This question doesn´t quite leave me after having seen the brilliant movie Winter´s Bone, about a young girl´s predicament in poor and deprived circumstances in a backward community in Missouri, USA. The 17 year old girl, Ree Dolly, carries her whole family. The father has left them to ”cook” metampethamine and hide from the police, and her mother has withdrawn into herself. So Ree has to fend for her two smaller siblings and her mother and at the same time keep creditors and the law at bay.
Ree´s upbringing, her network and family, the hard times – everything points towards a sad end to the story, with Ree, her siblings and mother being evicted from their property and the family scattered for the winds.
Somehow, Ree unexpectedly rises to the occasion and finds against all odds the resources to rescue the family and ride out the situation. Instead of a gloomy end, her remark to her brother who anxiously asks if she is going to abandon them (”I would be lost if I didn´t have to carry you two on my back”), can stand as a human statement for all times.
Maybe the girl simply uses her free will to break with the past? But is there such a thing? As a regular Acem meditator over decades I have experienced increased mental freedom in situations where I would normally have reacted stereotypically, limited by my tensions and upbringing. Meditation has taken me into new territory in my life, in the way that I feel free to pursue a broader range of interests and impulses. In my experience the free will does exist. But many people object to the idea. Free will is an illusion, they say. You are tied by your earlier experiences, your circumstances and by your genetics. There´s very little room to maneuver outside the box. Even the will to do good can be explained in light of subtle favour exchanges, game theorists say.
That may be so, but even small steps forward are important when it comes to breaking unsatisfying life patterns. The free mental attitude that regular meditation cultivates gives you increased room to reflect and choose between conflicting impulses before you make your decisions. There´s still room for the unexpected!