Stand still for a moment. Sometimes i stand on a tree stump and pretend to having stood there for hundreds of years. An impossible thought for a mere human of course, but it causes me to perceive time in a different way. And then i remain there for as long as my restless soul allows, usually no more than a few minutes. So for just the next few minutes, imagine you were a tree in a forest. A sapling to begin with. Your species is determined by your seed. Your location by the dispersement of that seed from your parental unit(s). The quality of the ground beneath you, from the litter and thickness of humus down to the type of mineral horizon below will provide your nourishment and stability. You are surrounded by grown trees, and the light is dim, though throughout the day wafting beams of sunlight make it through to your cotyledons. The air smells humid and earthy. You form your first proper leaves, wondrously spooling off a program engrained in you. At some point you become conscious of your whereabouts, and find yourself in this thicket, surrounded by other eager creatures that try to grow alongside you, or over you, or eat you up, trample you down, climb up your stem, nest in your leaves, suck your sap, breathe your air, chop you down for firewood or construction material — not all the time and definitely not all at once, so no need to panic, for now.
In any case, your immediate context is a scattering of saplings trying, just like you, to get to the light. Or at least to get somewhere. Here already you may falter, seeing other, stronger specimen around you with bigger more beautiful leaves. So why do you even bother? Or you are among the bigger ones, but not the topmost, and would go green with envy if you weren’t already? So, you wonder, what is this, why do we all compete for soil space, winding our roots around one another, and trying to shoot up as straight as we can, just to be that little bit superior to the next one, to catch a few more rays, and overshadow them?
Maybe some sneer at this predictable, mono-directional contest, and prefer to wind and curl along sideways. Who says upwards is the only pertinent direction? Free will would now be: choosing a direction for your life. Choices are not merely artistic. Early decisions may turn out to be foolish, if indeed stretching out to the light is the purpose of all vital propensity. And then those who have chosen to turn aside or even remain cowered, be it rebellious or shrinking-violet-like, will bear the consequences. Notabene this is not about the genetically programmed natural height, or variations thereof, this is about choice. Making yourself little or big, with the material you are and have.
A deer bit your terminal bud off, your apex, and you will have to make do and grow out sideways and then upward, or only sideways… with any configuration that life turns out as, you need to decide if the direction shall still be heavenward. Free will is now your response to perceived adversity, to challenge. Do you become downtrodden, or do you rise no matter what? If all trees were just perfectly vertical bars, what a boring forest it would be! There is moss, there are anemones distributed by ants via myrmecochory; there is undergrowth, shrubbery, strata of branches, twigs and leaves. Do you appreciate being part of this grandiose whole? Even if you are a mould, a dung beetle, you have your beauty and purpose. There is no copping out. How can you even attempt to give up? All challenges are supplied to be harnessed. At some point during the day the sun will be right over you. There will be moments of pure joy, and moments of exasperation. Paradise is crooked, meandered, not linear, but upright.