Saturday, July 17, 2010

Current Choices

The action of selection is what we call “free will”. Riding multiple currents beyond our control, we are constantly making choices that determine the nature of the ride. Choices about direction are as simple and automatic as where we look in any given situation, what gets our attention. Once engaged we choose among the potentials of that situation as it unfolds. This is where self-awareness comes in handy and increases the available choices. If you’ve been paying attention to your patterns of reaction and the situations that result, you can choose a path that is not the automatic one of the past.
The new mammalian layer of the brain flows into the neocortex, so named because it’s the newest. It is where the perception of the future begins, and with perception of the future comes anxiety. There are two ways we handle anxiety. One is retreat into older layers of the psyche that deal with fear. This means withdrawing or defending. The other is to do something—anything- to move forward. As Alfred Adler said, the important thing is to get moving. That’s why exercise alone will improve general mood and mental function. But a bigger group of connections to the pleasure center is from our most human powers, the prefrontal cortex in the front of the brain. Evolution has built in an appetite for challenge and novelty, more reward response as we move the mental energy toward to front of the brain. We’re meant to use and develop our capacities, whatever they are, to grow as individuals. It’s the growing that feels good, extending our abilities, without thinking of the outcomes or results. Envisioning the future shapes the goals, but getting too attached to the outcome disconnects us from the process- being present to what’s happening at the time. And the current of time includes plenty that we can’t envision in advance so attention to the actual is a very important first choice.
Many fields of action influence our position in the current. The circumstances of work, family, friends, are each unfolding in a location alive with patterns. Our connections through computer networks, the moods and health of our mind and body all are factors in the place we find ourselves and from which we navigate via the selections we make about where we’re going. We adapt to the changes in the current or it wears us down. When conditions are bad the only choice we may have is the attitude we can take, but we can keep the energy in the evolved intelligence, the front of the brain if we’re looking for what’s to be learned and how we can use that knowledge. When Viktor Frankl was working at forced labor in horrible conditions, he envisioned himself standing in front of an audience giving a speech about how he survived. Imagination into a future that makes use of the current lesson created a brain chemistry that stimulated his ability to survive.
Increasing our freedom in the realm of ideas depends on having more possibilities from which to select and construct our own. The battle of right and wrong ideas is about who has the power to impose their ideas on others, the power to limit the scope of ideas.
Every time you hear someone cut off a topic of conversation as beyond discussion they are trying to assert power over what we’re allowed to think, but it is only through discussion and the hybrid thoughts that grow there that we can gain perspective and break free of the limitations of rigid, right/wrong categories and the anxiety that comes with them.
Helpful ideas spread from all parts of the globe. I’ve been enriched by Tai Chi and Lao Tzu, yoga and my neti pot, France (the country), and philosophers and thinkers from everywhere. The range of perspectives allows me to see more patterns and create a personal view that depends on having that many choices. If we drop the stultifying barriers inherent in fixed ideologies and allow the full range of the human mind to influence us, how could we not evolve as a species.

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