Free Will

I have a friend who believes that there is no “Free Will”. I’m not sure what that actually means, but I don’t feel that the presence or the absence of free will is of much importance. The question of “free will” addresses the status of a self that is itself merely a way of looking at life. There is no logical response to someone who contests the hope that our human lives can be opened to a spontaneous unfolding that is not determined by precedent. For instance, a dialogue on this question might run:

A: “By all that is a well-spring of hope and renewal, I believe that my life is carried within a creative stream and that my gestures are the spontaneous and unprecedented outpourings of a greater wholeness.”

B: “You sound like you’ve been bitten by that “free-will” bug that is going around. But don’t forget that everything—including the most eloquent invocations about hope and outpourings—are determined beforehand by what leads up to each moment and its illusion of choice.”

I suspect that the issue of “free will” (its presence or absence in human life) is beside the point while we are engaged in living our lives. This issue doesn’t arise when we are making choices that ring true for the path we are on. Of greater importance is the issue of who is walking, who is turning right instead of left, and how present we are to the waves of life breaking around us and welling up within us.

If we experience a creative breakthrough or if we dissolve a lifetime of feuding and resentment in a moment of forgiveness, what does it matter whether this turn in the road has materialized because of a predetermined confluence of factors—psychological, physical, emotional, or dietary? The willingness to look with fresh eyes—whether generated out of the blue or determined by inner and outer conditions—is the hidden secret of fulfillment. This willingness is a treasure and when we hear it is in the neighborhood we should invite it in for tea—no printed invitation needed.

For many years I felt that I had missed a boat that had picked up everyone else around me, but had left me stranded on the treeless plains of futility and uncertainty. Then, decades later, something in me felt ready to hear a golden note of possibility: encountered in books and in the eyes of people whom I recognized as wiser than myself. I started to feel that my life has value, and I wanted to cash in while there was still time on my side.

In retrospect, I can’t say that I squandered all those years when I hung out dockside wondering why the boat to freedom had left without me. Once you find yourself galloping down the road—Ok, it’s more like a trot—the feel of the horse beneath you is its own reward.

My hunch is that the world’s spiritual visions—which all seem to speak of a finer realm beneath or within this realm of confusion—are talking more about how we are looking at the irrepressible flowering of life than claiming that anything substantial and immutable is driving it.

The whole that is sometimes viewed as heaven, sometimes as hell, must include both freedom and the limitations that appear to hold us in place. In order to be free we may not have to break the links of a chain of cause and effect, of influences and consequences. We could instead look for the light that peeks out from the darkness and invite it to come forth. After all, if darkness is in the way we are looking—and not a characteristic of the living flow of being that allows us to look—what prevents us from appreciating, perhaps even expanding, the light?

We would not even have a word for darkness if light had not made us aware of the spectrum of illumination that resides at the heart of life.

3 comments to “Free Will”
  1. Love this Blog Michael,
    The lead in was a gradual, even meandering stroll, that brings us, your hapless readers, to the powerful truth of the last two paragraphs. Worth rereading and repeating…

    “The whole that is sometimes viewed as heaven, sometimes as hell, must include both freedom and the limitations that appear to hold us in place. In order to be free we may not have to break the links of a chain of cause and effect, of influences and consequences. We could instead look for the light that peeks out from the darkness and invite it to come forth. After all, if darkness is in the way we are looking—and not a characteristic of the living flow of being that allows us to look—what prevents us from appreciating, perhaps even expanding, the light?

    We would not even have a word for darkness if light had not made us aware of the spectrum of illumination that resides at the heart of life.”

  2. Thanks for taking up the baton and carrying it down the path further, David. It’s interesting how you describe the last few sentences as an unexpected destination of a meanering stroll. That seems to me a fine example of how everything–including a series of sentences–emit more or less light depending on how we inquire into them.

  3. Thinking in shorthand: Inquiry as the source of light, or light sourced, or light’s expansion mode, light play. So struck that Rinpoche keeps on pointing to expanding/condensing as deeply expressive of our nature, maybe of being, but there I’m lost. There’s a wholeness at play in us. I keep parcelling out my myself, in work, practice, love. Sense I am caught up in pre-packaging. Like I am a terminal case, lifting and lifted 24/7. Rinpoche, I bet, would counsel embracing that fully, not avoiding it at all. See what shows up. How might doing so be an instance of expending/condensing?

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