Do we have free will?
When you were in College, you may have had to write an essay about that question. Chances are you looked into what some famous philosophers, or theologians, might have written about it. Or what neuroscience has to say about it. In any case, it probably felt like an abstract, intellectuall issue.
Let's bring this closer to everyday life. We could start from the observation that there are times when we do things we don't want to do. An extreme example of this is addiction, but in this context addiction is only a part of a broad spectrum that includes such things as compulsive behavior, habits that are hard to shake, Freudian slips, etc.
When we look at this in terms of everyday life, it often shifts from an intellectual issue into a moral one: "When we do something we don't want to do, is it a sign of weakness, or is it that we don't actually have a choice?" The problem is, when we do this, we try to look for an all-or-nothing answer. Is it one thing, or the other? Is it weakness, or is it something over which we have no choice?
It is much more productive to approach this in a spirit of mindful enquiry. That is, to ask two related questions: "What is it about this situation that I cannot change?" and "What is it about this situation that I can change?"
Asking these questions helps us let go of the all-or-nothing paradigm ("I can change it all?" vs "I cannot change it at all"). Instead, this helps us pay attention to the nitty-gritty of what we might not be able to change, or what we might be able to.
Seen from this perspective, the Serenity prayer is not so much a prayer as a proactive call to mindful action. That is, it is not about reaching an ideal state of serenity, courage, or wisdom. It is about operationalizing courage and serenity, i.e. asking the questions that help us make sense of life and gain wisdom.
This also helps you to look at the situation in context. As part of Step 4, identifying patterns in your life, you ask yourself: "What is the context in which I am doing this?" You might then notice, for instance, that it tends to happen when you're feeling very tired, or emotionally overwhelmed. Then, you know that this is what you need to address in order to deal with why you keep doing what you don't want to do.
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