Albeit perhaps from a different perspective, I understand how cherry picking can be a negative thing among spiritual paths whose purpose is to help us grow. It’s a bit like exercise; skip the hard bits, and you’re probably not improving.
As my friend and I delved deeper into our discussion, however, it seemed apparent that he meant something entirely different. It seemed that what he found objectionable was that I had reviewed many philosophies and spiritual paths and chosen those that resonated with me. To him, there is only one truth and one correct path; the idea that people might search the world over and learn from many different paths before settling down and practicing that which serves them well was downright heretical.
It would be a rabbit trail for me to delve into why organized religions frown upon people thinking for themselves or making their own decisions, but that’s a whole other post. This post is about making decisions for ourselves and how that’s the best thing we can do to foster our personal growth.
“Not my will…”
My personal Christian upbringing was Protestant and fundamentalist, which means that my experiences a) don’t relate very well to Catholic Christianity and b) were radical and extreme compared to many modern Christians. (The same is true of my friend, of whom I spoke earlier in this post.)
We were worthless worms and hapless sinners, and any value that we had came from God’s ability to look upon shit-stains such as ourselves and show a bit of mercy. If our thoughts and actions didn’t agree with their interpretation of God’s will, then our thoughts and actions were wrong. God’s will was all that mattered; not ours.
If you’ve read my post on The Knowledge of Good and Evil, you’re perhaps aware of how I interpret the Bible – through the lens of a wider world-view mixed with an acceptance of the conclusions of non-biased scholars. Honestly, it has, for the most part, become irrelevant to me. I do not find it beneficial. When the naked lady in the Garden of Eden wanted me to partake of the fruit, I was totally down, so I munched and moved on. Knowledge is among the things I value most. I was happy to trade the promise of blissful ignorance for truth and wisdom, even though we all know that the truth sometimes hurts.
The story of the Garden of Eden is about humans who were sheltered from the things that would help them grow. It is a story that was presented to me as “the fall of man,” the first great sin against the almighty creator god, and the beginning of a curse under which we all suffer. Over time, I came to see this story as one of humans doing exactly what humans were supposed to do. They made the hard—but correct—choice to undergo the struggle of life so that we could grow. They made their choice so that we, ultimately, might “be like God,” having the knowledge of good and evil, of life, of death, of love and pain, and all the things that make life both difficult and rewarding.
This first story in the Bible was about a woman—followed by a man—making a choice to exercise their own will.
Enter the Beast
A couple of thousand years later, another man—a modern occultist—provided a new take on the will of humans. His name was Aleister Crowley, and I have no opinion about his character or accomplishments. I do, however, find that he had some thought-provoking ideas. Among these is the concept of “True Will.”
In the simplest terms, “True Will” is considered the deepest, purest expression of the self; something beyond the conscious mind and mundane desires, untouched by societal programming, or ego-driven aspirations. This “True Will” is a person’s ultimate purpose or calling as dictated by their own unique nature or essence. It’s the driving force that aligns one’s actions with their nature in harmony with the universe.
The task for followers of Thelema—Crowley’s spiritual system—is to discover and align with this True Will, which they believe will lead to a state of joy and fulfillment because they are living in accordance with their deepest nature and purpose. This process of discovery and alignment often involves various spiritual practices and rituals as well as psychological introspection.
Crowley suggested that those who live in harmony with their True Will are able to live in harmony with all things while contributing to the overarching order of the universe, a concept he referred to as “the Great Work.” On the other hand, acting against one’s True Will can lead to dissatisfaction and discord, both personally and universally.
“True Will” is a concept that could go horribly wrong in myriad ways. From Charlie Manson to Ted Bundy to Adolph Hitler, many people have followed their will down paths that are far from “in harmony with all things.” Regardless of whether or not Crowley’s Thelema offered a valid path to the genuine True Will as it was conceptually proposed it is the end result of a lengthy process of introspection, study, and the sort of personal growth that leads to genuine wisdom. One cannot simply say, “I want this, and because I want this it must be my True Will and I am justified in taking it.” True Will is part of the ascent to godhood as described in the myth of the Garden of Eden, the end of a path that begins with the “divine spark” that exists within us all.
And we’re done.
Am I a heretic? Most definitely. I am fully in favor of everyone going beyond their mundane desires, societal programming, and ego-driven aspirations so they can be themselves and feel in harmony with life and the universe. I encourage everyone to explore as many paths as their time and energy permit. Learn about the pre-Christian pagans, read a book on Hinduism, etc. Read three or four books on Buddhism (I’m happy to recommend a few). Read the great philosophers. Read poetry.
You are unique in this universe and you have something amazing to give back to it, but only if you allow yourself the opportunity to become your fullest self. If I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out.