I’m a Sunday morning walk at the height of summer, fairly early in the day to beat the heat. I’m sure my two dogs will appreciate that. I am alone on the trail, except, of course, for the fullness of nature. Today, that also includes a host of deer flies. My dog Maya has dozens swarming around her head. I have maybe a dozen, and Po-dog has none.
At one point, perhaps about mid-journey, I go into a reverie about will and willpower and begin composing on the subject of free will.
The notion of free will represents the Western ideal of individual freedom and the importance of individuation. It is not found, for example, amongst the untouchables of India (or in Hinduism generally). The assumption of free will rarely takes into consideration circumstance, such as the baby who was born with AIDS in Africa. Compare the choices that child might have to the child born of creative and financially stable parents in an affluent country.
The notion of free will gained support from theologians, as it fits in nicely with a fatherly personal God who fails to intervene in the ongoing evils in the world. It gives God the Father an excuse: it’s not that God is cruel or indifferent, but that He gave humankind free will as a gesture of love, and if humans misuse use free will to make self-defeating or cruel decisions, well, that was their choice. (The counter-argument is that an omnipotent God would have known that humans would muck things up, and would at least have set limits to the extent that free will can express as evil. These arguments can become rather circular if one refuses to consider that God is not our Father as we conceive Father, or that God has an unintegrated shadow inherent in the formation of the material/time-based worlds.)
The comparison of free will and willpower comes to mind, because free will was never free. For free will to actualize, there must be freedom, and freedom has a cost. In a similar vein, the exercise of willpower is no longer considered free. We have so much willpower in the “willpower bank.” Modern research suggests that we should use our willpower reserves strategically to make choices that we can accomplish, while at the same time building our willpower muscle with ongoing success. For example, it may not make sense to wrestle with changing your diet when you willpower reserves are low.
Free will and willpower are personal whereas will is transpersonal. Will involves connection with powers or attributes outside yourself — for example with Soul, power animals, or a Muse.
I fallout of my reverie and notice there are no deer flies. In my peripheral memory I cannot see a single deer fly throughout the communion of composition. (And deer flies do have a tendency to make themselves known.) As my usual thoughts return, the deer flies slowly begin to accumulate once again. Now there are dozens around Maya, about a dozen around me, and none are around Po-dog (not a single deer fly at any moment of the journey).
I begin to focus my attention on the trees, a source of will outside myself. I slip back into reverie. The deer flies disappear.
This is shamanic, connecting to a source power to which I have previously been connected. Tree, Cloud, Animal Powers — spirits with which we may commune. I feel something that I would call will, or even grace, flowing from that connection that has a direct influence on my surroundings.
I begin to play with that connection: can I intend the will of Tree to aid my current physical condition? As I feel the energy in my back, the deer flies begin to return. I realize that intentional will has limits. Put to the furthest extreme, I could not use this moment of grace to create, for example, a lasting world peace. That’s where I need to choose. Healing my body is more complicated than misdirecting deer flies. I can feel the complications of time, challenge, and circumstance. With earned or gifted will comes choice. Given my choices, I need to recognize that some problems are more complicated than others, more a knot than freely connecting threads. These require patience or tenacity. Other problems are communal and require a community of intentional will.
Then I notice a woman on a connecting trail who is wearing a hat, and I realize that I could wear a hat to deal with deer flies. Not every problem requires the highest focus of will. I decide to dedicate the composition of will toward other purposes at this time. There is sacred and unfinished business in my life. These are the elements that make my continued life worth the living. Adequate health will become a focused byproduct of composed will directed toward sacred purpose. This is in no way grandiose. It is an expression of Self. There will come a time when my sacred purpose becomes uncertain or — if I have the awareness — I will realize I have done what I can with this life of mine. Heck, maybe that time has already come and gone and I am living on sacred borrowed time.
We can imagine our connection with Power and spirits as generally protective through the concentric circles of our relationships. Like gravity, that influence fades with distance. Through focused intention there is potential to become connected with a community of Wills. Sacred resonance lining up with directed purpose — all egos left at the entryway.
As I think about the connections of will, a few deer flies return — maybe half as many as before — barely bothersome. I’m in a reverie where my thoughts arise from the awareness of my surroundings and extend to the circles in my life.
Now I’m “told” that we will always return from a graceful reverie into the body of our lives. Our lives are the base for our experience. The influence of our communion with a transpersonal will leaves it’s trace in our body and in our world — sometimes in ways we intend, sometimes as transcendent surprise, and sometimes in near invisible waves that no one will ever put your name to.
I can see my car. It’s time to go home. My friendly companions, you know the routine.