In my work with Michael Jeffreys in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Eckhart Tolle Meetup, one of the issues that frequently comes up is that of “free will.”
What is so confusing to many is that writers like Eckhart Tolle will say things like -in every situation you have three choices – to accept it, change it or leave.
At the same time, many nondual teachers like Michael will assert categorically that all freewill is an illusion; for example, they will cite experiments that show that the brain “knows” what will happen (seen in an MRI) before a subject chooses which arm to raise. And of course they will always inquire deeply if there is choice, “who” is actually the chooser – and can one find the “self” in the body or anywhere else?
I have begun my own approach to this issue by ascribing the conflict to the innate paradoxes within Life, and the need to simply accept “not knowing.” Further I believe that the key is actually to be found in the inadequacy of our linguistics –thought and words –and their inherently flawed subject-object programming to provide a real “answer.”
So I was very interested to read Choice and Will: New Teachings from Jesus by Gina Lake, to see how this ostensibly nondual teacher, whose writing is so clear, approaches this profound issue. The title itself obviously suggests that some measure of choice–and indeed will–does exist.
Gina basically “gives away the ending” in the very first paragraph, in which with typical clarity she writes:
“You have been given the gift of free will. This gift requires one thing: consciousness. By consciousness, I mean awareness of the possibility of choice. Without this awareness, human beings would not be very different from animals, who function and survive primarily through instinct and other conditioning. Similarly, if you are not aware that you have a choice and if you don’t exercise it, you also will function mostly according to your instincts and conditioning.”
Where she goes with this is really what makes the book so interesting. She calls the Ego the “small will” –not because “it is not powerful” but because “there exists a greater will within which the ego’s will operates, although the ego is not aware of this greater will, what I will call Thy will or divine will.”
Many scientific readers will stop right there and require proof. Is she talking about God? After all, this book is supposedly being dictated to her by Jesus… But this is exactly the chief feature of the “small will” – the need for rational explanations within the world of thought.
What Gina points to as the “Greater Will” –or Consciousness –is the ability to question even this –even the stream of rational thoughts that are there to question everything else.
As Eckhart Tolle also powerfully says, beginning to question the thoughts in the head is the beginning of true freedom. In this context, “choice and free will” take on an entirely different flavor or quality.
They are no longer words, or concepts, but rather lived experiences –which is the “essence” of the concept of “will” anyway. It is the act of getting out of the chair that is apparently the result of the thought, I should get up. But in “actuality” the act itself is not the “result” of the thought, as the small mind would have you believe –it is of an entirely different scale. It is simply the act itself or a function of “the Greater Will in which the ego’s will operates.”
As soon as the concept of proof arises, “we” are once again in the realm of thought. Gina refers to this belief in our thoughts as our ego’s “robotic programmed existence” or conditioning.
Our true choice comes from the Greater Will of Consciousness which allows us “space” from our thoughts and to actually question them, summoning a quality of attention in the moment that allows Life to unfold as it is – “Thy will be done.”
One can take a more holistic scientific view of this that goes beyond the well-known Christian interpretation, using the analogy that I find so fascinting–that of the conditioned mind as “software” –again robotic programming –and here Gina deftly describes how our blind belief in what passes for information can paralyze us:
“Another useful but often misapplied aspect of the software is the mind’s ability to come up with every possible thing that can go wrong. Being aware of negative possibilities can be helpful.
However, if you let the computer-mind make choices for you based solely on problems you might encounter, you may never get out of bed. The mind’s tendency to focus on potential problems leaves people scared, joyless and immobilized. Such cautionary warnings were never meant to overrun or hijack people’s decisions. The computer-mind may provide some useful information, but information is just information, and it was never meant to run people’s lives. For decisions that affect your life, you need wisdom.”
So again, where do “decisions” based on wisdom actually come from? Gina sometimes refers to this as “The Choiceless Choice” which is the beginning of true liberation –when the Egoic mind has lost its call (power). Going further with the parables of Jesus, which Eckhart Tolle also fondly interprets, this could well be the “Kingdom of Heaven.”
When the illusion of the ego is seen through, and many of the programmed motivations of the “real world” fall away, the “choiceless choice” remains only as the obvious and disciplined “choice” to be present and aware. This discipline ask us to remain vigilant and aware of the extent to which we may continue to believe thoughts –and to question these beliefs, let the thoughts float away, and to act from silent presence instead.
In some ways this also alludes to an opening of what some may call “intuition” or higher awareness. But again such faculties or experiences are not something to be explained or described but only to be experienced.
Gina discussed this recently in a wonderful interview with Grace Balik on Easter Sunday in an “online retreat.”
I am generally skeptical and put off by books that are supposedly “channeled,” but after exposure to a Course in Miracles and Bashar, I try to keep an open mind. Gina herself addressed this issue on the interview linked above, and basically says that any discussion of whether Jesus “really” dictated the work is an irrelevant distraction.
Along the same lines, in the interview Gina also addressed the conflict I raised at the outset, and suggested that the dogma of “no free will” espoused by nondual purists may be a bit difficult for people just beginning to awaken to comprehend; it can only become clear, in the context laid out so well in this short book, once the disciplined and exercise of true free will -seeing through the illusion of the ego and the trap of believing one’s thoughts -has consistently been experientially realized.
This is very subtle and not very easy material to grasp, although ultimately it is the “simplest” and most elegant solution to life itself –to let go of one’s egoic predilections and to simply trust life.
What made it a bit clearer to me was remembering a book I actually read a decade or so ago by another one of my favorite philosophers – in The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, Jacob Needleman also explains what the “founding fathers” actually meant by the pursuit of happiness, and the concept of liberty.
It never was meant to suggest that freedom meant just “doing everything you want,” or what your mind suggests, and that that would make you happy. Happiness is not the accumulation of external “things” but rather, what it meant for many of these intellectual giants (who were actually Deists and not fundamentalist Christians) was the freedom to explore and grow in the sacred inner world.
“Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature. For Deists, human beings can only know God via reason and the observation of nature.”
This is merely another way of suggesting that a deep alignment with What Is (Nature) is the path to God — so that the freedom sought by our founding fathers was partly scientific – to explore nature – and partly sacred – to appreciate inwardly what we know and sense to be Life.
When fundamentalists maintain that this is a “Christian nation,” they are partly right -it was founded “under God” but the Deist conception of God that was practiced by many signatories to the Constitution is actually very similar to eastern mysticism of pantheism. Just read Thoreau, Emerson or the other transcendentalists to understand what many deists believed.
Alignment with this “sort of God” results in profound joy (as opposed to the modern notion of happiness dependent on results or goals) – it is almost an Eastern concept of Chi or Tao – going with the flow based on a higher reason – or what Gina Lake describes in this book at seeing through illusions of the small mind (belief in thought) to grasp the experiential truth of “what Is.”
This wonderfully addresses one of the key issues raised by seekers of truth who wonder at the apparent “passivity” of awakening or enlightenment – the result, again, of the apparently uncompromising assertion of nondual teachers that free will doesn’t exist.
Another common misperception is that this implies passivity and laxziness. That within this system of “non-belief” we “won’t” do anything.
But as Michael Jeffreys has said in our classes, then try it. The reality is that you “will” still function, and if it is in your nature to write, for example, you will still do so. Like this review of Gina Lake’s book on CE.
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