The Forgotten Realm of Free Will

January 22, 2016 at 11:45 pm

The opportunities in our lives usually present themselves through crossroads. An array of doors face us and demand us to choose the one we intend to walk through. But ever so often, when we choose a door and close the rest, we don’t close them completely. We leave a sliver open. A window of hope that we visit later and reminisce over. A window called “what if?

Image Courtesy: *_Abhi_*

Image Courtesy: *_Abhi_*

A crossroad by nature presents us with choices that are at once equally enticing or equally fearful. The true perplexity of this predicament shows its ugly face after the choice has been made and not during it. For when we tread down the chosen path and encounter our first hiccup, instead of offering ourselves to its remedying, we find ourselves pondering over our fantasies of what could’ve been had we chosen otherwise. Our constructed castles in which the other options either flourish wondrously or fail miserably depend on the kind of vessel we have chosen to fill our temperament within.

“Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it?” ― Caroline Myss 

Walking through these twisted imaginary pathways, we can fashion many a perfect life through the myriad combinations of what ifs. From then on, once created, this perfect life becomes the ghost of the life we are living. It meets us in the dark alleys in times flavored with despondency. Our desperation for a better life becomes the very lever on which this ghost turns our imagination around so that we can meet it. Thereby coming face to face with the wretchedness of the now and the enchantment of what could have been. If there is a hell, this is it.

These shadow reveries pose as the key to a happy life. A life that could’ve been. The enchanted doorway that was left open for us to walk through that we chose to walk past. The threshold at which this reverie meets our reality is where our hell resides. Our personal self-fashioned hell. While wisdom would goad us into slaying this ghost and preserving our sanity, our actions seldom act in accordance. We find ourselves in a limbo, crushed under the weight of a phantom life we haven’t lived and crippled in our attempts to live the one we have chosen.

It follows, then, that the only way to get into Hell is to insist upon it…Hell is what the damned have actively and insistently wished for. Thus, allegorically, Hell is the true goal of the damned. – Mark Musa’s commentary on Dante’s Inferno

The best way to deal with this is to first understand how these ghouls of our vacuous past get created in the first place. When time moves through the environment we live in, it creates events. When we brush past these events we create circumstances and when these circumstances are personalized, they are seen as opportunities or doorways that could change the way we experience time flowing through us. This is what a choice is, a threshold in life that prompts us to reflect on how we want to fashion our walk through it. This is how we architect our life, by choosing the doorways we step through.

A choice, on the surface presents itself through its options, but at its very core it is the whys and whats of a choice that turn our levers. The majority of us make choices through elimination. We arrive at an option by eliminating the others and this process when driven by selection separates the least preferred from the most and when arrived through fear separates the least dangerous from the rest. This process of elimination is not really a choice, it is called a decision.

Decide, whose roots are derived from the Latin word “caedere“, shares its etymology with words such as suicide, homicide and genocide. It also operates the same way. It kills the options to arrive at the one it isn’t able to. The last option standing becomes the doorway we walk through and we foolishly call this experience choosing. This killing of options metaphorically creates the ghosts that later come to haunt us.

A decision is made through elimination of options. It relies heavily on the premises that are made available in the moment. As the moment passes, the premises sometimes change and we find ourselves in an emotional quagmire. It is no wonder we spend so much time second guessing ourselves. A life plagued by unsure decisions becomes an easy prey to its own past.

When we rely on the strength of the options and their premises, we make the reasons that fuel the decision more important than our free will. This creates an imbalance of power, since the power that was meant to rest on our will now rests on justifications surrounding the rationale behind the usage of our will. This makes the options bigger than us. The placement of power in that interaction is outside of us. We place our power outside us and then subsequently proceed to chop away at it, leaving its fragments waiting for us at those various crossroads. This is precisely what comes back to haunt us.

This is one of the handicaps of growing up. As adults we are predisposed to “deciding”, while a child chooses. A child’s choice is directed purely by freewill. He does something because “he” wants to, and not because the “option” is the right one. The power in this case is within the child, operated purely through his freewill. He is erratic, eccentric and unpredictable, but he will never be plagued by his bad choices, because “he” chose them. There is a very subtle distinction in this, which if deciphered can make a world of a difference to us. When we grow up we stop choosing. Our misguided sense of responsibility takes over and pushes our free will aside to make room for well-intentioned reasoning. We start believing that the reason something is done or not done is more important than our desire to do it. We start viewing the world through the lenses of our reasons and this creates minefields out of the landscapes we journey through. We are forever at vigil because we are forever fearful of taking the wrong step. A life without freewill is a life lived completely in the tortured quarters of the inner critic. It’s competitive where it doesn’t need to be and its judgments are predominantly skewed. The whats of our choices start mattering more than the whys and this catalyzes our downfall.

A choice places our power back where it rightfully belongs. Inside us. There is no fragmenting of power when it is wielded through free will. An option is chosen because “you” chose it, not because the reasons you employed to arrive at it outweighs the reasons employed to arrive at the rest. This dependency on reasons creates a reasonable life, never a powerful one. Taking control of your choices creates an intentional life, not one lived in the residue of reasons.

A life ruled by reasons is confusing and fickle. It can never be relied on. As eccentric as it seems on the outside, a life driven by free will is calmer and brings in more contentment. We do things because we choose to do them. There is no other reason. Not because we are supposed to or we are expected to. Just because we choose to. That is the only way to eliminate regrets. Children don’t carry regrets because they are driven by their will. That is the reason we have free will. To use it.

To the thoughtful this may seem bizarre and to the responsible, careless. But think for a moment where you place your power. Is it in your hands or do you give a portion of it away every time you hold a reason more important than your will? Life is best navigated with your power held securely within you. This is what self-esteem looks like. This is why it is always the eccentric ones that lead the pack. They can because they are vessels of power. They own the power that the others carelessly throw away. If you want to be responsible, be so with your esteem and the way you wield power. Responsibility, like power, needs to work inside out.

Image Courtesy: Martin Fisch

Image Courtesy: Martin Fisch

When you choose something because “you” choose it, you then take complete responsibility for that choice. That moment is now complete. There are no fragments of your will left scattered that you then need to worry about. You are complete as is your choice. You then move forward with confidence, driven by your will as opposed to trudging through shouldering the weight of your decision being driven by fear and guilt.

Intuition lays waste when it doesn’t have the will to back it. In the arid landscapes of the shoulds and coulds, what room does an intuitive leap have? For intuition to work through us, it demands a sturdy esteem. One that is able to walk through doorways without being answerable to judgments and pliable to approval. That is the power freewill grants us, the power to soar over expectations. A life lived to meet expectations may hit the mark, but will seldom satisfy us because the mark is usually not created by us. Freedom is absent in a life lived under the burden of what ifs. True freedom resides in the ability to stare into a crossroad and say “What now?

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