The Mystery of Free Will: Aquarius and the Awakening of Consciousness
As a spiritual force in humanity's evolution, the Aquarian Age is important on several levels. It can open us to a reconciliation of our divine and human natures, by ushering in a more practical approach that manifests our spirituality in everyday contexts. But another aspect of this era's spiritual importance centers on the mysterious principle of free will.
What is free will, exactly, and what possible relation could it have with Aquarius? To help answer questions like these, let us consider an idea I first encountered during a lecture by a spiritual teacher with whom I had been studying, said Ray Grasse in an article I read.
Aquarius—An Opening to Possibility
It was nearly twenty-five years ago that I sat and listened as the yogi recalled an experience he once had of "astrally projecting" to a realm esotericists call the Akashic Records. As interpreted by the conscious mind, he said, these records can take the form of twelve large books, in which are contained the knowledge of all that has occurred through time, though it is written in hieroglyphic-like symbols.
What intrigued me about his tale was his comment about how one obtained knowledge from these books, specifically about the future. For this, he said, one turned to the eleventh volume of this series—an intriguing correspondence with the forward-looking sign of Aquarius, the eleventh sign of the zodiac. Here were encoded the potentialities of all that lie ahead, for oneself and the world. The clincher was, he said, as one turned to the last page of that eleventh volume, one discovered that it was never finished. Right before your eyes, words and letters continually form. Upon finishing those last words, a new page will "magically" appear, so that the 11th book forever remains incomplete, always in a state of becoming.
I don't know whether this man's story was truth or fabrication, nor did it matter. I knew that either way it contained an important insight about Aquarius. Yes, this sign is intimately involved with all matters pertaining to the future, as symbolically it's the zodiacal principle most often associated with hopes, dreams, and wishes. But for me, the deeper insight centered on the quality of open-endedness associated with the 11th volume, and its implication of free will.
Aquarian Age: Opening Up To The Unbounded Possibilities of Existence
If the twelve signs of the zodiac represent archetypal principles of the soul, then Aquarius is that point of the psyche through which we open up to the unbounded possibilities of existence, and the inner workings of destiny itself. In David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, T. E. Lawrence proclaims "Nothing is written!"—and in so doing, he was expressing an Aquarian truth. The future may be predetermined to some extent, but it isn't set in stone; things can be modified, things can be acted upon. Aquarius is the state which allows us to step outside the ordinary framework of fate and do just that.
If this says something about the zodiacal sign Aquarius, then it also tells us something important about the Aquarian Age. The coming era could be a time when we gain access to our free will on a collective level. And there are indications this has already begun to happen. Roughly since the time of Uranus's discovery in the late 1700s, humanity has experienced a major shift in its attitudes toward what could be achieved in the world.
After believing for millennia that we were constrained by nature, ordinary men and women began entertaining the thought that they might master nature, and perhaps even attain that most precious of commodities—freedom. Just two or three centuries earlier, the notion that we could engineer our own destinies was virtually unthinkable for most people. Not only was this new spirit mirrored in symbols like aviation and modern democracy, but it expressed itself within a new view of history itself.
Almost overnight, we shifted our attention from a once-powerful past to a suddenly boundless future. In a letter to John Adams, written in 1816, Thomas Jefferson remarked, "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past," and in so doing he became a mouthpiece for the new evolutionary impulse. Cultural historian Robert Heilbroner has described this novel shift in a passage that takes on special resonance for students of the emerging Aquarian consciousness:
... until a few centuries ago in the West, and until relatively recent times in the East, it was the past and not the future which was the dominant orientation to historic time. . . . Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, the vast Asiatic civilizations, even the Renaissance, did not look ahead for the ideas and inspirations of their existence, but sought them in their origins, in their ancient glories, their fabled heroes, their pristine virtues real or fancied. . . . (Beginning with the seventeenth century, the past began changing) from a source of inspiration to a collection of mistakes, and the future, hitherto so featureless, had risen up like a Promised Land. By the eighteenth century, an immense optimism had swept over Europe, and no one voiced it so enthusiastically as the philosopher-historian Condorcet: "There is no limit set to the perfecting of the powers of man," he wrote (Heilbroner 1960).
The Gift of Knowledge: I Am Aware That I Am
The question remains: why Aquarius? What is it about this sign that makes it so critical to understanding concepts like free will and the inner workings of destiny? Surely, such factors would seem more logically associated with a zodiacal sign like Leo, the sign of royalty and the source of our spiritual vitality. The image I had come to link with Aquarius—scientists standing outside a playground rationally observing the frolicking children— hardly seemed appropriate for expressing such notions as free will or freedom! Yet over time, it became clear that it was the detachment underlying this sign which holds the key.
By contrast, fiery Leo at the other end of the zodiac may relate to the principle of consciousness, but this is consciousness in a more experiential and immediate sense, more like the child bursting with enthusiasm than the reflective self-awareness of an adult. If one were to equate Leo with the proclamation "I AM!" then Aquarius could be expressed by "I AM AWARE THAT I AM! "—the consciousness of consciousness.
If you have ever had a guest drop in unexpectedly, you may have found yourself aware of an untidiness in your home you hadn't noticed moments before. It's as if you had an extra set of eyes by which to see your environment objectively. This objective viewpoint illustrates the principle of air as described by astrologers. As a psychological influence, the element of air gives one the capacity to be objective about things, to conceptually stand off and perceive oneself or situations from a detached viewpoint. Its presence (or absence) in someone's horoscope indicates their ability for setting aside emotional concerns or biases and to see things from a bird's-eye standpoint, like a neutral reporter.
On the global scale, this is why the modern media is a perfect symbol for the emerging Aquarian consciousness, since it represents an extension of our collective consciousness that has detached from itself and is now turning back to examine its own experience. In a sense, media is the embodiment of the Aquarian air principle in our world, in terms of a new style of self-consciousness awakening in us.
Free Will: Deciding Whether to Follow the Script
What does all this have to do with such concepts as free will or destiny? Simply put, that ability to stand apart in a detached fashion creates an opening in consciousness through which a new degree of choice enters into experience. It is a degree of choice absent when one is completely immersed in experience.
To use a hypothetical example, imagine a community in which everyone plays a role in an intricately devised drama, but doesn't know it. That is because each has been hypnotized in the past, given inductions to act out pre-assigned parts, and programmed to forget they had ever been hypnotized. As a result, every one sets about their business, acting their parts, without realizing they're puppets, mechanically reciting scripted lines.
Then one day an actor wanders "off-set," and accidentally stumbles upon a copy of the script they are living out. Leafing through the pages, he finds his own role delineated, each action and bit of dialogue laid out. More shocking, he finds lines and actions he is to perform in the coming week. How would you respond to such a discovery?
Apart from the existential crisis of it all, it would be hard to feel spontaneous from that moment on, since you would be constantly second-guessing every word and movement, wondering what was truly yours and what was scripted by some unseen writer. One major benefit would result from this: you would now have a certain element of choice in your actions from this point on. Why? Having glimpsed the script, you could now decide whether to act out that part as it was scripted, or not. That isn't an option yet available to the other actors in the troupe, since they have no way of knowing which lines were theirs and which were not. Through the gift of knowledge, in other words, you now have a degree of freedom you haven't experienced before.
New Possibilities and Choices: Rewriting the Script
In the same way, the detachment and knowledge conferred by air rationality introduces choice into our lives. As long as one is immersed in direct experience, running on impulse (the fire element), one has no choice but to act the way one is going to act. But by drawing back from that field of action to view it in a rational way, one now has a wider range of reactions from which to choose, perhaps even the ability to tinker with the script itself.
This has a direct analogy with the Aquarian science of astrology, for by allowing one to see life from a detached, rational standpoint, the horoscope gives a peek at the script driving one's actions and thoughts. The reaction of many people to their first horoscope reading is similar to our hypothetical actor who realized he had been a puppet, moved involuntarily, except here the controlling influences consist of planetary "programs." While initially startling, it throws the door open to new possibilities and choices because you cannot be free of your karma until you first know what it is.
Humanity is undergoing an analogous awakening in its evolution now. Through the influence of air, we are becoming more detached from life in certain ways, something which has brought problems. Yet the same rational detachment has begun providing us the opportunity to stand back and catch a glimpse of the "script" which has been driving us for many millennia. On emotional levels, we can do this now through modern psychology, which has made us more aware of the workings of the human psyche in everyday life, and thereby allowed us to act upon behavior. In terms of the world-at-large, modern science has provided a knowledge of the laws that run our world, and has given us leverage over our environment. Astrology could play a similar role in the world, granting us knowledge of the workings of destiny.
Awakening from the Illusion: Breaking Free of the Matrix
Here we see another way in which the film The Matrix symbolically reflects the archetypal dynamics of our time. This film tells of a society where men and women have been hypnotically enslaved within a collectively shared cyber-illusion. A few individuals in that world have awakened from the illusion and broken free of their enslavement. Like the actor in our example above, The Matrix's men and women uncover the "script" which has been controlling their lives and see the hidden machinations that have been controlling—and creating—their world. But as a result of that detachment, they gain a degree of freedom, which others in the cyber-illusion do not have.
Symbolically, this film illustrates the process we have been exploring: humanity's awakening into the air element. As we develop the capacity for thinking, we learn to conceptually stand back and extricate ourselves from the "programs" of our instinctual natures and our enslavement to nature. Like this film's cyber-rebels, we are gaining a degree of choice in the process in determining our future. Note, too, that as in The Raman Show and The Abyss, this transformation is cinematically depicted as involving a transition from a water-based state to an air-based one, as The Matrix's hero emerges from his amniotic sac into the real world of air.
This movement into the air element explains why Aquarius may prove to be such an important stage in the evolution of humanity's consciousness. As astrologers have long known (and as the story of the yogi and the Akashic Records underscores), there is something inherently open-ended about Aquarius which makes it hard to predict what will unfold from it. This is because of the element of choice and free will.
In various esoteric sources through history, one sometimes encounters the idea that humans have a capacity for free will and spiritual growth that even God does not. How could this be? In a sense, it's precisely because of our separation from that cosmic source, resulting from our rational detachment—we have a certain leeway and capacity for choice that doesn't exist at higher levels of consciousness.
Compare the sun in its mighty course with a human on Earth. Which of these two has more free will, in terms of a capacity for choice? Of course, it's the human, for while the sun may be the source of all life in our solar system, it cannot be other than what it is, nor can it willfully change its orbit. On the other hand, because of the degree to which she is removed from that position of cosmic centrality, the human is free to choose whatever direction she wants, be that a beggar, businessperson, or farmer. This applies to Aquarius as well. This sign may be 180 degrees removed from the point of luminous consciousness represented by Leo, yet for that reason it exemplifies a degree of rational choice and free will which other signs do not.
With Choice Comes the Possibility for Spiritual Growth
With that choice now comes the possibility for spiritual growth. Carl Jung remarked that there is no morality without freedom. Unless one is responsible for one's actions, one cannot be held accountable for either evil or spiritual actions, since one is acting from instinct. Free will brings the possibility for choosing wisely or unwisely. This is why the awakening of rationality brings responsibilities and dangers; with the emergence of the Aquarian air, the ante is upped in both directions, toward tremendous spirituality or unparalleled destructiveness. Either way, it reflects a momentous step in the evolution of humanity.
There are other ways that the development of rationality can contribute to our spiritual development as a species. Take the example of someone who has lived in rural America, never having traveled outside of their county, let alone outside the United States. Can we say this person grasps what the "American experience" means, for better or worse? The fact is, such a person would probably be the least equipped to offer an assessment of this nation and its character, simply because he has been so immersed in it that he has nothing to compare it to. He has no objectivity.
But suppose he were offered the chance to travel overseas for a few months, and see the American culture from a distant vantage point. Having done that, he would have a new understanding of what it means to be an American, and presumably a richer grasp of its character. This example illustrates how detachment can sometimes be a holistic, enriching force in our lives. By perceiving an experience from an objective, rational perspective, we gain a depth of field or quality of three-dimensionality absent when viewed from a single viewpoint.
This epitomizes the virtue of the air element within the Great Ages. From one perspective, the Age of Aquarius could be a time when we become estranged from the divine source. Yet within a larger evolutionary perspective, that same sense of separation may grant us a more complete perspective on the divine than would be possible otherwise, in the same way that the man who left home thereby came to understand it more fully.
The Talmud has an apocryphal dialogue between God and Abraham, in which God says, "If it wasn't for Me, you wouldn't exist." After a moment of thoughtful reflection, Abraham respectfully replies, "Yes, Lord, and for that I am very appreciative and grateful. However, if it wasn't for me, You wouldn't be known" (Schlain 1998).
Abraham's condition as a creature apart from God provided him the capacity to understand and appreciate God's mystery in a way not available even to God. In a similar way, the rational detachment of the Aquarian Age could similarly allow us to "know" the divine in a way that adds an important element to our evolutionary growth, by giving us a new depth of field or three-dimensionality regarding our perspective on that divine.
In his public lectures, the American philosopher Manly Hall sometimes described the impending stage in human evolution as a movement from the "Old Atlantis" to the "New Atlantis" (in reference to Francis Bacon's book of the same title). What exactly is the "Old Atlantis"? Hall defined this as life lived instinctually, unconsciously, where creatures follow the divine law perfectly yet blindly, like ants and bees going about their business. It is spirituality at its most primal yet unreflective of life "in the Garden."
The "New Atlantis" represents a social order where beings live consciously and rationally, aligned with the divine order not through blind necessity but choice. Here we see the highest aspect of Aquarius, with its potential for enlightened rationality. We are permitted to reenter the Garden of our own volition, through an understanding of universal law.
Lifting Our Sights
So what can we expect the Aquarian Age to bring? The coming era will likely be every bit as complex and multifaceted as every other Great Age that preceded it, possibly even more so. Some foresee an era of peace, love, and brotherhood, while others speak of a bureaucratic nightmare; but the truth probably lies within a constantly shifting variation between these extremes. In the last two chapters, we've looked at the optimal spiritual possibilities the coming era might bring. How realistic is it to expect such lofty potentials to manifest? For me, the more useful question here is what we can do to encourage such possibilities.
On the global scale, this means creating a society that fosters the emergence of such values and ideas. As Manly Hall put it,
"If we create the body of civilization, then the soul body of civilization—which is the `New Atlantis'—will move in and vitalize it. And instead of being a mechanistic culture defended only by mortal laws, it will be the manifestation of a living being receiving light from the Eternal source of light" (Hall 1998).
To achieve this, we will have to learn how to "fight fire with fire"—that is, to adjust our goals and means to the times. For example, it is probable that the forces of big business and technology will pose serious challenges for us in the times ahead; yet solving the problems caused by these forces will not come about by simply bypassing them but rather through using them in constructive ways—"working with the system."
(In recent years we have been blessed with an abundance of useful resource guides that can help direct us in this regard, including books like Conscious Evolution by Barbara Marx Hubbard and A Call for Connection by Gail Bernice Holland.)
The other side of this picture is necessarily a personal one, in terms of how each of us must transform our lives to facilitate this process of global change. This is where we must turn our attention.