Lesson 4: Will
Belief In Will
I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. I finished the first part of Renouvier's second Essais and see no reason why his definition of free will — 'the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts' — need be the definition of an illusion. At any rate, I will assume for the present — until next year — that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will. (William James)
The philosopher/psychologist William James struggled mightily with the question of free will and came to a pragmatic solution. He would choose to believe in it and act accordingly for a year to test its reality in his life.
For James, this was no idle philosophical inquiry. He suffered severe bouts of depression with thoughts of suicide, panic attacks, and various physical ailments thought to have been inherited from his father who suffered similar problems. Thus the question of free will vs. biological destiny was real and personal for the proponent of pragmatic philosophy and founding father of American psychology.
Interestingly, at a practical level, modern social science research has demonstrated that reducing a person's belief in free will makes them less helpful and more aggressive, more likely to cheat, lie, and steal, and feel less guilt about it. Disbelief in free will is associated with mindless conformity.
On the other hand, belief in free will predicts better job performance and increased feelings of self-efficacy associated with mental health. Apart from philosophical wrangling and as a strictly practical matter, it is fortunate that belief in free will is a cultural universal.
As we have seen, free will is not necessarily free – there is a price to be paid in terms of personal responsibility. And if the will is asleep or unacknowledged, it may as well not exist in practical terms.
Application: What is your belief about free will? If the will is asleep or unused, is life predetermined to some extent, perhaps entirely so? Is faith in free will required, as it apparently was for William James? Does believing in free will and acting accordingly make it so?
Point Of Power
According to the Cayce readings, will is the most powerful force of the soul. No power in human experience exceeds will, not even factors of heredity (genetics) and environment (childhood conditioning). From a metaphysical perspective, even past lives on earth (reincarnation) or past lives in other realms of consciousness (planetary sojourns or astrology) are subservient to the power of will in the present.
As noted in the video overview, mind is not will. Mind works in opposition to will. Mind deals with what is or was. Will addresses what might be.
Mind dwells in the past and builds based on past patterns. Will is in the present – the point of power. How we use will in the present trumps how we used will in the past, whether in the past of this life or another (on earth or some other realm of consciousness).
Application: If you have a tendency to be a prisoner of the past – to become stuck in past patterns thinking, feeling, and acting – awaken to the reality of the present moment as the point of power for the will. Identify some condition in your life, perhaps a genetic predisposition or childhood conditioning, and choose to change that pattern if you wish. Don’t forget to act upon your choice to fully empower it.
Submission or obedience to the greater good as represented by the will of God is one of the primary paradoxical manifestations of wisdom. Remember, we only truly have what we give away. By attuning personal will to the will of God, personal will is raised in its power as part of the Whole.
Surrendering of personal will is mostly a matter of addressing selfishness or willfulness at some level. Very often, what we regard as will is simply our own self-centered preoccupation. It is selfishness that is surrendered – sacrificed as it were.
Being submissive and obedient to the greater good does not necessarily limit your options. You may find yourself presented with multiple, positive solutions to a problem rather than a single, definitive way to proceed. You will still have the opportunity and responsibility to exercise will in the choosing.
This is where ideals come into play. The use of will to choose a spiritual ideal and corresponding mental and physical ideals is the right use of will where there are multiple constructive options available for consideration.
To be full companions and co-creators with the Divine, we each need to develop will. But personal will must be attuned to the greater good to fulfill its maximum intended purpose.
Application: As part of your regular attunement process (i.e., prayer and meditation), seek the will of God, the greater good, in some area of your life that is challenging or problematic. Acknowledge submission in your attitude as you attune. As you determine the optimal solution, find a way to apply your obedience in daily life. Notice how the problem or challenge becomes less powerful as an obstacle in your life. Notice how you feel more empowered to address other challenges in life as a partner with Creative Forces. Be conscious of how this process of submission and obedience is part of ideals-based living.