Gathering Awareness – Entry #13
If we’ve already perceived that our personal will power is truly free, and in the light of that perception we’ve made a conscious decision to accept its guidance in the directing of our daily affairs, then why does it seem like such a drain of energy when we practice the use of this so-called free will? In my limited understanding of the concept of free will, I intuit that the majority of the resistance we encounter while exercising it, is arising from within ourselves. We’ve been conditioned in one way or another, to believe that being willful is somehow wrong. Many of us have been institutionalized by authoritarian systems of government who, in an effort to gain power over our freedom of will, have taught us that any expression of personal willfulness is indicative of a character defect which they’ve categorized as “nonconformity”, and they’ve placed this defect beneath the broader category of “undesirable selfish behaviors”. Quite a few of the world’s organized religions teach that our free will should be, at the very least, sublimated to the will of God, and at best, completely forsaken for fear of following your will into eternal damnation. For those who’ve adopted these theological doctrines to motivate the curtailing of their own free will, I would ask – Why would an omnipotent God create human beings with the capacity to express personal willfulness, if there was never any intention to let them practice it, freely? Surely, a benevolent Creator would have had your greatest earthly potential in mind. The God of my understanding apparently takes great pleasure in my individual expression of free will. Otherwise, why would I feel such incredible joy when I practice the art of personal willful expression? My will must be free!
The Snake, the Frog and the Freedom of Will
Whenever I’m experiencing an emotional hardship or spiritual tribulation, I feel the urge to take a walk outside. I’ve learned that a long walk alone in the woods is usually more healing to my soul than any other activity that I could choose to engage in. Nature, it seems, can absorb and transmute my human suffering, then reflect it back to me in the form of a natural panacea for whatever is currently troubling me. And so, when I am in pain, I immediately feel the need to take a walk.
On one such occasion, I was walking along a path at the De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida. On this particularly beautiful, blue-sky, sunny-day, I remember being deeply absorbed in my own troubled thoughts. My marriage of twenty-plus years appeared to be coming apart at the seams, and the pain of it was, I had no idea how to sew it back together. But walking wasn’t working, and thinking was working less than walking, so I was becoming more miserable by the step. That was when I heard it… A small but clearly distressed voice, saying “Help Meeeee!” I stopped walking so abruptly that my thoughts seemed to wrench free from my head and continue up the path, unconcerned that they were leaving my body behind. I looked self-consciously around me, completely startled and thinking someone might be playing a prank on me. Surely, I was just being punked. I half expected to see a child of the corn come running out from beneath the mangroves, giggling and carrying on, cheerfully singing “I got you! I got you! I got you!”. Instead, I saw no movement at all, but I did hear the voice again “Help Meeeee!” It sounded like the voice of a terrified tiny gnome, yelling as loud as possible in an effort to get my full attention. When I finally managed to gather my wits, I was able to zero in on the source of the voice after two or three more pleading calls for help. There, on the top of a wooden sign attesting to the exploratory genius of Hernando de Soto, was a garter snake with a leopard frog sticking out of its mouth. On closer inspection, I could see that the snake had already consumed one of the frog’s rear legs and the other one was bending backwards as the snake slowly swallowed its prey. As I watched, entranced by the unfolding drama, the frog let out another pathetic plea. “Help Meeeee!” Even when I was looking straight at it and fully aware that it was a frog and not a person, I still heard a distinctly human voice. That voice was begging for my help.
I quickly made the decision to enforce my own will on the situation. I bet many of you are thinking “Who in the hell thinks like that?” I mean the very idea of enforcing one’s will on a frog and a snake engaged in a struggle that has been played out over and over, without human interference, for many a millennium. Nonetheless, I really wanted to save that poor frog. After apologizing to Mr. Snake for what I was about to do, I grabbed hold of his ample head just behind the lower jaw and pulled the snake’s writhing body from the wooden signpost. Recognizing its vulnerability, the snake released the frog’s leg to free up its needle-sharp fangs with hopes that it could then sink them into my fleshy fingers. As soon as the frog had its leg free, it hit the ground jumping. Big happy leaps, seemingly. And I seemed to sense an amphibious gratitude left behind along the arched trail of its departure. As for the snake, well let’s just say that it wasn’t impressed by my heroic actions. I set it down cautiously, once the frog had a good head start, and the snake gave me a cold and disdainful look as it slithered away into the tangled mangrove forest.
I’m sure that certain environmentalists would likely chastise me for this behavior, claiming that I had altered the outcome of an important environmental event – namely the predator eats prey event. And certain well-to-do socialites would say that my actions were repulsive and that I should wash my hands thoroughly after handling those disgusting creatures. But, in my final analysis of this true story, I prefer to take a more philosophical approach to describe the nature of my actions. I chose to enforce my free will in a situation that shouldn’t have concerned me at all. I did it with the intention of changing the future circumstances of both the frog and the snake. I have no idea what the outcome of my intentions were, regarding the life of the frog or the snake, or the world for that matter, because you know what they say about the butterfly effect, but I do know that it was me intentionally practicing my free will. And ultimately, I know, that exercising our free will is a very good thing, to practice!