Free Willers Anonymous

Free willers anonymous-2Members of Alcoholics Anonymous (and similar addiction programs) begin their process of recovery by first admitting their addiction and powerlessness over it. That starts clearing away the blind spot that up to then made life very problematic. This first step parallels Buddha’s first step of his Eight-Fold Path—Right Understanding.

Free willers anonymous-choice

Primal instinct drive them all.

Wouldn’t admitting one is an instinctive free willer—powerless over core emotion—be a realistic first step in recovery of one’s innate nature—one’s dharma to put it simply, if obscurely. Continuing in the belief “I” am in control of life and can find a way to change and enhance my “self” are dead ends every addict travels until we surrender and admit we are powerless. Alcoholics Anonymous and other addition mitigating programs have proven this so. What is new here is me seeing we are biologically addicted (via survival instincts) to our need for and sense of free will (choice, control, power…). We need a program!

So here goes: “Hello, my name is Carl and I am a free willer(1). Now, I imagine many would balk at this idea. While this isn’t a substance abuse addiction per se, there are too many parallels to other addictions to deny. Nevertheless, denial is certain until the addict within is ready to see his or her addiction. The hump we must surmount is the blind spot the addiction causes. The blind spot here is simple to see: if we believe we are in control, how can we entertain any suggestion, let alone biological proof, that we are not? In the case of free will we think, “I control (___you name it__”). If not, then we believe others have control, unaware that instinct is driving it all.

Free willers anonymous addiction-dependance

The brain has a mind of its own

Like all animals, from birth, we are instinctively ‘programmed’ to feel a need to control life as best we can, by either contending or cooperating. It is simply part of the survival instinct. Feeling instinctively driven to wield power and control to win at life generates thinking in humans that mirrors our visceral certainty. Even if we doubt we have the ‘power’, we want it and/or think other people have it, or should have it. It is ingrained in us; this disease begins very early—indeed, as soon as we begin thinking. Chapter 71 says, Realizing I don’t know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. We get off on the wrong foot so early in life thinking-wise; it is easy to see why it takes so long, if ever, to eventually realize I don’t know.

Free willers anonymous

Admitting the cycle weakens it.

Anyway, I’ve taken the 12 Step Program and modified it a little to fit with a Taoist point of view. That means dropping references to ‘wrongs’, ‘God’, and Judeo-Christian-Islamic morality in general. If one actually does well on the first step the rest will follow naturally without forcing the issue, at least from a Taoist point of view. Sincerely embracing the 1st step gets the ball rolling.

Naturally, I’d appreciate any suggestions to improve this approach to our ‘addiction’ to free will… or any suggestions for another approach. For one thing here, the tenses seem a little oddly mixed.

1. We admitted we were powerless over instinct. Believing ourselves in control makes life more unmanageable.

2. Come to believe that a power greater than ourselves—nature—can help restore us to sanity through balanced understanding.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of nature, as we understand it.

4. Made a searching and fearless striving for self-honesty.

5. Admitted to nature, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our ‘dis-ease’.

6. We’re ready to have nature be responsible for all aspects of our character.

7. Humbly asked to see our so-called shortcomings and virtues as merely natural variation—the diversity of life. For which can we neither accept blame nor claim merit.

8. Made a list of all persons we had judged, and became willing to reconsider matters until we find balance—the same ‘fault’ within ourselves.

*9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. (I suppose if one is in accord with all the other steps and feels amends are needed, that would come naturally).

10. Continued to take personal inventory and be constantly vigilant. When we see our blindness in life’s rear view mirror, promptly admitted it as soon as we can. (We can assume blindness was/is present whenever we felt/feel emotion—the stronger the emotion, the blinder we become.)

11. Sought through thoughtful introspection to improve our conscious connection with nature as we understand it, praying only for knowledge of nature’s will for us and the ability to yield to it gracefully.

12. Having had some awakening as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to other likewise dis-eased folks.

Free willers anonymous skullMerely realizing that free will is myth doesn’t purge the instinct that drives our deepest sense of this. Still, just acknowledging that one is ‘addicted’ to a sense of personal power, free will, control, ego—to control life—is a huge step. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that management is more difficult than steering clear of substance abuse or circumstantial pitfalls (like sex addiction). Like all animals, we do have force-of-will and must exercise it continuously. We can’t abstain from will, and being a primal emotion, it will always kindle thought. Therefore, the only countermeasure is the counter-thought of Right Mindfulnesscontinuously.

Personally, I deal with it by challenging the illusion every time it appears. That means suspecting any thought where the word ‘should’ rears its judgmental head (2). Chapter 71′s, Realizing I don’t know is better; not knowing this knowing is dis-ease, keeps me on my toes—as long as I am continuously touching it. Life is serious business; chapter 64′s points the way:

Its peace easily manages, Its presence easily plans,
Its fragility easily melts, Its timeliness easily scatters,
Acts without existing, Governs without disorder.
A tree barely embraceable grows from a fine tip.
A terrace nine layers high rises from piled earth.
A thousand mile journey begins below the feet.
Of doing we fail, Of holding on we lose.

Taking this, the wise do nothing, hence never fail,
Hold nothing, hence never lose.
People in their affairs always accomplish some, yet fail.
Being as careful at the end as the beginning as a rule never fails.
Taking this, the wise person desires non desire,
And does not value difficult to obtain goods.
Learns non learning and turns around people’s excesses,
As well as assists all things naturally, and never boldly act.

(1) Let me fill in my personal picture. For much of my life I believed in free will—explicitly. I ‘knew’ I had the power to choose what “I” wanted; “I” was in control, or so “I” thought. I do have a rather strong will and persevere until I drop, which undoubtedly helped bolster my belief. Then around 40, I had an epiphany; I wasn’t as independent as I thought. I admitted that I depended upon everything for life, right down to every breath of oxygen I took. This oxygen, by the way, graciously supplied to me by plants. Within a few years of that I began to wonder about free will itself, and began to earnestly look for evidence of it that I couldn’t explain in simpler biological ways.

Now, 30 years later and I have found no evidence; all I see are solid biological forces directing the choices I make. Poof went my belief in free will, and yet, certain feelings continually dog me that suggest I still believe in free will at times. I have now finally realized that it doesn’t matter what you believe or don’t belief—instinct rules ultimately. The human belief in free will, whether explicit or implied, arises from a visceral instinctive need felt by all animals to control their lives (win, succeed, come out on top). We can’t help it; it is innate. However, we can come to recognize its influence over our lives—we can be recovering free willers.

In a sense, once we let go of this blind belief—”I” have free will—we can at least tone down the certainty and begin Realizing I don’t know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. The certainty of thinking we have free will is the disease, not the instinctive need to control circumstances. That is universal. Finally, holding onto the belief, “I” have the power of free will is one of the most powerful forces involved in causing the illusion of self –the “I” that has control—in the first place. The best part of all this is that this realization makes me much less of a hypocrite. I haven’t discovered any way that hypocrisy enhances the quality of life—just the opposite really. Indeed, hypocrisy and self-honesty are opposites. I am independent by nature, but no longer see that as a strength as I once did; it just as much a weakness!

(2) The continuous ‘shoulds’ we project daily are commonly subtle. To notice them requires vigilant self-honesty. Keeping a daily chart to mark down your ‘transgressions’ ;-) helps deepen awareness.

Obviously, the younger you are, the less life experience you have to validate my observations. Evidence, if you seek it, will accumulate over a lifetime. In the meantime, challenge what I say and check your experience of life. Having doubts is healthy and wise, and a good sign that your ‘shoulds’ are lying low. ‘Concrete certainty’ is simply a symptom of one’s own insecurity, and the attempt to hold onto ones story (i.e., Buddha’s 2nd Truth: “the illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things“). It is from that insecurity steeped in fear and need that the ‘should’ rears its judgmental head.

Finally, I can’t end this without asking, is not what I’m saying here just another story? Certainly it is, at least up to a point. Anything spoken or written runs counter to the constant way. I strive to find as impartial and balanced view as possible, mostly observing and giving voice to the connections and similarities I notice. To me, this is called profound sameness. Truth lies in similarities. Differences are illusions of relative truths (See,  Peeking in on Nature’s Hoodwink and How the Hoodwink Hooks)

The paradox here is that the saying of it is a story; yet the origin of the words is not a story, but an observation. For example, seeing the rise in the East is not a story; saying the sun is rising in the East is a story. Correlations serve as a window onto life; nailing down the details story-wise fogs up that window. It is a most delicate balance between two sides of awareness: Knowing doesn’t speak; speaking doesn’t know. To what extent I maintain balance or to what extent ‘correlations’ are that window into reality, is up to each observer to decide. In the end, truth is in the eye of the beholder.

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6 Responses to “Free Willers Anonymous”


  • This is very beautiful and well laid out. I can follow it and find it true. I am wondering if for #3, it doesn’t take “free will” to do that. There are a few typos that I’ll tell you about in person.

  • Yes, it can sound free will-like, but remember, interpretation lies very much in the eye of the beholder. I can say that I “made a decision” to reply to your question. Do I believe I did so out ‘free choice’ / ‘free will’? No, so saying that I “made a decision” is simply reporting what happened. Emotion (need) caused me to “decide”, not free will. Simply put, when emotion (need or fear) reaches a certain threshold or tipping point, the animal acts.

    Moreover, “I” is an illusion anyway. There is no ‘one’ to decide, just countless marvelous natural interactions occurring within ‘me’ that result in the act. We employ “I” as a kind of short hand for this reality, but soon feel the short hand “I” is real in its own right. Then, of course, what ever “I” hold on to reinforces the impression that “I” is real. There is no “I”, so there is no ‘one’ to have free will in the first place. The idea of free will requires the belief that “I” am real. You could say, free will and ego go hand in hand.

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  • Many years ago – what I call my terrible 20s – I attended EA meetings… Emotions Anonymous… A twelve step program that was identical to AA. It was too intense for me at that young age, but it was an eye-opener… I was the youngest person there. Many of the others were finally fed up with psychiatric hospitals and years of addiction to prescription drugs. My ego told me that I didn’t belong there, but like one of the ghosts in Charles Dickenson’s story, “A Christmas Carol”, my inner nature took me there. At the time, I didn’t know why. But today, I know. To this day, I can’t put it in words, but today I know.

    With that said, I like your idea of Free-Willers Anonymous (FWA). Sign me up! :) But before you do, what about a serenity prayer?

    Here’s the original:
    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

  • I like that prayer the first I heard it, and have ‘quoted’ it now and then over the years. Of course, the problem with that prayer is that it doesn’t grab the bull-of-free-will by the horns. Still, perhaps that problem is endemic to thought and speech itself. Okay, but I won’t let that stand in my way…

    Calling on “God to grant me the serenity…” feel to me like skirting the issue a bit. On the other hand, I see how it would appeal to those who believe in some version of god. I imagine I just have a deep seated distrust of ‘names’… especially names for that which God attempts to stand for. All name and words are taken with a grain-of-salt in the ‘taoist’ world view, including “Tao / Dao”.

    Wisdom deepens with age, and with our stumbling along the way toward our own death. Youth is not the time for ‘serenity’; it is the time to rush around seeking to be somebody. Only when I know that I am nobody can I “accept the things I cannot change”.

  • Carl. I saw your caption under the above illustration: “the brain has a mind of its own”. This speaks to me about wisdom and intellect and then it struck me as I sit here reading the (gnostic) Gospel of St. Thomas who Jesus confided in, regarding His knowledge of the kingdom of heaven. At one point, Jesus takes Thomas aside and tells him 3 things. Whatever these 3 things were so profound that, when confronted by the other apostles, Thomas replied, “If I tell you, you will want to stone me.”

    What is the worldly attitude through the ages toward keeping secrets – deeply personal, military and/or political, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” Hmm…

  • I imagine Jesus may have confided something along the lines of chapter 65, “Of ancients adept in the way, none ever use it to enlighten people,They will use it in order to fool them”. That would be hard for the apostles to hear. A deeper truth which they would not be ready to face yet, and would be compelled to ‘kill the messenger’. Of course, much in the Tao Te Ching, if revealed too directly would get one stoned I assume.

    Generally, I’d guess that our tribal instinct drives much of our need to keep secrets. The ‘in’ crowd vs. outsiders. For those who hold a secret that only they know, then social survival would be the diving force.

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