A Perspective on Free Will from Mindfulness-Based Interventions

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Healing Paradox of Controlled Behavior: A Perspective from Mindfulness-Based Interventions

Asaf Federman
Sagol Center for Brain and Mind, Muda Institute, IDC Herzliya
Oren Ergas
Beit Berl College, Israel

In this paper, we discuss the issue of free will as it may be informed by an analysis of originally Buddhism-based meditative disciplines such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and related mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) that are deployed in a variety of therapeutic contexts. We analyze the mechanics of these forms of mindfulness meditation, paying particular attention to the ways in which they appear to enable individual practitioners to reduce a variety of otherwise unwholesome mental and behavioral factors, such as habituated or conditioned dispositions to reactivity, that are intuitively associated with increasingly ineffective agency or diminished free will, while increasing wholesome mental and behavioral tendencies, such as spontaneous responsiveness. We pay particular attention to a somewhat paradoxical way in which direct efforts at control are counter-productive, on the one hand, while meditative practices designed to cultivate “choiceless awareness,” a sort of non-control associated with a non-judgmental acceptance of things beyond our control, tend to indirectly increase self-regulative abilities, on the other hand.
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