Here’s a scene from the 2001 movie “Waking Life” where a character in jail plots revenge. It’s a very interesting and well-realized scene with a lot of deep insights.
If you can’t see this video, here’s the transcript:
The Dilemma Of Perception – How We See Ourselves VS How Others See Us
Isn’t it interesting how this character points the finger at everyone else but he’s so blocked from seeing that the problem is not what’s outside him but what’s inside him? He has suffered what he has suffered because he is the way he is. He suffers violence and rejection because he propagates violence and rejection. And the revenge schemes he’s planning will only get him more and more of what he’s complaining about – more violence and rejection. He is perpetuating his own suffering, driving the cycle of his own misery.
And ironically, he can’t see that, because virtually none of us can see ourselves as we really are. If we did, we wouldn’t need mirrors. We wouldn’t even need other people or a physical reality. Because the whole purpose of physical reality and relationships is to reflect – to make visible to us – who we really are, the consequences of our choices and decisions.
The most difficult thing in the world isn’t moving mountains from one place to the other, or walking on water. The most difficult thing is to see yourself as you really are. That is a real miracle, an almost impossible feat.
This what I have come to call the loop of self-determination: “they did this and so I must respond with that”, which maintains the existing perception, the habit and the situation as it is. The situation and the response to it mutually reinforce each other and create an almost unbreakable loop. And this loop is not unbreakable because it is “destiny” or created by “forces beyond your control”. This loop is unbreakable because to escape this loop requires “abnormal” thinking. Thinking outside the box. Thinking in a way that is not considered normal, or is unexpected, or illogical, or does not make sense in the context of how that particular society or culture or human relationships are supposed to work. Because each habit or convention of behaviour that your parents or society have conditioned into you over decades is more than just a rule or a custom – it is really a very powerful energetic barrier. It requires more than just a determined decision – it requires a supreme act of free will.
Which brings us to another interesting aspect of this case. If this man is simply this way as a result of reacting to what others have done to him is he really in control of his life? Is he simply a helpless victim trapped in a loop of negativity? We could argue that he became this way because of his upbringing and what he suffered as a child. Maybe he a product, a victim of his environment? If so, can we truly say he has free will?
Free Will In The Real World
One of the hardest things you will ever do in your spiritual awakening is break your reaction loops. Because it’s not just about reacting or not reacting. It’s about claiming your free will itself. As long as your actions are determined by forces or factors outside of you, you have no free will. However, when you can choose your reaction no matter what convention or habit or the opinions of others dictates as the “normal” reaction, then you can really begin to recognize your ability to operate with free will. You are truly autonomous and self-determined.
Free will is often discussed as an abstract concept, e.g. “If God already knows what we’re going to do in future, do we really have free will?” But there’s a lot more to free will that that. And here I want to point out to you how free will operates in the real, practical, everyday world.
Free will is the ability to determine your own actions – the freedom to decide and act on any decision you make. But even in that simple definition, there is a lot more going on that meets the eye. It implies that your actions are not determined by the words or actions of others. That you act independently of outer stimuli, for your own reasons and not in response to the expectations or promptings of others. This is what free will really is. And as long as others can trigger or coerce you into acting out of habit or emotional pressure, you aren’t free at all. You don’t really have free will.
I believe free will isn’t something you are born with. Or rather, you’re born with a small amount of it. It’s something you attain – something you earn more of as a result of achieving a higher level of consciousness, as a result of becoming more aware of your responsibility for your own actions. As you attain greater and greater levels of awareness, you are able to deliberately choose more and more of your reactions to events and circumstances, no matter how annoying or disturbing they may be. You are no longer a “reactor” or a victim – you are now a “creator”, a deliberate strategist. You are achieving “creator consciousness”.
Barriers To Free Will
Attaining this level of free will is very possible, but it’s no walk in the park. Expect to have to battle decades of deep conditioning from your parents, peers, TV and society. Expect that nobody is going to understand you and you will probably even be laughed at or ridiculed. Expect to be gossiped about and called “weird”. Because society as it exists now isn’t designed to support your expression of free will. It survives by determining and controlling your reactions. Society feeds and thrives on teaching you to think and act in specific, predetermined ways to specific events.
As I see it, the amount of free will you have is inversely proportional to the amount of orders you follow. Or to the amount of consciousness you bring to the fact that you are choosing to follow orders and not compelled to follow them. When you make the excuse “I’m just following orders”, you are denying making a choice to follow those orders, and denying that you have free will. But when you realize that you are choosing to follow those orders whether you admit it openly or not or whether you agree with them or not, then you recognize and enhance your own free will. It’s not about following orders or not – it’s about always being aware that you are making a choice to follow those orders.
If you follow this train of thought then certain classes of people, like soldiers, would seem to have a lot less free will than the average person. They must follow orders, and a good portion of their time and energy is devoted to following orders. (Is this a bad thing? Realize that without the need to follow orders, a lot of institutions we rely on today probably wouldn’t exist.) Theoretically, the top of the free will scale would be God, who does exactly as he pleases (or at least who is always aware that each action he takes and each thought she thinks is voluntary and by choice, no matter what stimuli he/she is facing).
If you really think about it, this is why generals and CEOs and leaders get more of the glory than their foot soldiers. Because the general, even though he is exposed to less physical danger, exerts more free will in deciding the course of the campaign than the foot soldier who merely follows orders. The general uses the force of free will to carve the path to victory out of the many cloudy and indefinite possibilities, outcomes and futures surrounding the battle.
Does this mean you should never follow orders? It’s important not to see this as a good vs bad thing. Follow orders if you wish, or don’t if you wish. That’s not the point here. The point is to bring a higher level of consciousness to your actions and realize that you are always making a choice, whether you claim you are being forced into it or not. This puts more of your attention on your free will, and your use of it.