The other day, one of the big oaks in our forest broke in half during a windstorm. The top part crashed down, crushing a number of other trees beneath it.
The day after it fell, Rebecca and I sat on the fallen section, looking up at the old oak. Since we’re rather fond of trees, and particularly fond of the trees in our forest, we found ourselves considering how odd it was that we weren’t angry with the old oak for crushing all those other trees beneath it.
To illustrate, consider that a storm comes by your house and blows a branch into a window, breaking it. Of course, this is a perfectly natural occurrence. We might be angry, but we’re not angry at the tree or at the windstorm. In fact, if the anger is directed anywhere, we might direct it at ourselves since we didn’t notice how close that branch was to our window, and trim it off before it had a chance to do some damage.
Now, if the neighbor boy comes running through the yard and throws a rock into our window, we will feel quite different, won’t we? Now our anger is directed at the boy, and we’ll probably find some way to punish him.
This all seems very normal to us. We can’t really get angry at rocks and trees and even at most animals, because they are not acting with free will. But we often get angry with human beings (including ourselves), because we do act via free will.
A while ago, I wrote a post calling free will into question. If we look honestly, we discover that we don’t really have any conclusive evidence that free will exists (and conversely, no conclusive evidence that it doesn’t).
It is interesting if we sit down and really spend some time thinking about this issue of free will. If you watch your mind carefully, you will see that we have a very ingrained belief that free will exists. And if you continue to think on the issue, taking the time to examine it fully, you very well may discover that you want to jump to the opposite conclusion.
In other words, if we observe with our full intelligence, we will discover that we really don’t know whether there is free will or not.
It’s a bit odd, then, that we spend so much energy applying ourselves to being angry with ourselves or others because of this belief in free will.
After all, how else can you be angry with someone unless they’ve done something under the context of free will?
Is there free will or isn’t there? Make a decision either way, and you’ve simply latched on to one half of your usual dualistic model of the world. In truth, neither ‘free will’ nor ‘no free will’ adequately describes the true relationship we have with the world.
Most of us are strongly in the ‘free will’ camp. And we may never take the time in our lives to sit down and really think about the implications this has in our lives. But this belief is one of the strongest influences in how our life unfolds.
If we observe carefully, we will discover that we can make strong arguments for either side of the issue. And we will also see the many flaws each side has. What, then, are we left with?
Observe. When you truly examine this belief (or any belief), it will crumble before your observation. You can only hold a belief if you close your eyes and cover your ears, refusing to think or examine. But when the belief is unmasked . . .
This is when the world begins to open up to us in a new way. When we’re not painting the world with our beliefs, we’re able to see the world just as it is, and it will dazzle us in its beauty and simplicity.
Perhaps the greatest mystery is not whether or not there is free will. Perhaps the greatest mystery is this – Why do we spend so much energy and time constructing a world-view that brings us so much stress, frustration, and pain? The world is just fine as it is. But when we insist on painting it with beliefs, we miss out on almost everything life has to offer, and are left only with the constant stream of thoughts in our heads – punctuated by an occasional glimpse of beauty when the world presents us with something so new or amazing that our thoughts, for a moment, cease.
Let the world be its wondrous self. When you do, you discover something truly extraordinary – that you, too, are wondrous and beautiful and simple.
This is all that we need to do. Everything else will unfold perfectly on its own.