When we attempt to impose our will the wider impact gets missed along with the opportunity for connection with others. Words and behaviour can become ungenerous and cause harm in ways that slip under the radar whilst ‘getting the job done’ ‘meeting the goal’ or perhaps most aptly summed up with the phrase ‘getting our own way’. We’re often left with a feeling of ‘winning or losing’ rather than ‘finding a wholesome way forward’.
It’s easy to notice this when it’s our perspective that’s not being taken into account, when we can find it difficult to express ourselves or act in a balanced way ….like when the energy of anger takes over or our energy drains away. Whilst times like these can be very challenging, these experiences are also the opportunity to see how our internal whirlwinds or the sensation of “pulling the plug” happen. If we can observe this we can begin to reshape our engagement in a way that’s balancing, helpful and wholesome.
It’s less obvious for us to notice the way we too can have tunnel vision. It’s like our own will locks on to a ‘mental target’ and with it a satisfying certainty about the direction we are headed and our gathering momentum. If we don’t know how to pay attention and listen at this point, we risk missing out on any peripheral information that lies outside our focus, including how we and/or others are closing down in the face of this certainty.
2500 years ago the Buddha’s extraordinary vision and wisdom enabled him to set out a framework of personal growth for us so that we can practice to see more clearly the power of our personal inner lens and intervene where it will make a difference to states of mind – such as when we face the internal whirlwinds, the sensation of “pulling the plug” or tunnel vision, that are out of balance.
His pioneering investigation into the nature of mind revealed new insights about how it operates and a way to pay attention to retrain it towards wholesome states of mind, including the ease, contentment and happiness “Sukha” and the expanded deeper states leading towards liberation “Nibbana”.
The process he taught for us to explore how the movements of our mind operate, is meditation. The way he taught this process to be effective is by developing the capacity to pay attention and listen – the practice of mindfulness “Sati”. He changed the traditional focus of meditation from the observation of something outside of ourselves to something within, the movements of our own mind and directed the skill of mindfulness towards seeing this.
As we practice and our capacity to pay attention and listen grows, we see our tendency to impose our will involves the somatic experience of tension and tightness around our brain as well as other parts of our body. It’s a reaction to incoming information, filtered through the senses and conditioned by our inner library of past experience – our habits, beliefs, stories and expectations. What’s also clear is it’s happening all of the time, from petty preferences to strongly held convictions, it’s how the mind shortcuts information to make speedier decisions and ward off threats.
The difficulty is that our personal lens is, by its nature, not objective and so the shortcuts that are made are not always skillful or wholesome. Meditation is a subtle somatic practice and can help us find a different approach and restore balance in situations of familiar distress. In it, we keep practising releasing and relaxing the tension (and the drive to control what happens next), choosing instead to move into the next moment from a place of inner balance, smiling.
The key here is repetition, the more we repeat this, the more quickly we embed a new habit of meeting tension generously, and this means we will feel our tension levels dropping, energy levels rising and more peace, calm and balance arising. We’ll get hijacked less and recover faster when we meet situations that triggered us in the past until there’s no longer any reverberation knocking us out of balance.
It’s easy to recognise that the choices we make from this place of inner balance have the benefit of much wider vision and wisdom from which to proceed. We’ll also notice a difference in how interaction with others plays out: when we succeed in sidestepping the usual pitfalls within ourselves, others too find they are on new ground from which to respond. When this happens, a more dynamic playground opens up in our relationships as we step off the habitual merry go round of the past creating a more wholesome present experience.