Where’s the Way to the Will?

Ready to Change

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”  This sentiment was perhaps crafted to inspire positivity and stick-to-itiveness in the face of challenging circumstances.  If the will is “the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action,” then the task, according to this platitude, is apparently simple: know your goal, intend it, act on it, and all will be well.

But if the will is the initiating force, where’s the way to the will?  Is the will an inborn quality, or is it a trait we can develop?  If you don’t naturally feel the force of will, how do you then find the will to develop it?

The first step is simply identifying that you want to engage your will.  For some people, this may be as simple as deciding:  “I have a goal that I want to accomplish, but I’m having difficulty taking the steps to get there.”  For others, it may require some inquiry into what they want from life. It may require nudging from friends, family, counselors, or colleagues who see, or are impacted by, their loved one’s stagnation.  For others still, it may require unpleasant circumstances that illuminate the limitations of not engaging the will:  “I’m suffering.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know what I want.  But something has to change.”

Ultimately, this seed of the will ~ the will to engage the will ~ reflects an internal readiness for change, and emerges on its own when the individual is ripe for it.  There is no forcing it into being.  There is only nurturing the conditions ~ warmth, encouragement, awareness, lovingkindness ~ that will awaken the seed to begin to crack open.

This postcard is the first in a series on Engaging the Will.  

Which wishes will . . . ?

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It has been a part of my practice for many years to create intentions for the new year.  But this year, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  My intentions in the past have run the gamut from overwhelmingly ambitious (e.g., “I will completely overhaul every aspect of my existence in 42 different ways, immediately, and all at once”)  to woefully abstract, intangible, and therefore unattainable (“I will embody gratitude”).  Too often, setting intentions felt like allowing my superego to hold my face to an irrational grindstone of perfection, or blowing wishes into the wind and just hoping that some magical entity would bring them into being for me.  More than this, my intentions always cast my gaze into some future state where I imagined my contentment lived, leaving a bitter aftertaste of “right here, right now ~ just like this ~ is not ok.”

This year, I couldn’t quite figure out whether any of this was actually very useful, or even desirable.  So I sat in the discomfort of wanting to both honor this present reality as a beautiful expression of Life As It Is, while also reminding myself of what is important to me. In its own time, a question arose.

Does what I am currently

thinking / feeling / deciding / choosing / expressing

right now, in this moment,

contribute to my overall sense of balance and joy?

Instead of a resolution, I landed on an invitation to self-inquiry, a way of staying as close to my own heart as possible, of being held by Presence itself, of walking a direct path to my own this-moment inner guidance.  And so I offer you the question . . . what question is holding you right now?  And will you let it?

We begin in the name of balance . . .

IMG_0470balance = sunflowers in a rainstorm

Every breath is an invitation, an opportunity to begin again . . . and again.  With each breath, whether consciously or unconsciously, we are drawing into our bodies the inspiration for this particular moment.  When we take the time to set an intention, and allow that intention to rise and fall with our breath, we are engaging in a radical process of personal, internal re-organization.  Beginnings are important.  Intentions are important.  Breath is important.

In this particular beginning, I hold an intention of contented equanimity . . . of joyful balance.  What does it mean to live a life of balance?  How do we aim ourselves in the direction of balance so that we find ourselves ever-so-slightly on its joyful bank?  And why ever-so-slightly?  Why joyful balance?  Why not EXTREME JOY?

It is my experience that Life prefers balance and rhythm over intensity and extremes. To give credit where credit is due, I am not the first person to notice this.  The Taoists have long-advocated for going with the natural flow, rather than fighting against it.  The Buddha called his path the Middle Way.  Time spent in the natural world reveals the Earth’s balanced rhythms . . . spring follows winter follows fall follows summer follows . . .

The heart has ways of finding balance, too.  If we spend our lives chasing extreme joy, Life often serves extreme sorrow in its wake.  In a sense, we can be forced into balance by swinging radically between extremes.  Or we can aim a bit more for the middle, where joy and sorrow still exist but perhaps with less devastating and destabilizing consequences.

The most immediate, inherent, intimate reminder of balance is our own breath.  Inhale follows exhale, whether we like it or not.  The beauty of the breath is its persistent pulse, its ongoing rhythm of invitation back to this moment, back to our intentions, back to the beginning, again and again.  What is your intention as you draw in this breath . . . and this breath . . . and this breath . . . and this . . . and . . .

Rafia Rebeck, MA, is a psychotherapist with Joyful Balance Counseling in Boulder, CO.