31. The Illusion Of Free Will


Excerpt from a reply to a private message:

But as to your main question regarding so-called free will: The illusion of choice certainly exists. It seems, for example, that I can choose to move my hand “at will.” But then the question arises as to what motivated me to make such a supposed choice: what made me want to move my hand? The feeling of wanting to move my hand, I say, is the coming to consciousness of processes that are entirely unconscious until they become known as “wanting.” So where is the choice in that?

Do we choose our desires and aversions, or do they come upon us like destiny? When, for example, did you decide to fear snakes? Fear of snakes is an irrational fear, having little to do with their venomous abilities, for even on Long Island where I grew up and where there are no venomous snakes at all, many people still fear snakes and kill them if they can. Could you reasonably say that any of those people chose to kill a snake?

I find this matter entirely clear, but I understand that for others the notion that nothing is freely chosen clashes terribly against their cultural indoctrination and seems to demean and discredit their experiences as apparent choosers and deciders. That conflict arises, it seems to me, from mistaking two very different levels of being.

One level consists of the personal history, thoughts, fears, and desires that seem to reside at the very center of our being as individuals, as for example in the phrase, “His life, which had been filled with such great hopes of success, increasingly seemed a disappointing failure.” I have no idea from whence those words emerged. I found myself typing them. I did not choose that image of disappointment and failure. Like all images, it came on its own.

As long as one focuses upon a myself who has a life and must manage it, one will obviously be living in a realm of ambitions, decisions, tactics, and apparent choices. There is nothing wrong with that view or with that way of living. It is one way of seeing, and no one ever chose to see things that way. If that is where you find yourself, do your best, I say, to make the best possible decisions, and to be comfortable with them.

But there is another level of being entirely different from that one. On that level, I do not have a life, I am life. I am an expression of aliveness, just as a tree or a fish is an expression of aliveness.

I did not ask to be here. I don’t know why I am here. I know nothing about any purpose to living, nor about “God,” karma, afterlife, the meaning of dreams — none of it. Absolutely nothing. On that level of being, no one chooses anything. One simply flows along, doing what seems necessary as best one can. There are no mistakes, or “bad choices.” What is, simply is, and must be the way it is.

I don’t know if this helps. My best advice is to stop trying to figure this stuff out. In each moment everything is exactly as it is. Nothing is hidden or esoteric, so there is nothing to attain or realize.