For many of you who have done a lot of inner work, you know how much the unconscious ego inhibits your ability to even see choices. It's like being locked in a jail cell, and you're told you can go anywhere in the jail cell. The more unconscious we are, the more we don't even see the walls and bars. But for those of you who kicked down a wall or two, you really understand how little free will you've actually had. It's been ego programming much like a computer program. If a computer is programmed to only run Microsoft Word documents, then it can't run other programs until it is taught them. It is also taught to run Word in specific ways. It's free will is nil. The programs determine everything, and in many ways, our unconscious ego determines much of how we can live.
Fortunately, we can change many of our programs--our thinking, feeling, and experiential states. So clearly, there has to be some level of choice. Otherwise, we could never change ourselves.
Along with my thoughts, I've got a video from the World Science Festival with several experts talking about free will at the end of this blog post. I hope you enjoy it.
spiritual awakening opening their eyes to see more colors. At first, seeing all of these colors can be confusing and overwhelming. But as someone adjusts, now they can choose their favorite color from a broader spectrum.
In this way, the unconscious ego limits what we see, and therefore, it limits our free will. It has unconsciously made a lot of assumptions and choices that leave our conscious selves with very little room to choose. For another example, consider the woman who thinks she has to get married. She has been conditioned so heavily by society that she can't consider being single. This tends to cause a great deal of distress for someone if they don't succeed in fulfilling this ego program. It also tends to lead someone to choosing badly when it comes to love because they don't feel that they have the freedom to be happy and single.
Thus, we have to turn inwards to find these hidden assumptions to even begin to discover how much free will we might have. In releasing old ideas and illusions, our perspective opens up. And I think perspective is a fundamental aspect of real free will. If we can't see opportunity, then it doesn't exist; we are constrained in the choices because of this blindness. Thus, most of the choices we make are typically coming from our unconscious genetic and social programming. That leaves most people boxed in on all sides. They aren't choosing what they can see or can believe in. The deeper assumptions define not just the array of choices but how people choose. That tends to lead a lot of the world into cycles of pain and suffering because people have no perspective on any of these things.
Yet, if we are completely boxed in, the possibility of change would not exist. So clearly, there is some level of agency within us. A spiritual awakening is one amazing doorway into breaking through these constraints. Some thing seems able to choose without us intentionally choosing it. For many of us, we call this the soul. We may also call some of this the Divine will working through us. So what does this mean to free will? It sure seems to open up possibility and access to conscious choices, which I consider part of free will. But it also seems to take away other choices for awhile and direct us. It's an interesting paradox to consider.
Finally, there do seem to be constraints brought on by our physical nature. We can believe that we have the free will to fly with our bodies, but without a several jet blasting upwards with tons of force, we do not fly on our own. If we have nerve damage in our arm, we can't lift our arm, can we?
I don't intend to offer a final answer about free will, but I thought it would be an interesting topic to bring up. I generally see us as having free will within constraints. Most physical constraints have to be accepted. Unconscious ego constraints can be discovered and released. In doing inner work, I have found that that work has helped me maximize the amount of free will I can humanly access while greater forces in the universe move me whether I will them to or not.
Mind Over Masters: The Question of Free Will
The topic of free will is a fascinating one, and so I also wanted to add in some scientific thoughts to offer a different perspective. Enjoy!