From will and power to willpower
[Talk at Carrier Clinic, Belle Mead, New Jersey, USA]
Transcription (edited) by- Vijay Vaidyanathan
What is will? what is power? and what is willpower?
Will is essentially our desire to do something in the future. Everyone wants a brighter future for oneself and that is not only about better things happening to us but also about we needing to do some things better. So one starts to plan on doing the right things for example someone would take new year resolutions albeit certain survey show that in most cases new year resolutions are never new it is the same old resolution which one is not able to keep and is resolved again in the next year. Thus a will is an indication of something one will do in the future but it just stays in the future does not come to the present.
Power is defined as how much influence one has on others vide the position of authority one possesses like political or institutional or managerial etc. This power definitely helps in getting things done from others. But even if we have the external power how much we are able to use it constructively depends on how much we are able to influence ourselves. Power is also defined as our capacity to influence our selves.
What is the meaning of capacity to influence our self? There is something within us which aspires to do something constructive, worthwhile and positive and there is also something within us which sabotages us specially in people who are in need of mental health care and sometimes to such an extent it sabotages not only a part of their life but their whole life. The same dynamics exists in every one, a part which wants to attain self actualization and a part which wants to self sabotage.
Will is the power of our intention and power refers to action. Willpower is a fusion of intention and action. It is not that people have or do not have willpower. Willpower is like muscles, some have less and some have more and like muscles willpower can also be developed. Basically there is internal intention and external action and when the action is being able or not being able to be performed the feeling of existence or lack of willpower arises. For example when one has decided to be kind and compassionate with others but the others behave in a irritable way forcing one to get angry. Thus though there is an intention to act in a particular way but the action comes out in a different way.
It is very important to know how intention works and what it takes to transform intention into action. Without understanding how to reinforce intention trying to do the action is like building a house without investing on the foundation. Solidifying our intention is like building the foundation then the action will not only emerge but will sustain.
How is willpower lost and how it is gained? The impulsive becomes compulsive by repeated choices. This is explained very clearly with the story of two students staying in a hostel, on their way to the college there is a drug joint. One of the student who has been brought up in a very cultured manner is very clear in his mind that he is not going to get involved in drugs goes on with his life in a very constructive manner. But the other student who is a little adventurous impulsively feels that he should try taking drugs once. Once he gives into the impulse he keeps doing it repeatedly and gets addicted. Thus doing it repeatedly again and again the impulsive becomes compulsive. In Bhagvad Gita it is said that our desires becomes like a noose that binds us. Hence physically everyone is free in most of the countries but mentally it is difficult to know how much bound one is by his desires that has become compulsive. Initially the addicts takes their drug shots to feel high but then after sometime they have to take it to feel normal. This is because once the addiction has become compulsive there is a invisible noose between their mind and the object of addiction which pulls them towards the object till they indulge in them. So initially what was done for getting pleasure is eventually being done to avoid the pain caused by non-indulgence. Nowadays many kids have device addiction, screen addiction which are not as harmful as drug addiction but that is also a compulsion. The story of the student is also a good example of how the initial perfect intention of being a good student was sabotaged by an impulse. The more one indulges in the impulse the impulsive will become compulsive.
The key to making change is to recognize that each choice one makes is not just one choice, the choice is like a commitment to future choices. Each time one performs an action at the subconscious level he commits himself to doing that action. For example computer when compared to a human being there are three aspects the hardware is like the body, the software is like the mind and the user is the soul, when the user clicks a browser the auto correct feature of the browser enables the user to go the site visited by him already by just mentioning the first letter of the website. Hence each time we are choosing or visiting a particular site, the same is observed and internalized by the browser and that choice becomes easier. Similarly each choice that we make in our own life becomes a commitment for future choices, those choices become easier to make. For example suppose each time we deal with a certain persons we become irritated, resentful, pessimistic or hold grudges it would not remain only for that time but will create a commitment that the same kind of response we will choose again or at the least the same kind of response will appear as the default choice. We will have to consciously change the choice or resist from using the same choice. Using the same example one has to understand that there will be situations where one will feel resentful but to carry on life in the same resentful way will be like driving a car with one foot on the brake, there will be no forward movement. Externally one goes through the motions of life but internally gets trapped into a state of paralysis.
There is a kind of inner tension which exists between ones intention and emotions. The art of being self-controlled is the art of avoiding the loss of self-control, it is like saying the art of keeping the car on track is avoiding the car to go off-track. Though the driver of the car seemingly does little movements to keep the car on track but these small movements are vital adjustments. However unlike the car in our inner world one does not realise when our intentions are going off-track. The way to sustain our willpower is to know how to decouple intentions from emotions. Emotions is not necessarily good or bad, it is just our mental response to situations. For example if one is sitting on a comfortable chair one feels good, if the chair has thorns one feels bad, so these physical pleasure or pain is just a response to a particular situation. So the appropriate response has to be chosen based on the particular situation. Just as there is physical response to stimuli similarly our emotions are simply our mental response to stimuli and that response is his nature for example if somebody is gentle, courteous friendly one feels nice to be with such persons on the other hand if somebody is rude, harsh, judgemental one feels unpleasant in his company. But sometimes something might be uncomfortable but it might be essential for example there is a chair which is uncomfortable but that is the only chair available, we tolerate that discomfort and still do our work. In case of physical sensations it is easy to endure but when it comes to inner emotions, our emotions are not to be denied. For example it is ok to dislike a person or have negative emotions regarding certain persons but at the same time one should not allow the emotions to overpower the intention. Being focused on the intention one started with and recognising the inner tension that exists within us, one should not give the emotions the power to sabotage the intention. One should decouple the two i.e. intention and emotions and then decide how to respond appropriately. To persevere in our intention, we need to understand the inner tension is inevitably going to be there, and that is because intention is something one starts off with but emotions is what one encounters along the way. As the inner tension happens internally one tends to identify more with the emotions than the intention. Thus when we recognize the inner tension that is there then we can decide how to choose.
To sustain intention there are two aspects to it viz. Conviction and Association
Conviction refers to the intellectual acceptance of whatever we have decided to do. For example one decides to be more patient or somebody else may decide to do certain things in a particular way, and to such an extent that the intelligence is convinced about it so that when emotion arises the same can be resisted. But if the intelligence is not convinced then once cannot develop resistance for the emotions that arises. Intelligence has to be like the mother and the emotions are like the child, sometimes the child has to be given unpalatable medicines, it is ok if the child may not want to take the medicine but if the mother also supports the child in not taking the medicine then the mother instead of acting like the mother of the child, she acts like the child of the child. The mother has to make sure that the child takes the medicine. Conviction is the intellectual understanding and intellectual internalization which leads to a conscious and consensus ‘yes’ that is stronger than a subconscious ‘no’ that comes in. When the intention is stronger than the emotion that strengthens the intention to persevere that comes through conviction.
Association refers to the influence of the people around us. Our desires are not just linear but also triangular. Desires which arise directly by seeing the object for example an advertisement of a delicious looking ice cream triggers our desire, these are linear desires. Whereas many other things which are not tangibly appealing for which desires do not arise directly by looking at the object, desires for such objects are triggered by looking at someone else using that object such desires are called triangular desires. For example an advertisement for new phone shows a celebrity using the phone. Most of the advertisements subtly tap both linearity and triangularity of desires for promoting the product. Especially when it comes to self-improvement, the goal is not visibly appealing as this pertains to more of qualities like patience, understanding, kindness etc, there is nothing direct to look at which will trigger ones desires. In this case the linearity of desire cannot be tapped too much but triangularity feature would definitely work. Triangularity of desire would involve two things the seer and the person who has developed the qualities which the seer wants to possess. By seeing this person and/or associating with him the desire gets triggered. The journey of self-improvement would not sustain without such role models because at a linear level such desires would not stay stronger. Nowadays people do not have role models or maybe they have models who are not really role models who they would like to emulate at a very superficial level. But at another level associating with people who are spiritually more realised or internally have more self-mastery, channels the triangularity of desires. Also it is not possible to do something for self-improvement alone on his own. It is better to have seekers along with us to go through the same journey, such association is mutually beneficial in case anyone falls the other can support. The willpower will persevere when we have association.
There is another aspects of association, which is we look for ideal person or ideal social circles to have association with. But one should know that such thing does not exist and should start with any like-minded person or friends within our social circles or some other friends who are interested in introspection and more spiritually minded.
Thus to sustain an initiative even if there is an opposition one should draw his strength internally through one’s intelligence and externally through one’s association.
There is another dimension which is one step higher than conviction and association that is purification where the emotions itself weakens. When one becomes pure means the undesirable force from within weakens. For example in the earlier example of the students, one of them is certain he is not going to do drugs so even if he passes through the drug joint no circumstantial emotions arises. Purification is the process by which we strengthen our core intentions and weaken our circumstantial emotions. Like how when water falls from the sky it is pure but when it falls in the river or mixes with soil it becomes impure. Similarly we start off with pure intentions but when it meets with the messy world it becomes impure. And just as there is a process to purify water like water filter unit to remove the impurities, similarly we need to have a process for purifying our mind. Breathing exercises at a preliminary level are a form of purification. Just by becoming aware of our breath and slowing it down, we are regulating it and residues of stress that might be there decrease. This is at a preliminary level because the impurities will be still there, we have only shifted our focus from the impurities by regulating our breath and fixing our thoughts on our breath. We have just managed to get our mind off the impurities but actual purification means to get the impurities or the negatives of our mind.
To quote the earlier metaphor used for the body mind and soul which are like the hardware, software and the user of a computer respectively. At the level of the body there is perception, emotion is at the level of the mind and beyond that is our intention. For example when we have come for a particular purpose, but then there are so many other things we perceive and they give rise to emotions so to strengthen and focus on the intention we need to control our emotions. Circumstantial emotions can comes in two ways one is external perception induces the internal emotions or from some recollection in the mind itself arises emotions. Emotions need to be dealt with like how one deal with the climate outside, irrespective of how the weather outside is one just carries on with their work and life. Similarly one has to weather ones emotional weather. If the weather is raining we make some adaptation like take an umbrella, we do not allow the weather to change our plan, similarly if we feel irritated sometimes, we acknowledge our emotions but we do not let them control us. Purification essential means the process that weakens the negativity coming from perception and emotions.
What are methods of purifying one-self? There are two ways Meditation and Affirmations.
Generically in most of the spiritual traditions the common understanding is that we are parts of a whole. We are an indestructible part of an inexhaustible whole. Meditation is directing our thoughts towards higher reality or towards this awareness. In the materialistic world view we consider only two options things are under my control and things are out of my control. But in the spiritual world view we understand that things that are not in my control are not out of control. There is a higher controller. I am a part and there is a whole, and there is something bigger than me that is taking care. Even in our own bodies there are so many things we are not aware of like we eat food and how it gets digested and how it gets transformed to energy there is a whole complicated scientific process involved. Meditation makes us aware that there is a force or a being, something higher than me which is in charge of things. And what is not in my control let me let go. We think of strength in terms of holding on to things but strength is also involves letting go of things. Meditation helps us to become aware of our place within reality meaning what we can hold on to and what we need to let go. When we meditate we are able to become calm not because the problem is solved but because we have learnt to focus on what is in our control and learnt to entrust what in not in our control to the higher reality.
Affirmation: For affirmations to work they have to intuitively sound right to us. Affirmations are about not so much changing reality but changing the focus on the reality. There are things which are wrong but there are things which are right also, so we focus on that which is right and we do affirmations which connect me with that. There can be affirmations we can think of ourselves certain statements which might inspire us and in the yoga traditions affirmations are also done through the medium of mantras. Mantras are special sound vibrations that are packed with spiritual power. Mantras are special combinations of sound whose vibration has a lot of power. The whole mood of affirmations especially through mantra meditation is that we are affirming to ourself “ Oh part return to harmony with the whole”, we are a part and there is a whole and stress , resentment negativity are all caused because of disharmony. So through the affirmation “Oh part return to harmony with the whole” as we chant the mantra this is the affirmation gradually settles in and through meditation and through affirmation as we become more and more grounded in who we are and what we are meant to do then that reinforces our intention and the emotions which are there troubling us, weakens. The journey from will and power to willpower is primarily a journey of redirection, we will get off track from the intention because of emotions but we need to have tools for redirecting us and conviction association meditation and affirmations are tools for redirecting ourselves so that we can reinforce our willpower and transform the intention into action.
Will and power to willpower-how will our intention often doesn’t get actualized-power getting other to do things and what about ourselves do things-when we combine will and power it is willpower-Willpower essentially is a fusion of intention and action-Willpower is lost when we do action impulsively instead of intentionally – the impulsive becomes compulsive by repeated actions/indulgences-to regain willpower we need to understand how can i strengthen my intention-for that recognise the inner tension, that is my intention but along with that some emotion that comes-emotions sabotages my intention – if we can decouple emotion and intention the we can respond appropriately-for decoupling as per the yogic model of the self that the intention comes from the soul which is like the user of the computer, the hardware and the software which is like the body and the mind- from the body comes perception and from the mind comes emotion and sometimes the perception and emotions sabotage the intention-if we want to persevere with our intention the two approaches viz inside out approach and outside in approach which are reinforce our intellectual conviction and association respectively-Desires are not just linear but also triangular-if we have models and fellow seekers that can inspire us on our journey towards self transformation because here the goal is not easily visible so linear desire will not be triggered,it would be triangular desire-lastly how to weaken the perception and emotions through purification the tools being meditation and affirmations. Meditation means to remind us of the reality that we are indestructible part of an inexhaustible whole and even if things are not under our control they are not out of control- Affirmations can be done through various ways through mantra we tap into sound vibrations which are packed with spiritual power and they help us to return to harmony with our place in the scheme of things. As parts we do our part we hold on to our part while we let go of that which is beyond us in that particular situation and we address that to the whole and this way our willpower becomes accessible to us usable by us because we filer out whatever is sabotaging that willpower and that way we can transform our intention to action. Thank you very much!!!