There are three stages to any experience we’re having. Stage One is the collection of the data via our body sensors, the physical perception. Stage Two is the interpretation of that perceived data and the experience of the interpretation. And finally, Stage Three is the reaction to our experience, which is determined by the way we interpret the perceived data.
Stage one is automatic, and it is happening without our intervention. Circumstances, thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations in general, are all the results of our previous reactions to our past experiences. What you see in front of you, around you, inside of you, is the past.
The moment we observe circumstance is the moment we observe the past. Sure it seems that it is all appearing and happening right now, but the moment we decide to notice, to observe something, that something has already passed. It takes time for light and sound to travel and reach us, it takes time for the brain to interpret the sensations the body picks up.
Everything is always in motion. There is no such thing as a still thought. We can’t enter a frozen frame in time that resembles a picture to experience that frame. The world, our body, and thoughts are always in motion. When we choose to observe or notice something it will always be an observation of something that already passed. That is why we are able to register it and perceive it.
We cannot experience or perceive an experience that is yet to happen. We cannot experience 5 seconds ahead simply because we can’t say for sure what will happen 5 seconds from now, we can assume but it will never be 100% guaranteed. There is no guarantee for our next breath, we just assume it will happen. For the same reason, I will argue that nothing is happening right now because by the time we perceive something that something has already changed in some way.
Does that mean that we live in the past?
Not entirely, since Stage one is the collection of data, you can say that the data we collect is from the past. Stage two – the interpretation of that data is based on past experience, opinions, beliefs that were also formed in the past. However, Stage three is where things get interesting. How we react to our interpretation of experience is definitely not taking place in the past because every reaction to such interpretation contains free will. A choice to believe what our mind is telling us is true or not.
We have the ability to question ourselves, granted, not many take that opportunity, but if you’re in the awakening or the enlightenment business, you find yourself quite often investigating why you insist to believe the things you believe that makes you feel bad.
So either way, if you decide to question yourself or continue as usual going through the motions, a choice is made. Those that stick to their beliefs are unaware of such a choice because they see their beliefs as an inseparable part of who they are. As a result, people are reliving the same unpleasant emotions over and over again. It is not trivial to become self-aware, to give up on being right all the time, to give up on the pride of having it under control. There was a time in my life that I thought that if I stop believing in my mind’s interpretation of the world I would go mad. Because I would lose grip on everything I know is true.
Knowing that there is a choice to react to our own thought and convictions, with curiosity, perhaps questioning our past decisions to live life one way or another, implies that we have a free will, a choice to change the way we see ourselves and life.
A free will cannot exist in the past, otherwise, the future would be predictable. On the other hand, we also experience and perceive our own choices, and once we do they become a part of our past.
So, the only conclusion I can come up with is that choice and free will is beyond time. The decision we take to make a left turn instead of a right turn cannot exist on a time scale only the result of that decision does. The choice of free will doesn’t also exist in the future because we cannot see our future and it cannot be 100% deductible from our past experiences. It is also not happening right now because by the time we acknowledge our choice it is already in the past. With that being said every choice we make does affect our future.
A free will is present with us in every moment of our existence. Whether we can see it or not depends on how busy we are agreeing with our thoughts, convictions, beliefs. It is very easy to forget about having a choice when you commit to living life by following some pattern or another. No wonder people feel trapped in their own lives wanting to be free.
We want to feel free but at the same time, we know that freedom is unpredictable it has the element of surprise to it, it is unknown and for most that does not feel safe. So, we trade our freedom for beliefs we inherit from the society that promises to keep us safe.
The problem is when we want to be safe and to be free at the same time. However, we are unwilling to accept the unknown that accompanies free will. As long as we are unwilling to embrace and trust life’s unpredictability we will not give up completely on our beliefs that make us feel safe.
If you catch yourself just before you react to your experience and allow yourself to forget for just a second about what you do when you’re having an experience, you will see that free will is there. You will see that it is only your accustomed pattern, your reaction or conviction to follow what you believe is right, is what makes you believe that you don’t have a choice.