Do we have “Free Will”? There is a long, complicated history of debate on this issue. Some say we have it, some say we don’t. Of course we intuitively feel that we do have Free Will, but among the most fascinating altered states I have experienced have been several clear visceral insights into how small (if not non-existent) my Free Will actually is.
For some, the thought of “no Free Will” may feel emotionally threatening. For you folks, I will suggest a compromise — a weak version of Free Will: The Will to say “No”.
- Memories: both facts and fictions
- The influences of those around us
- The circumstances around us
- Our past experiences
It takes these bits, spins them around, and out splashes substance that feeds our awareness at that moment while their origins are hidden. But there are lots of bits splattering out. And so perhaps the only free will we have is to say “No” to most of them, leaving our actions to those options not negated. “No” give us the ability to focus, to concentrate, to value.
I am sure my thoughts on this are not my own. I think I may have read it somewhere in the past. But this is a position I have held as a metaphor in my mind for many years now. So if any of my philosopher readers know the origin of this perspective, please do comment.
As an example of the “No” phenomena, recently I have been training for a sprint triathlon and often my mind would tell me to stop running and I have to say “no”. Or when meditating, the mind will suggest I get up or that I daydream. Again, I have to say “no”. In both instances, instead of giving in to options drawing me away from my activity, I gently draw the mind away from the distracting option (say “no”) and continue my practice.
So while it seems that our lives are often automatic, pre-determined unfoldings due to:
- The genetic code we inherit by no choice or our own
- The random influence of natural events
- The random influence of people we happen to meet and opportunities we happen to encounter
yet our ability to choose by saying “no” and thus choosing the best our minds offer us, we can influence many of these to some degree and slowly form a different self.
Some philosophers think we are not born with a soul but that we create one (I first read this in Gurdjief’s writings). And though I am a no-soul kind of guy, I have to admit that if there were a soul, I imagine it must be largely formed by our “no”s. Going through life by the luck of your genes or favorable opportunities and by obeying the promptings of your society may turn out very fortuitous for you — but you risk never developing a soul if you don’t learn to say “no”.
So rejoice in your ability to avoid distractions, it may be the only thing that makes you really YOU.