Will I, Or Will I Not?“All
beings are owners of their Karma. Whatever volitional actions they do,
good or evil, of those they shall become their heir.”
“Volitional effort is effort of Attention.”
shall I put my attention today? What shall I create? What shall I learn
and remember? What habit shall I strengthen or weaken? These are
questions of how I will direct my mental force. They are questions of
how I will exert my will. The great psychologist, William James said,
“Effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of
will.” Where we place our attention determines what we hold in
awareness. When we make a choice to attend to something, to hold it in
our consciousness, we create a relationship to it in our mind. The more
we attend to it the more we reinforce the brain activity that
corresponds to that act of perception. As we choose between two
options, we reinforce our mental connection with the option we pick.
this means is that we have tremendous power over our minds and the
outcomes of our lives through our faculty of attention. Let’s say
you have a bad habit. You have the choice of performing the action of
this habit or not, but you have been doing this thing for years.
You’ve learned it so well that it doesn’t require any
mental energy for you to do it. It seems like it is automatic. In fact
it is, until you use your will to make another choice. At first this
will be hard. You’ve always made the habitual choice. It felt
good, perhaps, or it helped you avoid discomfort. But now you’ve
noticed that there are some negative consequences to your habit. You
think you need to choose differently.
you are going to succeed in changing, you need to do something
different with your attention than you have habitually done before. A
first step might be to remove from your surroundings the things that
trigger the behavior you are trying to change. If you drink too much,
you get rid of the booze. If you smoke pot too much and you want to
stop, you remove the bong. If reading the last sentence triggered you
to think about your precious bong and stimulated the thought, “I
should go take a hit right now,” then you need to refocus your
attention on something that would be incompatible with taking that hit,
going to a 12 step meeting for instance, calling your sponsor for
more we choose the alternate behavior, the more we strengthen our
brains’ capacity to choose the alternate behavior. The choice is
an act of will. The act is facilitated by our intention to focus our
attention on the alternative that we will ultimately choose.
we will place our attention in the next moment is a moral question.
Where we place our attention suggests what we are likely to do, and
since our actions generate effects, our karma, the choice of what to
attend to has consequences for ourselves and for others. We are the
heirs to the effects of our actions. So those who wish to reduce
suffering, need to be conscious. We need to practice mindful attention,
so that we may make choices that align with our deeper intentions. We
need to be aware enough to know what our intentions are, and which of
our intentions are more important when some of them are at cross
big question is not, “Can I change?” The big question is,
“Where shall I put my attention this moment?” Without
practice of mindfulness, our minds are at the whim of external
conditions, base instincts and associations from past experience.
Meditation hones the capacity to direct attention with intention.
Mindfulness practice enables us to be aware of our focus and to
consciously choose where to place it. Linking right mental effort and
conscious action, we develop the capacity to live well.
For an in depth discussion of the relationship between volitional effort and changes in the brain, see The Mind And The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD and Sharon Begley, ReganBooks, 2002.
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