How much choice do we have in life? How conscious are we when we act?
Let's start with the simple fact that despite good intentions, we make mistakes; we have accidents; we cause suffering, intentionally or unintentionally, whether to ourselves or others. People hurt us; things hurt us; we don't know why or what, if anything, we might have done to deserve it. "Stuff happens," in other words.
There's a lot about our world and our lives that is much, much, much bigger than we. Long before we commit a consciously and an intentionally selfish or hurtful act, there are lots of other, less conscious and less intentional acts, that cause suffering.
Read any classic novel or myth or modern drama and we see life is filled with strange twists and turns of so-called fate.
This world, we must conclude, is not of our own doing. Whoever we are and wherever we have come from or go to, the world around us imposes and impinges upon us in ways that we must simply deal with. Then there are the actions we take and initiate into the little tiny world of our lives that, to some degree, imposes and impinges upon others, or, helps and serves others or improves our own lives.
But consider how little is our impact on the world around us and, by contrast, how big the impact the world and the circumstances into which we find ourselves has upon us! It seems a bit out of proportion.
True there are giants of will power and dominion and influence who create for themselves an entire world view and reality. Yet the more self-centered are these "giants" the more their influence is soon washed away by time and opposing forces. Think of all the politicians, actors, artists that have come and gone. Few, only a few, withstand the eroding effects of time. Those whose impact is lasting are those whose imprint was far bigger than self-interest.
Like the narrow bandwidth of atmosphere that surrounds our tiny planet whirling through space, we operate in a very narrow bandwidth of freedom of choice. Most of what we do, say, like or dislike we cannot really account for logically unless it's universal like fearing death or illness or criticism or liking praise, pleasure or money. Why do you like red sports cars, or I, pistachio ice cream? Who can say?
And yet.....and yet......without human commitment to the precept that we can change our life for the better and that we are accountable for our actions, life would become unbearable. Within this narrow bandwidth of freedom, therefore, is our life, small as it may be and separate as we may view it to be from that great big, sometimes threatening world, around us.
We are confronted by the conditions in which we live, including our bodies, their age, gender, health and abilities, and we must face the conditions we ourselves have created. Complex stuff, eh and, in the the big picture, we must admit that our choices in life have been very narrow. And yet, how impactful upon our lives are those choices: who we marry; what career choices we make or accept; what addictions we fall into; what habits, good or bad. A narrow but potent bandwidth. Does not happiness, itself, exist inside a narrow bandwidth of attitude where the cup is either half empty or half full?
Consciousness itself exists in a very narrow bandwidth of self-awareness. How close to existence of non-existence do we live? My friend who was "randomly" struck by a car that jumped the curb as he was walking along the sidewalk? How many cars whiz past us......the margin of life is indeed narrow.
More than one saint has stated that the only freedom we possess is whether to turn toward God or away from God. All else is more or less the function of our past actions (aka karma). Ananda Moi Ma, the now famous woman saint of 20th century India, described our free will as the equivalent of being on a speeding train and having the choice to walk up or back inside the passenger cars while yet remaining on the speeding train.
But what does it mean to turn TOWARD or AWAY from God? "God" is a pretty BIG idea if you consider "God" deeply and if you can get past the baggage that the "poor fellow" has to carry.
Instead, let's start with something more useful. Let say that our choice is whether to respond positively, or to respond negatively, to life's circumstances.
Ok, then, what does "positive" mean? Or, "negative?" What does it mean to respond "positively" to the fact that you are born into a wealthy family? Or with excellent health? Talent? Beauty? "Positively" means expansively....unselfishly......with non-attachment....with a desire to help others.......
Let's say you are indeed born into a wealthy home, or at least one with comfort and advantages and therefore choices like education, hobbies, health, security, and also into a loving family. Do you recall the phrase (seemingly out of date), noblesse oblige? It recalls the implicit obligation that those of privilege bear to help others. (Yes, that's not really so old fashioned is it?) To see your life as a privilege and an opportunity to do something meaningful would be a good example of a positive response. A negative one would be the all too familiar one of feeling entitlement and becoming lazy, mean, or selfish as a result of your otherwise favorable birth.
Thus "toward" God can begin with the concept of expanding one's awareness to include the needs of others. Call this, therefore, an expansive response. A selfish response would be contractive, meaning ego-centric, selfish, or self-absorbed.
Faced with disease or illness, a positive response would be to be calm; to have faith in the ultimate goodness and value of the inherent lessons of one's challenges; to think even first of others, than of yourself; to affirm your love for God.
[It should be pointed out also, as I have in other articles, that acting or responding positively is not sufficient for those seeking eternal freedom in God. The latter is a far bigger subject and is one derived from faith and intuition (or, more commonly, starts at least from belief). "Virtue may be its own reward" but in the teachings of "Sanaatan Dharma" good karma that derives from the sense of personal doership (ego) is insufficient to win freedom for the soul. For that, "yagya," or personal self-offering with devotion to God (inter alia) is necessary.]
The line between passive acceptance and a dynamic outpouring of energy to confront challenging circumstances may seem obvious but it's ultimately a matter of expansive or contractive. Acceptance can be expansive if it's calm, joyful and even-minded, and, willing to do what is needed; it is contractive if submissive and fatalistic. Dynamic energy can be contractive if ego-active and ego-protective but expansive if joyful, enthusiastic, creative and without rancor or pride.
Our real choice is remain "in the Self," untouched by outer circumstances. This, more correctly, defines a saint but it is a goal brought steadily into manifestation by the practice of meditation, the company of others of like mind, and the spiritual power of grace born of our attunement with a true "son of God."
"The only way out is IN." This is our real choice, for "tat twam asi," -- "Thou art THAT (Spirit)."