Inspiration Series - Month Eleven

The Graceful Power of Willingness

The “will” in willingness is every bit as potent as the “will” in willpower, yet willingness invites inner ease while willpower invites inner conflict.

As a very fresh freshman at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing (BBSH) years ago, I was introduced to the idea that human beings have at their disposal three distinct forces of creative energy: thought, will and emotion.

Of course the creative process involves far more than those three elements – it’s a glorious interplay of intention and inspiration and guidance and exploration and more than dash of mystery – but focusing on thought, will and emotion gave structure to our examination of the human potential to create.

Being inclined toward mental pursuits, I’ve contemplated and explored in great depth the incredible power of our thoughts to direct our experience. I’ve also had the good fortune of studying with teachers, both within and outside of BBSH, who have helped me understand the purpose and value of our emotions.

I’ve written extensively about these two elements, both in this Inspiration Series and in my blog posts and other courses. Today I want to write about that third magical element, will – but for the sake of completeness, here is the crib notes version of the roles that thought and emotion play in the creative process:

Thought (and by extension, language and the spoken word) is our primary vehicle for consciously aligning with our intentions. It expresses the “what” of what we’re creating, in terms of both content and quality. It focuses our attention in a particular direction, and what we pay attention to is what expands in our lives.

Emotions tell us whether, and how much, our thoughts are in or out of alignment with what we want to create. For example, if I want to create work I love but constantly think and talk about all the reasons why that would be impossible, I will feel angry or resigned or depressed. The discomfort of those feelings is my indicator that my thoughts are not aligned with what I want. The intensity of the feelings tells me whether I’m way out of alignment or just need to tweak things a bit.

The same is also true if I constantly think and talk about all the reasons I can create work I love, all the possibilities I’m considering and all the support I have to move forward. Those thoughts generate feelings of optimism and excitement, which are indicators that I’m fully aligned with what I want.

So through my conscious choice, I can cultivate thoughts and language that keep me aligned with what I want, and my emotions will let me know if I’ve wandered off course.

It all sounds so neat and simple, doesn’t it? Even as I write it, with an intention to be brief and clear and direct, I inwardly chuckle at how much easier it appears to be on paper than it does in “real life.” That’s the downside of the crib notes version of things, of course; it rarely represents the complexity and nuance of a full, lived experience.

Still, there is value in simplicity, so let’s keep going, and let’s keep it simple for now.

If thought is the energy of directionand emotion is the energy of alignment between heart and mind, then will is the energy of action.

Together they create movement. But not all movement is created equal. We can force ourselves to march, or we can take the simple action to spread our wings and be lifted by the current of our aligned, focused thoughts.

And to me that’s the difference between willpower and willingness. They both have will at their core, as in I will. But willpower says, “I will overcome my (laziness, resistance, fear – fill in the blank) and make myself do this.” Willingness says, “I will take the step in front of me to take that moves me in the direction I want to go.”

As you can imagine, and probably have learned, calling on sheer willpower creates an experience of feeling pushed and exhausted, with the only reward coming in a singular moment of completion or accomplishment.

Calling on willingness creates an experience of walking through an open door into a larger, more inviting space. Each step is an accomplishment in itself, and without the push it feels like the exploration that it is, rather than a rush to the finish.

The most direct and obvious example I can offer from my life is my writing. As with most desires of the soul, it calls me to expand beyond the cramped confines of my self-doubt. And because that doubt is so doggedly persistent and disappointingly strong, I’ve called on willpower more than a few times to blast through it. I force myself to sit down, place my hands on the keyboard and stare at the blank screen until I start writing.

That happened, literally, just a moment ago. I was about halfway through this essay when I reached an impasse. I had gone down a certain path in my thinking process and could not find any bridge or alternate route back to the point I most wanted to make. It seemed my choices were either to start over or force myself to create a smooth transition paragraph.

I chose the latter, since starting over was even less appealing than wrangling a single paragraph to the ground (or so I thought). So I sat here, staring at my blank screen. I placed my hands on the keyboard, poised for action. I reminded myself that I only had to write one paragraph. I willed the words to appear on the digital page before me.

They did not.

I tried harder, which generally translated into taking deep breaths, widening my eyes and staring even more intently at the screen. I could feel the muscles in my neck and arms tensing. I shifted positions in my chair, sat up straighter and once again declared inwardly that I had only this one paragraph to write, and surely I could do it.

I could not.

Finally I surrendered. I could only laugh at the irony of how, in writing an article about the graceful power of willingness, I had kicked it to the curb and resorted, instead, to muscling my way through with willpower. And all it got me was stuck.

So I stood up and walked away from the laptop. I folded some laundry. I walked briskly up and down my stairs a few times to get some blood moving. I asked myself – kindly – if there was anything I was willing to do, to move this whole experience to higher ground.

And lo and behold, an answer came. I realized I could skip the transition paragraph for now and just start writing about the point I had wanted to make.

And so I did. I sat back down and began writing, flagrantly disregarding my lack of a decent transition paragraph. I began writing. I was moving rather than stuck. Willingness was the doorway to that movement, whereas willpower had thwarted it.

By the time you read this, I will have created that magical transition paragraph, or decided I didn’t really need it after all, or I will have rewritten the entire essay. But whichever way the creative process unfolds for me, I’m promising myself that I will call on willingness to move me through it.

Now it’s your turn. Think about a situation in your life where you feel stuck or thwarted. Have you been trying to force an action or an outcome, only to resist your own inner taskmaster? Have you forgotten to give things a little breathing room for inspiration and synchronicity to occur?

Another possibility is that you’ve given things a bit too much space. You might sense it is time to act – you may even have received some bona fide Divine guidance – but you’ve hesitated. Do not, I repeat do not, judge yourself harshly for not acting and then force yourself to act.

Whether you’ve been pushing too much, or not at all, pause just for a moment. Get out of your head. Do something that nourishes or uplifts you. Then get quiet, go within, and ask yourself with kindness, “What might I be willing to do now, to move this to higher ground?”

If you don’t get an answer right away, just keep asking for a little while. Something will come. And when it does…act on it. Without question or criticism. Just step through that door your willingness opened and see what’s on the other side.

Inspired Practice

  • Listen to this meditation several times over the next month, whenever you feel stuck or confused or frustrated. Let the experience be fresh each time.