fruit of the Tree of Life instead?
I like to think that there is another fundamental act of Freewill which can place us back on track; it is to choose to partake from the Tree of Life and all that it represents. It is a choice to live life on the path of Healing, Self-Awareness and Communion. It is the choice to live a life geared towards awakening and a connection to Divinity.
Without this fundamental act of Freewill, we are simply using our capacities for Freewill to bump around in the dark and live in the illusion of it that is more about self-importance than anything else. Without it, we keep ourselves separate from God.
This fundamental act of Freewill which brings us home manifests itself to me as a Mantra:
I ACCEPT WHAT THE UNIVERSE HAS PLANNED FOR ME.
Freewill, in this regard, entails a commitment; with this commitment, its value increases. Freewill then initiates action in order to fulfill that commitment. The main actions here involve Surrender, Faith and Acceptance (the involvement of which again entails a suspension of that very same Freewill).
With this mantra or a similar one, we commit to surrender to God’s will and to using the tool of Freewill to implement that action.
Mindfulness and all that it entails can be said to be a method of monitoring and learning how to work with Freewill. With Mindfulness, we can be cognizant of factors affecting Freewill, like fear, social convention and addiction. With Mindfulness, we can also track when our Freewill is suspended and we can become aware of other factors affecting our path as well, including Divine Will.
Mindfulness, Meditation and Mantra together help us to train ourselves to be more aware of our Freewill mechanism and able to suspend it when we want.
Humility reminds us that Freewill is subservient to Divine Will as well as a gift from it to help us function in the world via its decision-making capacity. We in turn can have extreme Gratitude for this gift.
Non-Attachment helps us to release the need to have our Freewill always in control and always engaged.
Non-Judgment serves to focus Freewill and keeps us away from the quicksand of standing in constant judgment of others. With Freewill, we still exercise our preferences and manage the energy around us with healthy boundaries, but we don’t get caught up in judging the fundamental value of others. We remember that all are Divine at their core, even though they may not know it nor act like it.
Intuition serves as a guide to Divine will (for which Freewill is a servant).
Reason serves Freewill in day-to-day functioning.
Surrender can be said to be an overt action of the suspension of Freewill, in order for Divine Will to prevail. When one Surrenders, one relinquishes any desire to control outcomes beyond the setting of intentions. Faith does much the same on an ongoing basis.
Light, as in Light-ness, supports Freewill as we keep an unfurrowed brow and release any sense of burden or heaviness in working with this element.
- Practice Mindfulness in a manner that emphasizes recognition of when Freewill is in engaged and when it is suspended. Notice when you are living entirely in the Now, not making decisions, judgments or problem-solving in any way. Conversely notice when you are consciously engaging Freewill to make decisions, judgments and solve problems.
- In all applications of Freewill, ponder what forces may be shaping or limiting it, including fear, social convention, or the desire to please others.
- With Mindfulness, be aware of how cravings and/or repulsions dictate and affect the exercise of Freewill. Develop self-discipline and impulse control as a matter of training your capacity for Freewill.
- Apply Freewill to your Healing and awakening processes as a tool to implement a plan for this that is informed by Intuition, Wisdom, Nurturance and Reason.
- See the element of Surrender. Be aware of this action to suspend Freewill and submit to Divine Will.
- Monitor the mind as it may engage in judgment about the inherent value of others. Shine Light on various labels that may pop into your mind in regards to others. Use Freewill to clear the mind of such labeling.28
- Practice Meditation daily, if only for brief periods. Be aware of the point of Surrender in Meditation, i.e. when a meditative state is just “happening” and is not forced. Seek that sweet spot where the mind is in a neutral state.
I Surrender to the Current Moment.
I Surrender Any Need to Control All Outcomes.
I Surrender to my Innocence and Child-like Nature.
I Accept What the Universe Has Planned for Me.