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Who is in charge of my free will?

a man with a hat

Human beings are endowed with free will. This exceptional distinction enables them to aspire to the ultimate goal for which they were created: Perfection. But such an aspiration requires that they make good use of their free will when they are facing choices in everyday life, with family, at work, etc. Anyone who wishes to pursue that spiritual goal should thus, at all times, ask themselves the following question: “how and to what avail will I use my free will?”

  • Will I use it to pursue my personal interests in a purely egotistical manner? My ego would then be in charge of my free will, and all my decisions would be made without regard to what is spiritually at stake in a given situation or to my true goal.
  • Or will I use my free will to fulfil my spiritual duty, that is, to practice ethics out of a sense of human duty and with the intention of divine satisfaction, in order to nourish my soul and to progress towards spiritual perfection? In this case, I am fully in charge of my choices, because when I make a decision I take into consideration the aspirations of my true Self, and I am aware of both the material and spiritual issues of the situation.

Now, my self-awareness is almost exclusively governed by my ego. If, when facing a decision, I do not make the effort to distance myself from my ego, it is my ego that will make that decision, to the detriment of my soul’s spiritual growth. The following experience and analysis provide a good illustration of this point.

The scene takes place as I am leaving my sister’s house after having spent a couple of days there over a holiday. I had a long drive ahead of me and only one idea in mind: get home as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law was at work at his new doctor’s office, which was nearby. My sister suggested that I should stop over on the way to say goodbye and take a look at his new office, which would make him very happy.

My first decision between two choices

I had to decide between stopping by my brother-in-law’s office to pay him my respects and acknowledge his professional success (the ethical choice) or going straight home to get there as quickly as possible (the egotistical choice). But that second choice was all I could think about—my ego had completely taken over my thoughts—so the decision was as good as made: I was going to drive home without stopping by my brother-in-law’s office and I was going to send him a text message to say goodbye.

My second decision between the same two choices

I had just set off and was approaching my brother-in-law’s practice when he called me to invite me to come by before driving back home. So I was faced once again with the same two choices. This time, I chose to stop by as I could hardly decline without risking to spoil my reputation as the congenial brother-in-law. I had thus made the opposite decision but still under the influence of my ego!

The visit did not last more than ten minutes and my brother-in-law seemed really happy. We exchanged warm goodbyes when I left.

Cool-headed analysis of my decisions

That night, as I was going through my day to analyse my behaviour, I noted with satisfaction that I had done an ethical deed when I chose to make my brother-in-law happy. But when I started looking more closely at my intention, my heart quickly sank: it became clear to me that I had acted “under duress”, fearing that my image would be tarnished—I was looking to preserve my own interest and to satisfy my ego. It is more than questionable whether a deed done with such an intention could possibly be of nutritional value to the soul. Indeed, Bahram Elahi points out[1] that for an action to “nourish” the soul in a balanced manner, it is necessary that it be carried out with the intention of divine satisfaction and out of a sense of duty.

I also became aware of the fact that twice, as I was faced with a choice to make, I had been under the influence of my ego, and to such an extent that I felt that I had no part in the decision-making: it was all my ego’s doing. The truth is that I had yielded my free will to my ego without even realising it.

This analysis confirms that the ego spontaneously dominates our thoughts and under its rule our choices become automatic and our spiritual interests get pushed to the background. The only way to become conscious of this state of subordination is to remind ourselves of who we really are and who it is we want to please. This is what I did that evening as I was analysing my actions of the day, in other words quite some time after having made those decisions. Only then did I realise that I had wasted several opportunities for my soul to progress.

What if I had been in charge of my free will?

If in fact I had been aware that my thoughts were dominated by my ego when my sister suggested that I should drop by her husband’s office, I could have changed the direction my thoughts were headed. For example by reminding myself of my spiritual duty and goal, I could have reminded myself that only authentic ethical practice can nourish my soul and bring it to the stage of Perfection. I would then have been more receptive to the spiritual dimension of her suggestion and I might have perceived the spiritual opportunity to put into practice a correct ethical principle.

In addition, if at the moment I was making the second decision my thoughts had been directed toward the Source, I would have been able to change my intention and to consciously carry out that action with the intention of pleasing Him.

Consequently, when making decisions, if we wish to have a spiritual benefit, we must “distance ourselves from our ego”, which requires a considerable effort of attention (attention to the Source, feeling His presence…) and recollection (to remember our spiritual duties and goal). This enables us to “see” situations and events that may seem ordinary as so many opportunities to practice ethics.

Because our thoughts are spontaneously dominated by our ego and we constantly have to make decisions, that effort of attention must become a reflex. It is precisely by repeatedly winning battles against the ego and submitting it to our decisions that our true Self can progressively reclaim the use of our free will.

[1] ^B. Elahi, Medicine of the Soul, Cornwall Books, 2001, p. 58.

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  1. MH Nov 11, 2014 5:15 pm 1

    Wonderful example of what subtle situations we might be facing!
    But: I thought that when I acted “out of a sense of duty” it was good for my soul? Am I wrong???
    That is the Question I ask!!!

  2. Naghme Nov 11, 2014 5:24 pm 2

    When we follow sound reason, our life becomes deeper than “I want, I think, I feel…I want, I think, I feel…” Because sound reason always chooses to do now what it will be satisfied with later on, while foolishness and egotistical manner means “without feeling his presence” .

  3. SG Nov 11, 2014 5:25 pm 3

    The amazing lesson I found in this post is that for an action to “nourish” the soul in a balanced manner, it is necessary that it be carried out with the intention of “divine satisfaction” and out of a sense of duty. The challenging part then would be to distance myself from the ego when I make a decision. To succeed in making a right decision I must have attention (attention to the Source, feeling His presence…) and recollection (to remember our spiritual duties and goal).

    I’m so grateful and thank you for this wonderful post.

  4. Ramin Nov 11, 2014 5:48 pm 4

    Great article, but in order to slowly transform our common reason into sound reason we need to be on our toes and have a good connection with the source because without his help it will be a constant struggle.

  5. A. Nov 12, 2014 7:47 pm 5

    Thank you for the great article – indeed a very interesting experience – thank you again !!

    I actually had a similar experience this last summer and spring. My ethical practical daily work consisted in forgoing some of my rights a few times a day. Since I often travel, I decided to give others priority when I get out/in of the Parisian subway or when I drive or when I take trains (long distance ones)

    Since I travel the whole week and I also spend my Saturday mornings taking my daughter to English school on the other side of town, plus my Sunday mornings taking her to sports classes, and since Sunday afternoons are quite busy with homework (I have three children) – I think I have done my share !! and on Saturday afternoons I only have one desire and expectation : to go play tennis or sprawl myself in the garden under the sun (especially during those very rare and unique afternoons of Parisian sunshine – the climate being pretty rainy all year round) in our private tennis/swimming pool club with my children and wife.

    Unfortunately it so happens that I often end up spending my Saturday afternoons driving to take my children to different birthday parties without being able to take a single minute off. Besides, my wife often volunteers to take care on my daughter’s best friend (whose parents are divorced and often busy with other things), so that I spend hours driving around Paris.

    And obviously, since my free will is under my ego’s control, this situation became more and more difficult to cope with. I ended up complaining to my wife telling her that if she had chosen to become a martyr for her children this was not quite part of my plans, threatening her to stop paying for the tennis club and hence cancel the membership for the whole family. I also began nurturing negative thoughts towards my daughter’s best friend, who is quite rude, never says hello, never thanks anybody, and I began telling myself that she was impolite, spoiled, useless … without taking into account the difficult situation she was living through (lack of affection etc…)

    Just like the author of this article, only after analyzing the events did it dawn on me that I had missed important opportunities to develop myself and that my free will had been under my ego’s control. I also understood that the real opportunities to forgo some of my rights had taken place during the weekend since the effort undertaken during my weekly practical work had been negligible compared to the effort required over the weekend.

  6. AS Nov 12, 2014 10:14 pm 6

    Really good article. This real life example illustrates how the ego prevents us from nourishing our soul by performing our ethical duties with the intention of divine satisfaction on a day to day basis. It really takes focus, attention, and daily analysis of our thoughts and behavior to find that right equilibrium.

  7. maz Nov 13, 2014 12:32 pm 7

    Thank you, it was a great example to learn from .

  8. nobody Nov 24, 2014 4:52 am 8

    Good example! the protagonist did visit his brother in law’s office after all, but since he had been practically forced to do so (out of fear to lose his reputation), he did not nurture his soul and lost this very opportunity. It resembled the situation in which a student finally studied the chapter of book he was supposed to read once he/she was threatened to be expelled from school while he had had the opportunity to do it earlier and be one of his successful classmates.

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