As I ponder the upcoming month, July 4--Independence Day--comes to mind. While I've written hundreds of posts over the years, my July posts suggest a similar theme--the freedoms we take for granted and how to remember these gifts every day.
Today I'm thinking about how we sometimes exercise our freedoms in ways that limit or harm, and what to do about that. In the spirit of free will and the constitutional freedoms we enjoy in the U.S., am I too impulsive? Am I jeopardizing the very freedoms I cherish and that hold our communities together?
- I have the freedom to be unkind, for example, but should I be? What purpose will it serve?
- I'm free to speak whatever is on my mind, but who will benefit from my adrenalized rush (besides me)?
- I can post what I want on the Web, but what effect will it have on the person, the community, humanity, on my future self?
Are these fair questions?
Free Will versus Free "Won’t".
In 2012, I wrote a post called "FREE WON'T: 5 Steps From Impulsive to Intelligent Behavior", about a study by Benjamin Libet (1916-2007) and his colleagues at the University of California. They conducted a series of experiments that indicated that brain activity shows a preparation to act before the conscious decision is made. The question that followed: If my brain is preparing for the action before I’m aware of my intention, am I truly acting intentionally?
Even more interesting, Libet’s experiments showed that once my intention is conscious, I can reverse its direction. I can choose not to act.
Libet called this reversal Free Won't.
For example, I decide to turn on a light, and act on that intention. But I may not have the control I imagine. My decision to turn on the light happens prior to my consciousness of the decision.
However, my ability to reverse that decision is conscious. I begin to reach for the light switch and … change my mind.
The capacity to withhold an action that we have prepared but reconsidered is an important distinction between intelligent and impulsive behavior.
~ Marcel Brass, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and of Ghent University.
Before I send that text, before I click that post. Before I shout a mean word. There is the possibility of "won't."
My ability to be centered and present--present to the triggers and impulses that grab at me, and present to the brain's preparation to act--gives me the free won't option. Just like tuning to a radio frequency, amid the cacophony of frequencies in my head all calling for attention, I can tune to the Centered Presence frequency.
Is this fair? To ask myself, ask all of us, to exercise our awareness and our will, in order to bring our attention back to our Centered Presence? Is it fair to question my purpose? About who or what will benefit or be harmed by my action?
I think it's absolutely necessary if we care about our impact on the world--our relationships, our communities, and even further afield. My Presence ripples out who knows how far. My actions affect you and yours affect me. One way or another we're all connected.
When we hear about oneness and interconnection...there can be a tendency to imagine them as these lofty, mystical destinations that one day we'll catch a glimpse of. Well...maybe it's right here. Maybe it's more a matter of just paying attention to what's already there in front of us. -- Jeff Warren, The Daily Calm.
Being present to each moment is a form of respect for myself, my life. This is how I invent my life, in this ki moment. If peaceful interaction is my purpose, then I'll pay attention to what's already here and extend peace even in those moments when I'm tempted to act otherwise.
With the next aggravating person, email, text, or post, in the midst of conflict or the conversation that turns difficult, I'll center myself and choose to exercise Free Won't.
Happy Fourth of July!