A Seeker's Guide: Self-Awareness, Free Will and Control

Updated on November 6, 2019
AdeleCosgroveBray profile image

Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet, and artist who lives on the Wirral peninsula in England.

Words On The Way
Words On The Way

Personality and Free Will

Personality is formed of a myriad of influences—genetic, parental, environmental, cultural and educational. In addition to these, our experiences in life all combine to develop our personality. People so often take great pride in their individuality, and yet this can be little more than the product of influences over which they have developed little or no control.

The concept of free will is one of humanity’s greatest illusions. It is impossible to escape from influence. Everything is subject to influence. Every season, every movement of the solar system or of your central nervous system, every migration of birds or people, or high street fashion fad, is the result of influence. Your choice of clothing, your taste in food or music, your endless likes and dislikes, needs and wants, are all the product of influence—some positive, some negative.

“But of course I have free will! I chose this job! I chose my lifestyle! I chose my car and curtains!”

How the human ego likes to protest! However, this is all part of that same illusion. Consider this: on what grounds were those choices made? Your way of life is a product of the culture into which you were born. Your view of that culture is as a result of your upbringing, your childhood, and schooling—or lack of schooling—and of your parents’ experiences of life.

How much of this did you achieve solely through your own efforts? Even your intellect is a result of inherited genetic aptitude and the influence of your parents’ attitudes. Your parents’ attitudes were, in turn, the product of their acquired influences.

The availability of a quality education has its obvious impact, coupled with each student's (influenced) willingness to make the most of that opportunity.

The Law of Influence

It is impossible to escape what is sometimes referred to as the law of influence. However, it is possible to consciously choose to become subject to influences that are more constructive. In order for any person to do this, they must first become fully aware of the dominant influences operating through themselves.

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Exercise Time!

There are many exercises to heighten self-awareness.

The most useful methods demand that a student maintains an alert awareness of all their actions—body posture, movements, speech, moods and thoughts. Observe how often thoughts wander into daydreams and fantasy. Observe unnecessary and habitual mannerisms. Observe how so much is unthinking and automatic. Be very aware of emotional reactions.

This exercise is nowhere near as easy as a person might first imagine. It takes an incredible amount of practise and self-discipline to maintain it for any reasonable length of time.

Don’t take my word for it—try it and see for yourself.

The deliberate observation of habitual speech is another useful exercise in self-awareness. Take a word which we use constantly and without thinking, such as the word “and”. Try not to use it for an hour. Next, try to not use “and” for half a day, then for a whole week.

Next, run the same exercise again but this time avoiding the word “I”.

Make a note of how many times you fail.

The journey through life isn't all plain sailing.
The journey through life isn't all plain sailing. | Source

The Human Animal

Many people freely interchange the words “psyche” and “soul”, and yet both are quite different properties.

Every system has its own nomenclature, of course, and careful definition of terms is required to ensure that each participant in any discussion holds a clear mutual understanding of that which is being discussed.

While this may seem like a statement of the obvious, it is often the seemingly obvious which is overlooked and is, therefore, the cause of much confusion. Inevitably I use the nomenclature of the philosophical school in which I was taught, which will probably differ in varying degrees to that used by other groups. If in doubt, ask.

All living things have a psyche, or a life-force if you prefer that term.

The definition of “living” is used as broadly as possible here, and includes not only animal and plant life but also places – remember that the planet is alive too.

The psyche can evolve and devolve. Nothing remains static. Even still water quickly decays, i.e., changes. Even solid rock slowly crumbles over time, (clay is a decomposing rock). The psyche of a plant will be of a different vibrational quality from that of an animal. The psyches of animals differ from each other also; predators have stronger psyches than those lower down the food chain.

Mystery Schools

We humans are also part of that same planetary food chain. In our arrogance, we tend to forget this. We have a mammalian body; we share a very similar organic structure to other animals, and our human DNA contains their DNA.

This is common knowledge now, but it was once considered one of the secrets of the old Mystery Schools. They portrayed their knowledge pictorially, often on temple pillars. The carved or painted base would depict plant forms, and then a little higher, as the design spiraled up the pillar, there would be animals. Higher again would be rudimentary humanoid faces. Higher again, coiling around and around, increasingly beautiful faces would appear until, at the very top, there was usually a sun.

The psyche evolves through the experience of life. The psyche which you have came into your physical, mammalian body as you were born. Some believe that the psyche visits the fetus while still in the womb.

We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned into the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music.

— Albert Einstein

Animal Instincts

Your psyche was attracted to the body in which it dwells, to the environment in which you were born, by the relativity of the vibrating energy of that body.

To try to explain it simply—a human psyche would not be born into the body of a goldfish because the human psyche is of too high a vibration to be attracted to it. It would be akin to trying to channel 100,000 volts through a machine that can only handle 5 volts.

As the psyche passes through plant life into animal life, its vibration of energy grows faster, i.e., finer, of a higher vibration. Over countless lifetimes, the psyche evolves through the lower order of animals into the ranks of higher animals. As the psyche’s evolution continues, it can eventually be born into a human mammalian body.

Such psyches frequently retain much of the animal instincts which have served them so well previously. And so, among the lower orders of humanity, we have murderers, rapists, torturers, and abusers of all kinds.

Also, it is possible for an animal to be born into a human body and have no experience of our average level of living—thus we have those among our numbers who are often termed “simple” or “slow” when there is no obvious physical or chemical cause of mental disability.

The term “human” is as much an umbrella term as is “tree” or “cat”. Just as there are umpteen varieties of trees and cats, likewise there is much diversity within humanity—or, as the nomenclature with which I am familiar would term it, human animals and the more evolved human beings, all manifesting varying degrees of spiritual development according to the vibrating energy of their psyche.

These differences have nothing to do with outward appearances, race, culture or creed. On an autopsy slab, no difference between a human animal and a human being would be observed. The difference is in the psyche.

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism, the way you play it is free will.

— Jawaharlal Nehru

Taking Control

As has been shown, personality is formed from the many influences which surround each of us. There is no escape from influence. Run as far and as fast as you can, and the influences and experiences which have formed your personality will travel along with you.

Experiences cannot be undone; they can't be wiped away as if they never happened, or re-run in order to hopefully improve them. Every experience and influence has been a part of your journey, helping to shape your current personality for good or ill. Nothing will be gained by pretending a part of your journey didn’t happen. On the other hand, why keep treading the same track if you don’t wish to?

There is no need to be dominated by negative influences or experiences. Your past need not dictate your future.

Through the diligent and persistent practice of self-observation, employing exercises like those given above, it is entirely possible to become more fully conscious of the influences, both negative and positive, which puppet automatic reactions and responses. By being aware of these you can recognise which are constructive and enjoyable, and which are not.

Self-Awareness

Only by developing self-awareness can anyone begin to gain real understanding of the myriad influences controlling them. Some influences are beneficial and can be encouraged and developed, such as an influence to educate oneself or to be creative. Other influences may be detrimental, resulting in negative traits, for e.g. having a foul temper.

Become aware, observe, and then choose to react differently to that automatic impulse, that unconscious response.

This is very easy to say, yet can be difficult to do. Old habits die hard, as any purple-nosed alcoholic will attest.

Growth Through Learning

Some people find that professional counseling or group therapy can help with this process. Others find meditation or yoga useful. You may find these useful too; you won’t know till you give them a go. These are tools at your disposal, but only you can make the effort to make use of them.

Nobody can do the work for you. Talking isn't doing. Feigning work won't work.

To change the dominant influences controlling your life, deliberately invite in new influences.

One way of achieving this is by learning something new, such as a language or a musical instrument, or take up gardening or art. Get involved in a new social group, such as amateur dramatics or a ramblers group.

This activity will attract new experiences, new influences, new facets to your personality which can ease down pre-existing negative influences simply by becoming more engaging to you.

A new activity requires extra effort. It is through the deliberate maintenance of self-awareness and effort that genuine free will can be developed.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

— Gautama Buddha

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© 2019 Adele Cosgrove-Bray

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    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      2 months ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      This essay is the second in a new series, which I'll be adding to soon. A future essay will cover the subject of the possibility of reincarnation.

    • Carolyn M Fields profile image

      Carolyn Fields 

      2 months ago from South Dakota, USA

      Fascinating article, and well done. I particularly liked your use of quotations.

      The underlying premise behind much of your thinking is the assumption that reincarnation is established as factual. I'd like for you to build a little more on that.

      As for our human bodies being a collection of vibrations, I totally agree.

      I look forward to reading more of your work.

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile imageAUTHOR

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      2 months ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      Finish it in what way, Ellen? If there is a specific question you would like to ask, feel free, and I'll answer it to the best of my ability.

    • profile image

      Ellen Pedone 

      2 months ago

      I'd like to finish this article

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