Awakening the will


By my estimate, 97% of Americans today, 97% of the time, have no awareness that one can choose one’s affects or feelings.  The will, the faculty or ability to choose one’s feelings, is effectively asleep.

When you nudge a person who is physically asleep, you may get a response, but the response is unthought, sluggish, automatic.  Similarly, folk whose wills are asleep respond emotionally to events and circumstances in automatic, unthought ways.  One will make no progress until the will wakes up.

The principal tools to do this are meditation and the practice of presence or mindfulness — keeping one’s attention on one’s own activities, here and now.

If one goes through one’s day attending to the here and now, it becomes easy to be aware of exactly what one’s feeling, without necessarily acting on that feeling.  Then one may have a choice to change how one feels, letting positive feelings replace negative ones.

Even if one is going placidly about one’s day, moments of bad feelings come.  These are prone to take one’s attention away from the here-and-now; as rarely is there anything happening, in fact, here-and-now about which to feel bad.  A person whose will is awake can easily choose either to just let those feelings go, let them pass, the same way one would do during meditation; or possibly change or replace the bad feelings with better ones.

“Normal” awareness in the United States today tends to assume, instead, that one has no choice about one’s feelings; that they are the inevitable response to events and circumstances, and therefore justified; that whatever thoughts come behind that are likewise justified, and whatever actions come behind those thoughts are justified also.  Such folk wind up acting wholly on impulse.  This is ultimately dysfunctional.

A shift in emotion normally happens first, all by itself, without any associated ideas.  One whose will is asleep will then begin looking for ideas that correspond to those feelings — memories, facts or circumstances that justify the feelings.  These are almost never hard to find.  Indeed, for example, one’s memories are indexed by feelings:  when one is angry, it is easiest to recall all the other times in life when one has been angry; when one feels joy, it is easiest to recall all the other times in life when one has felt joy.

A different way to put it:  we all constantly see the world through “rose-colored” or other-colored glasses.  As I have said elsewhere:

“Seeing red” is a real phenomenon.  One sees the world through one’s own aura, the colors of which correspond to one’s affect; whether one is aware of it or not.  As a result, colors of objects in one’s environment appear more or less vivid as they correspond (or not) to the current auric colors.  We use this unawares in, for example, choosing the clothes to wear on a given day: an outfit that may be too quiet or too loud today may be just right tomorrow.  Certainly in cognition [that is, thinking], like effects make some facts more prominent and others perhaps invisible in a given situation.

The most prominent example to me, of such invisibility of facts, pertains to the current state of black America; where many folk are unable to “see” any responsibility for one’s own actions, or any possibility that one may so act as to improve one’s lot.

When one feels angry feelings and thinks angry thoughts, one is prone to carry out angry acts — that are destined to bring angry results.  If one feels loving feelings and thinks loving thoughts, one is prone to carry out loving acts — that are destined to bring loving results.

First come feelings
then come thoughts
then come actions
then come results.

Happy plans are most likely to bring about happy results.

It is best to intervene in this process during that stage when one is aware of the untoward feelings, but no corresponding ideas have yet come.  At this point, it is relatively easy to redirect or change one’s feelings.  It becomes more difficult to do so once one is engaged in actual negative thoughts.

On occasions when untoward feelings come and carry my thoughts away from the here-and-now, to fix my feelings it’s often enough just to bring my attention back to the here-and-now; as very seldom is anything happening here and now that I deserve to be upset about.

Awakening the will, learning that one can consciously choose how one feels — and then actually doing so — is essential to obtaining peace and joy in one’s life.  As one practices presence from day to day, one will become increasingly aware that these choices are available.

Related: The offering plate, part 2

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4 thoughts on “Awakening the will

  1. I actually think you cannot control your feelings but, you can control your actions. Example: I was super angry at someone and would not mind at all if he got hit by a car. However, I would never be behind it or do it. Killing a person is against my religious and moral belief.

    1. (1) Thank you. Great comment. (2) That was the prevailing worldview of the world I grew up in; looking back, I seemed to encounter that belief everywhere — among my schoolteachers and classmates, in the neighborhood, in the family (both sides, all my aunts and uncles and cousins). I am very wary of saying one can “CONTROL” one’s feelings; I prefer to say one can “MANAGE” them. However, for example, Jesus’ teachings, beginning in the Sermon on the Mount, assume one can choose or change one’s feelings at will; that one can choose them as readily as one chooses one’s behaviors. Some common examples in everyday life: how often does one choose to “relax?” How often does one forgive? These are choices to change one’s feelings. And these opportunities come up far more often than we realize.

      1. I can choose to believe but when it comes choosing to forgive, it is easier said then done. I choose to forgive someone who hurt me and made the steps to admit that to them, BUT….. my heart still hurts and I don’t want to be around them as the memories are still there not to be forgotten.

      2. Yes, forgiveness often takes work, and sometimes may not seem to be possible. It’s still a matter of choosing to change how one feels. Sometimes one can, sometimes maybe one can’t.

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