Rainbows and Light and the Absence of Free Will

1990 photograph of Pluto and Charon. Taken by ...

I want to blame Pluto.

Not Uncle Walt’s golden and gloriously floppy-eared animated canine of indeterminate breed.  Nope.  I mean the recently demoted former planet, now dwarf planet, Pluto.

According to my favorite stargazing Texan Pluto teased its way into my sign back in 1995 a few weeks before I sold everything I owned and took off for my “lost decade” in Ireland with little more than an overstuffed duffel bag and a guitar.  Now, sixteen years later, cold little Pluto has hemmed, hawed and finally committed to leaving the astrological sign of Sagittarius.  I’d like to say “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” and “good luck, Capricorns!” but can I really blame a lump of rock a couple dozen astronomical units away from sunny California for events over the last twelve months?  Given that an astronomical unit is about 92 million miles it seems unlikely.

Then again, 2011 was the year when the thinkers among us speculated that free will doesn’t exit.  Of course, philosophers have always pondered the nature of free will, but for one moment in 2011 the existence of free will garnered more water cooler buzz than a Hollywood tartlet’s lip plumped wedding.

So who knows?  If I had no choice over my choices, then perhaps it was a rock 2 billion miles away that provided all the entertainment the previous twelve months.

Personally, though, I’m putting my money on the absence of free will.  I know.  It sits in my craw kind of funny, too. But isn’t it liberating to discover we’re not the general contractor of our lives?  Knowing that the control we believe we have doesn’t exist eliminates any need for goals or resolutions.  We can stop struggling.  There’s no need to swim upstream.

Surrendering a belief in free will doesn’t mean I’m waving a white flag and crawling under the duvet for the remainder.  On the contrary, the absence of free will has a clarifying effect.  The intentions I’ve set for my life seem certain and reasonable.  Moving toward those intentions in the absence of control makes their achievement all the more precious.

The absence of free will makes all that yoga talk about ‘Being Present’ and ‘Embracing the Now’ sparkle.  If we don’t have free will, then it follows we should be content with this perfect moment because we are exactly where we are meant to be.  If that place is dark and frightening – and sometimes it is – know that things change.  And if that place is light and wondrous? Know that things change.  Embrace it all.

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