Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of February 21, 2011

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Non-Directed, Automatic Will

Tension, Passive, Daydreaming

(Modes of Will: Part 7 of 11)

Will participates in all we do, even when we do nothing. In parts 2 through 6 of this series on Modes of Will, we explored directed modes, those with a particular direction or object. In the remaining parts of the series, we will explore the non-directed modes of will, which have a wider purview and broader focus. Though the line between directed and non-directed can be fuzzy, with porous boundaries separating them, our investigation of the non-directed modes will show us more of the ever-present and central role of will in our life.

We begin with non-directed will acting through the automatic energy. That level of energy, with all its patterns and programs, affords little freedom to our will. Add a non-directed quality to that lack of freedom and the relevant modes of will seem to fade into the background and disappear. In these states we seem to be will-less, because we have abdicated our will to our nervous system, to thought, emotion, body, and senses. Non-directed, automatic will occupies more of our life than we might care to admit.

For example, we suffer from many kinds of tensions, automatic and self-generated. Though they actively affect us, our tensions are not directed. The physical tensions of unnecessary muscle tightness, chronic or episodic, all waste our energy and may damage our health. We know the muscular tensions of hunched shoulders, abdominal holding, clenched jaw, and various facial stresses. Physical tensions also manifest as fidgeting, pacing, and other useless movements.

Emotional tensions take many forms, both chronic and episodic. Chronic emotional tensions drape their enduring tone onto our emotional life, while the episodic come and go. We harbor tendencies to anger or sadness, excitability or fear, envy or greed, timidity or domination, or some of the many other shades of emotion. You’ve had a difficult day and in the evening you face the temptation to take it out on your spouse or children or to escape your troubled emotions through alcohol, overeating, or losing yourself in the TV. To mask our emotional tensions we may talk too much or too little, with little regard for the people around us or ourselves.

Mental or cognitive tensions manifest in obsessive thoughts, replaying a scene, real or imagined, past or future, over and over, hearing a song endlessly repeated, or ruminating about some insult or slight or disappointment. Tensions actively form ruts in our mind, entrapping us.

In all these cases, the tensions disrupt normal functioning, disrupt our body, our heart, and our mind. Tension in one affects the others as the state of our body drives our emotions, our emotions drive our thoughts, and vice versa. All this goes on without any intention on our part and without any particular direction or object. The tensions play the active role, affecting us.

When passive will acts automatically in us without direction, inertia invades our body, boredom our heart, and a disjointed muddle our mind. We are out of contact with our body, heart, and mind, which are not in contact with each other. The Buddha spoke of this state as the hindrance of sloth and torpor. We take the path of least resistance, inattentive and unaware, looking neither right nor left.

When synergic will acts automatically in us without direction, our mind drifts along in a daydream, our body acts on instinct, and our heart takes on the emotional tone of our immediate situation. In these modes of will, active and passive qualities combine in a new synergy.

The fact that our body can and does act on instinct supports our life crucially. Innumerable, life-giving processes occur well-below our awareness, on the molecular, cellular, tissue, organ, and system levels. This amazing and supremely complex biological symphony deserves and needs our respect, in how we nurture and avoid abusing our body. The instinctive synergy of our body comes in its responsiveness: receptive to the state of its constituents and active in making the necessary adjustments.

Daydreaming seduces us with its pleasant images and unpleasant dramas. It takes the energy of thought and downgrades it into an automatic theater of mind. The mental fantasy takes the active role, creating its own momentum. Our mind welcomes it, meeting the daydream receptively, not just passively. The result is the synergy of reverie. It keeps our awareness collapsed within the pseudo-reality of the daydream. It leads us to think and feel we are doing something of value, when in truth it is just empty.

Daydreaming or fantasy, whose synergy has both active and receptive aspects, can be distinguished from a completely passive mental state, a wandering, aimless mind. Both are automatic, but daydreaming has a little more of our will in it than the wandering mind. And while both are usually time and energy sinks, both also have their usefulness. They can help us relax. The passive, wandering mind can lead us to new connections that feed a creative impulse. In some forms of meditation, we let our thoughts wander as they will, while we seek a deeper realm beyond thought. Daydreams and fantasy can help us release emotional tensions, because they sometimes deal with stressful situations in a non-harmful manner. Still, we do not make a virtue of daydreaming and mental wandering.

For this week, notice the times when you are operating on automatic, without any particular direction, with little freedom of will.


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