Do we have a choice about what we do? Do we have free will?
It seems to me that the answer is of course we do and obviously we don’t.
Here’s how I got to that helpful clarification
1. The delusion of no choice
As long as we believe that our thoughts accurately reflect the world and who we are, we have to take them seriously. There is nothing else. They are our our guide to life. They are who we are. They are how the world is. We have our feelings good or bad and we live our life to increase the good feelings and to avoid the bad ones.
Ruled by the dictatorship of our thoughts we scurry here and there, desperate not to displease our masters. We are, Macbeth, ‘bound upon a wheel of fire’. We do things in an attempt to control them not knowing that they are utterly beyond our control. We are the four year old carefully turning the unconnected steering wheel of the waltzers cart. (Thank you Jason Berv for that image). Through any means possible – alcohol, pills, cutting, exercise, work, shopping, sex – we try to master our mind, all the while believing we can, while the reality is that it is just not possible.
This is living unconsciously. Trapped. Suffering. A life of: That’s just how I feel. I can’t help it. They / it / he / she is making me feel this way therefore this is what I have to do. I have no choice.
A total delusion. Innocent, understandable and something we all do. But, above all, a delusion.
2. The illusion of no choice
Then one day we realise that all the power and reality we had given to thought is simply an illusion. We see that thoughts can come and go, feelings can come and go, ideas to behave in a certain way can come and go and there is nothing that we need to do about it.
This is a break through.
We notice we have a choice. We can decide whether to take a thought seriously or not. To believe it or not. To act on it or not. We have genuine free will. Not the deluded free will of acting on our thoughts but the actual free will of knowing that thoughts are random, caused by the ebb and flow of energy. They have no influence other than what we decide to give them.
This realisation gives us an agency over our life, a practicality, something real to grasp when we had nothing before. Our life improves. No longer at the mercy of the changes of our mental energy we are more consistent, more reliable, more efficient. Relationships are kinder and more stable. Our ability to do our job, care for ourself or our family improves.
This is the conscious life. We are aware of what our mind is doing and how it works. Aware of the distinctions we can make between what we actually know is real. We are not longer the victim or the ball in a pin ball machine. No longer out of control.
We realise that any idea of ‘no choice’ is merely an illusion.
All well and good. For a while…
Soon it becomes gloriously clear that hanging out in this place of conscious awareness, of choice and control and discernment is a short straw. Not the so-short-its-barely-there straw of believing the random thoughts that go through our head. But a short straw none the less.
It is a short straw because when we are hanging out in the known, we are by definition hanging out in the mundane, limited and inconsequential. We are living the tiniest fraction of the life on offer.
Spending time here is like declining an invitation to go into outer space because you can look up the earth on google image.
It’s like listening to the ring tone of 3 bars from your favourite song instead of hanging out with the band as they create their new album.
It’s like observing goldfish in a tank as a school of 100 whales leap into the air behind you.
Its like staying in your backyard instead of visiting the Grand Canyon because it’s all just earth, rocks and trees after all.
What is on offer is the extraordinary, majestic, unpredictability of a life lived from a place of no choice.
Because the really great stuff, the real point of life, the true reason we are here is way way way beyond the stuff we can control and choose and manage.
We can spend time understanding that thoughts are no guide to our life and to turn our attention from outside to within. We have a choice about that.
We can get real with the fact that this is why we are here. That a life cut off from the source of wonder, curiosity and creativity is just filling in time. We have a choice to get real about that.
We can make ourself available. We can show up at the page, pick up the instrument, arrange the meeting, set the date for the expedition, put ourselves in the laboratory, the track, the studio, the family, the conversation or classroom. We have a choice to do that.
But beyond that, all we can do is wait and listen and watch as life expresses itself through us. This is a place of paradox, contradiction and impossibilities. It is the soaring like an eagle while sending our roots deeper down into the firm earth. The watching the show in wide-eyed wonder knowing we are the show itself. It is the alchemy of human and spirit.
We realise that any attempt to control or to actively choose the content, timing, form or function of our inspiration sends it disappearing into thin air. The sense of awareness we had before dissolves as we realise we have no idea what it is we can even be aware of. The idea of discernment seems as inconsequential as throwing a reign at stampeding wild horses.
Living in the unknown, in the place of no choice, we truly live. Relationships transform into head over heels love whether it is a spouse, a child, friends, family, a client, a boss, a stranger. The feeling of deep appreciation and connection blasts through the flimsy boundaries of thought. Jobs turn themselves into whole-hearted vocations in which we change the world one conversation or simple act at a time. Efficiency and effectiveness watch in awe on the sidelines as genius and transcendence steal the show.
This is the fusion of human and spirit. Evolution in a single life. Revolution without anything having to change.
This is inspiration.