Paradox of Will

Freedom of will is a huge paradox.

Let’s assume for the moment that it actually does exist—if not exactly free choice, then at least some ability to will actions into being (yes, I’m thinking of Immanuel Kant–that bastard has an unrelenting ability to persuade me of things I’d never thought I could believe).

This power to will can be the motive power by which we try to break free of old, subconscious patterns of behavior. It is the intention to do the hard work—the meditation, the introspection, the change—to recognize our self-destructive habits, to stand outside of our egos, to strive for transcendence and even enlightenment. It is the intention not to be satisfied with the thought, “this just how I am, and these are my urges that I am compelled to satisfy” but to actually try and discover a true self–or non-self–beneath this web of desires.

But the exercise of free will is also precisely what got us into this situation that we want to transcend in the first place. It is that single-minded striving after goals; the self-discipline; the drive to create a persona that achieves and radiates success according to worldly norms. It is also the foundation of how we learn to systematically ignore, suppress and discredit those yearnings and hopes that do not serve our fantasies of outer success. Free will, in the great majority of cases, is used to reinforce our egos and the values of the outside world, at the expense of everything inside us; at the expense of those intangible connections to the deeper patterns of nature; and at the expense of enlightenment.

We can not blame our wills for all of our problems and bad patterns. Parents, genes, lovers, advertisements, education, work and friends deserve a lot of the credit. But will power transforms that environment into personal fact. Freedom of will is so often the choice to act in pursuit of the dreams others give to us rather than to search for and listen to our selves. As we blindly pursue our free will, the problems and patterns that we ignore and suppress become ever more knotted in our souls, settling deeper and deeper, and ultimately leaking out in unpredictable ways.

And the paradox is that, in the off-chance that we become aware of the sorry and self-contradictory state into which we have descended, the only way out depends on an act of will to change our condition. Yet this act must be more nuanced than the will power that led us in pursuit of exterior goals. Because, if the spiritual adepts are to be believed (I have not experienced it myself) the movement towards freedom is ultimately an act of surrender, an abdication of will.


Posted on September 16, 2012, in Consciousness, The Search and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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