Where There’s Will, There’s What?

When I wrote I was a bit ‘fed up’ with my lack of purchase on some of my habits (in the last post) that didn’t feel quite right. Sometimes there’s a bit of fairly good humoured disbelief but most of the time I’m just intrigued. What makes something happen? For example, what makes me have a cake with my coffee or resist the impulse and it not happen? Who or what is driving that decision and how much is it under my control? How are my choices made?

This has been an area of curiosity in my practice for quite a while. To explore it I’ve deliberately let go to some extent of looking to control myself. I don’t mean allowing myself to act unethically but loosening ‘will’ and substituting awareness. How can I learn to see what’s actually happening in the mind if I’m always modifying and interfering? So I let awareness be in charge!

One dharma list I love that I’ve only seen in Bhante Sangharakshita’s books is the ‘5 restraints’. Only one of these is restraint by applying a consciously ethical framework. So we can clearly restrain ourselves in other ways where ethics are in a more implicit supporting role. Mindfulness is one of the other ‘restraints’ and Wisdom is another. If we are aware and we see clearly what’s happening then we have a chance to act skilfully and in accord with reality.

In actuality letting awareness be in charge is a risk! What I’ve learned watching my mind is that mind moments are very fast so things change very quickly. If you think of a thought “I’m going to have an ice-cream” and another thought “No, I’m not, I’m sticking with the diet” – which one is going to win out? Which one will be followed by an action?

Perhaps there is an internal race going on in the mind with all the mental factors running in it. The competitors could be any combination triggered in the mind in those few ‘deciding’ moments.

In Lane One is ‘Greed (you can feel that desire in the body and pleasure in the mind)’, Lane’s 2 & 3 are ‘Imagining’ (yummy eating ice-cream and bigger bottom images). Lane 4 might be Awareness (seeing the different mental factors in play), Lane 5 Wisdom (which is interested in the bigger picture of what is helpful to practice), Lane 6 Moha – delusion (doesn’t really believe this action will have consequences). And finally in the outside lane in Lane 7 is Intention or Volition.

Intention or Volition is in every race towards an action. What is undecided is which other factors will be on the finishing line. If Awareness is lagging behind Wisdom will also fade. Delusion will gain momentum on the inside lane but the conditions are all in play for Greed to streak ahead and win with ease!

At this point all Mindfulness and Wisdom can do is watch what’s happening, observe the conditions that led to losing the race and learn from them. They have no power to affect Intention but they can still use their own qualities of observing and understanding (the mind).

By allowing Mindfulness to be in charge you have to be prepared to lose the race. There are lots of training races. You have to put it down to experience and be in there for the long haul. You’re after the Olympic Medal after all!

What I’ve found really helpful is to learn more about Intention in my direct experience. I’m curious about those moments when I feel a decision is being made. This might be an action to move the body or simply a mental act, for example forming a mental judgement about someone. Joseph Goldstein talks about an ‘about to‘ moment when something is about to happen. I feel as if I’m ‘about to’ say something in a conversation for example. You can feel energy gathering in the psyche. Or you feel it as a ‘deciding’ moment that can be felt as an impulse in the body/mind. It’s not a thought though it may well be accompanied by a thought.

When Intention happens out of awareness we assume it to be ‘me’ making the decision or 2 ‘me’s’ in conflict over a decision (whether or not to eat ice-cream or offer to help someone). And at other times things just ‘pop out’ (I find myself speaking angrily) without our conscious approval (a surprise factor pips another at the post).

Awareness is key to seeing the mechanism of Intention. To see its impersonality. To experience it as simply an urge in the body. Or an impulse in the mind. Nothing more than that. Another mental factor that can be known in awareness. And the stronger Awareness is and the more clearly known is the factor of Intention the more Wisdom can grow in the mind.

And the mind in that moment is free.

2 thoughts on “Where There’s Will, There’s What?”

  1. Hi and good to read, many thanks.
    I wonder though whether in your example you are already quite clear who you would like to win the race? I find that it is easier to be aware if I am really disinterested in the outcome. While any sneaky view that (in this case) we should really stick with the diet, hinders awareness. So to really not know what should be happening allows for a very open awareness, noticing of all aspects of what is going on.
    What do you think?


  2. Hi and thanks for commenting. I think the race for me isn’t so much about cake or diet but interest in what’s happening in the mind and that interest supports the growth of awareness and wise attention. This will eventually expose the views I’m not quite aware of and show the effect they’re having on the mind. Perhaps there needs to be another ‘lane’ for the bias in the mind at that moment?
    What I’m really interested in is Awareness and Wisdom winning the race but ‘I’ can’t know what that will look like but there are things I can do and ways I can live that encourage those things.


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