Believing in Free Will: Do We Really Have a Choice?

by Carl Buchheit

First published in Open Exchange magazine (2008)

Most of us are mostly inclined to assume that most of our actions and decisions, or at least most of our more private and intimate choices, are the result of some kind of free will process.  Or, if we can no longer convince ourselves of this, we at least want to assume that it is our inner patterning for making meaning and selecting behavioral options that is the source of most of what we decide and do.

One of the main presuppositions of NLP is, “Choice is better than no choice.”  We routinely assert that one of the objectives of good training in NLP is to expand the experience of having more choices on our “maps of reality.”  However, there are many other points of view, some of them quite elegant and compelling, which argue that this “free choice” frame is illusory and counter to the experience of happiness and well-being.

What interests me are some of the alternatives to Bert Hellinger’s immensely convenient concept/creation that we usually call “The Family Soul.”  Within Hellinger’s frame, descendants in families seek to take possession of the pain of ancestors because of motivation that is mainly based in three things: the emotion of love; the desire to assert innocence; and the need to avoid or deny guilt.  At NLP Marin, we have developed some remarkable ways to utilize family constellations, to reveal and revise the beautifully intended but pointless transgenerational suffering that flows naturally from these three primary needs.

Whereas Bert Hellinger’s model of transgenerational suffering involves descendant’s seeking to locate and heal the unresolved pain of ancestors, there is another viewpoint that maintains just the opposite.  This concept is usually summarized as “cellular memory.”  Within this frame of “cellular memory,” the unresolved problems of the ancestors ask the following generations to find solutions.  ‘Souvenir albums’ containing memories of unsurvived trauma and unresolved loss are handed down from one generation to the next for this purpose.  In this way, perhaps, our “creature consciousness” seeks to perfect its relationship with a threatening and dangerous physical universe.  Or, perhaps, the “preconscious collective” of our hominid ancestors demands that it’s future expression – in our time, in our lives – prepare a future paradise or promised land, in which pain, loss and death will threaten no more.

Still another point of view, this one popularized by several noted interpreters of “A Course In Miracles,” maintains that time is a “vast illusion.”  Within this point of view, which is vastly difficult to comprehend adequately, all of our experience – both physical and non-physical, both in time and beyond time – is an entrancing replay of events and choices that were determined at the moment of creation (of the universe).

So, considered in these very broad terms, some of our options seem to be: 1) we voluntarily suffer for our ancestors in an unworkable effort to correct their pain, so that this pain will not be able to reach us in time.  This is the Hellinger description based on the emotion of love.  2) That it is not love, but fear that directs us to recapitulate family suffering–generation upon generation.  Within this frame, DNA has direct control over our choices; it compels present conformity with past family calamity.  3) Everything is predetermined until we wake up from the trance of time and non-time altogether.  (It is important to note that within this frame, the process of dying and the experience of death do not actually help us understand anything more about what’s really going on.  In this frame life is an illusion and death doesn’t help.)

So, do we actually have free will or not?  As practitioners and teachers of NLP, all we can know for sure is that the only really important question is “What would you like?”

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