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30 January, 2009

Free will: the power to choose

I was thinking to write on different topic. However, due to interesting discussions on the previous post contributed by my friends, I lured to extend the topic a bit more. Rather than trying to ‘answer’ the curiosity which I may not do, I am just holding the topic more. As pointed in the discussion, we found us as the victims of reactive mind. We generally can’t grasp the gap between the stimulus and the response, which is the greatest power- freedom to choose. As soon as we receive events as sensations, there is built-in reaction pattern to respond. Therefore we often lack to witness the 'free will'.

Firstly, there arose the concern about 'events' and life. In ordinary sense, the term events in “life is more important than events” was meant to those particular events which are still binding us, whose negative impacts burden us physically and mentally. We many times create a boundary (emotional, personal and social) because of those events happened in the past.

In general sense, as Caroline wrote “Every event in our life is neutral...until we give it meaning". Our 'life', the way we feel, is not accumulation of events. Rather it is the accumulation of meaning associated with the events. See how a single event carries so many different meanings to different people, sometimes diametrically opposite impact to the different observers. Each event consists of three parts- fact, fiction and truth. Fact is the objective observation, fiction is the unconscious reactive pattern and the truth is the understanding in a direction of growth. So, can we deduce positive meaning with events? Although it is very difficult not to generate fiction in the every events in our life, if we watch carefully, we can do in most of the cases in our everyday life. Getting accustomed to the ‘small’ events we can be master to the difficult events. Even the term ‘attainment’ also comes, as I believe, in terms of collective understanding of the events.

Lastly I like to conclude with very inspiring story, which I always love, of Viktor Franlin who practice the freedom in very adverse environment. I quote the following portion of Franlin's biography from book seven habits of highly effective people. Enjoy if you have not already gone through.

Frankl was a psychiatrist and imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them. His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Except for his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the "saved" who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.

One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called "the last of the human freedoms" -- the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Viktor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.

In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind's eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture. Through a series of such disciplines -- mental, emotional, and moral, principally using memory and imagination -- he exercised his small, embryonic freedom until it grew larger and larger, until he had more freedom than his Nazi captors. They had more liberty, more options to choose from in their environment; but he had more freedom, more internal power to exercise his options. He became aninspiration to those around him, even to some of the guards. Later, he helped others find meaning in their suffering and dignity in their prison existence. In the midst of the most degrading circumstances imaginable, Frankl used the human endowment of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose. Within the freedom to choose are those endowments that make us uniquely human. In addition to self-awareness, we have imagination -- the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality. And, we have independent will, the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences.


  1. Hi Sumiran, you are very talented in expressing your thoughts through this post. I really enjoyed reading this one.
    I am very thankful that while I was visiting some of my blogger friend, I found your blog down the line. Your blog worth visiting.
    Have a happy Tuesday. :)

  2. @grace
    Thanks grace for your visit and comment. I also found your site quite interesting.

  3. Great post! I really like how you break up events into 3 parts. Fact, Fiction, and Truth. Very insightful!

  4. Hi!

    It is great to find your blog - I am glad you visited mine and hence led me here! It is always great to read from people who are seeking to evolve and enlighten their life out of the mundane robotic way that the human race has accepted for so long.

    You stress many great truths here in this article. I think what we should focus on too as we evolve is to take in each moment, one at a time, this often increases the time between the stimulus and the reaction and hence our reaction becomes conscious and out of our free will, not automatic.

    I like the point too on how each situation "is" and it is us who give it meaning - how very, very true!

    And yes I have read and heard this story before - amazing what the being can do when it acts out of consciousness.

  5. Wow!
    That is a truly inspirational story.
    Looking at my life from that perspective I realize that I have nothing to complain about.
    We are too spoiled and forget how much we really have.
    Thank you so much for your wonderful post!

  6. Your write-ups always fascinate me and this post is definitely not an exception. The story is nice and thought provoking too. However, I would like to have your views on 'destiny and free-will' things! On the human's ability to decide & act independently, one of the researchers writes "...little more than automatons, mere machines, pieces of biological clock-work that have no more free will than a Swiss watch". How much free-will, do you think, we possess? May I ask you to have a look to my previous post related to destiny and free-will?

  7. @Caroline -
    Thank you for your response.
    @Evita -
    Welcome to this blog. Oh yes, sharing helps a lot to our journey
    @ Buddha - Ya, that's true. We rarely notice what we already have
    @ Deependraji -
    Accept my belated congratulation. Your hardworking and talent deserve that. Regardng to your query, I will put my view in my next post. Trying to optimize posting :-)

  8. Frankl was a truly amazing example of humanity under the very worst of conditions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic.