For most of us, spiritual evolution does not occur simply as a result of one flash of insight or revelation. On the contrary, it usually requires inspired intention and consistent, diligent effort. And the way this is achieved is through the greatest gift that evolution has given us: the power of choice.
The power of conscious choice, or free agency, is unique to human beings as far as we know. You and I are highly evolved individuated selves who have been blessed with the extraordinary capacity for self-reflective awareness and the freedom to choose. In fact, these are the very faculties that make it possible for us to consciously evolve. Think about it: You, whoever you are, at least to some degree have the power to choose. How much do you really appreciate the significance of this extraordinary birthright? It is surprising how few people consider the deeper implications of possessing the freedom to choose. Just imagine -- without free agency, who would you be? Little more than a robot, unconsciously responding and reacting to conditioned egoic fears and desires, cultural triggers, biological impulses, and external stimuli, with no control over your own destiny. But while it is true that we are all profoundly influenced by many of these forces, both inner and outer, at the same time, it is equally true that we always have at least some measure of freedom to choose how we respond.
If you aspire to become an evolutionarily enlightened human being, your ability to do so depends upon accepting the simple fact that independent of external circumstances, you always have a measure of freedom to choose. That sounds like a simple statement, but it's amazing how many intelligent people will deny it. When you look honestly for yourself, however, you will see that it is true: you are always choosing. Sometimes your choices are conscious; sometimes they are unconscious. Sometimes they are inspired by the best parts of yourself; other times they are motivated by lower impulses and instincts. But the bottom line is that every time you act or react, at some level a choice is being made. And you, whoever you are, are the one who is making that choice. After all, who else could it be?
Conscious evolution is a simple concept to grasp, but not quite as simple to put into in practice. Our freedom to choose is not unlimited. We each have some measure of freedom. Not complete freedom, but a measure, and that measure is greater for some people than it is for others. But as long as there is some it's enough to begin. If there is a measure of freedom then there is freedom to choose.
What that means is that in relationship to the important choices you make, you are never completely unconscious. There is always some degree of awareness, however small, which gives you the freedom to choose. And the path of conscious evolution is about increasing that degree of awareness, increasing that measure of freedom, until you are living as the enlightened self that you consciously choose to be, rather than the unenlightened self you have unconsciously and habitually identified with your entire life.
I believe that it is possible to take responsibility for the entirety of who you are in such a profound way that you can consciously choose who you want to be. But that doesn't mean it will be easy. The human self is by nature a complex multidimensional process, and within that process are many factors that limit our freedom and obscure our awareness. There are powerful biological instincts that still drive us on a deep level to act in ways that challenge our higher rational inclinations. There are all the karmic consequences of our personal history, the emotional and psychological tendencies that have formed in response to our particular life experience. There are layers of cultural conditioning, values and assumptions about how things should be that color our perspectives without us even knowing it. And many people believe that within our psyches we also carry the unresolved stories of previous lifetimes. All these factors play a part in the complex web of motives and impulses that makes up your sense of self. All of this is you. And yet it is possible to take responsibility for all of these dimensions of who you are, through the transformative recognition that you are always the one who is choosing.
If you aspire to evolve, if you intend to become a conscious vehicle for the evolutionary impulse, you have to use the God-given powers of awareness and conscious choice to navigate between your new and higher spiritual aspirations, and all of the conditioned impulses and habits that are embedded in your self-system. You need to become so conscious that you can make choices that move you, consistently, in an evolutionary direction. And it is only through the wholehearted embrace of your power of choice that it becomes possible for you to do this.
This is what I often call "enlightening the choosing faculty" -- bringing the light of consciousness, conscience and higher purpose to bear on the unique and extraordinary capacity within that can define your destiny.
Eventually, if you go far enough in your spiritual development, the self-generated momentum of your own evolutionary choices will become the driving force of your life, rather than the unconscious habits of the past. And that's when something very profound occurs. Your capacity to choose will become more and more aligned with the creative freedom of the evolutionary impulse, the energy and intelligence behind the initial choice to become. When free agency, the greatest gift of the evolved human, is liberated from unconscious and habitual patterns and becomes identified with a higher or cosmic will, the individual becomes a conscious agent of evolution.
When your power of choice aligns itself with the evolutionary impulse in this way, your own deepest, heart-felt, spiritual aspiration becomes one with the original cosmic intention to create the universe. That's what Evolutionary Enlightenment is pointing to. To the degree to which you make conscious and transcend those outdated biological, psychological, and cultural habits within yourself that are inhibiting your higher development, you become an ever-more-powerful agent for conscious evolution.
This article was excerpted from Andrew Cohen's new book Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening.