When I was in my early twenties, I thought of will as mostly meaning willpower: the drive to push myself to get through it, get things done, whatever it took.

In a way I now find entirely predictable, this didn’t work out so well. It turned out to be unsustainable because I based the use of my willpower on a whole pile of shoulds, and that pile turned out to come almost entirely from two places: my intellectual self and other people. Oops.

Eventually, after some machinations, I came to notice how this way of using willpower to make myself do things wasn’t exactly working out in my favor. I invented some stopgap measures, like the Crying Rule, which stipulates that if the idea of carrying out an obligation actually makes me cry, I’m automatically granted permission not to do it.

Later, I also noticed how twisting my own arm was eating up a great deal of my energy and came to be curious about the kind of will you’ve seen me writing about here: seeking my own desires and the ease that comes from moving from a place of alignment. I worked hard on being gentle with myself, and on not engaging in the kind of punitive, disciplinary, obligation-based thinking that hadn’t worked before. I tried to make sure that all the pieces of me — my intellect, my emotions, my body, and my spirit — were on board with the things I wanted to do.

The challenge with this is that every good thing has bad parts: there’s no such thing as a dream with no dirty work. Also, no matter how good something is, you sometimes just don’t feel like doing it. (I’m sorry to tell you this; it’s so nice to think that if only we were acting 100% from our will and desire, we’d absolutely desire to take out the trash or balance our checkbooks, but so far, no one I know seems to be alleging that this is true.)

And so, I’ve come to another place about will: seeking my desire, yes, but also seeking the desires that lie beneath my momentary desire for distraction or sugar or to hit the snooze alarm one more time. When I find my desire for physical well-being, it can make me willing, if not eager, to get up and take a walk. When I encounter my desire for peace, it can make me willing to pick up the objects that clutter my space.

How about you? How do your larger desires motivate your small actions?

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2 comments to Will

  • Kitty Cunningham

    I totally get that. I would rather put dishes in the dishwasher than have a cluttered kitchen. Likewise, I’d rather clean as I cook. I like having bills paid so there used to be great satisfaction in having a stack of stamped envelopes ready to go in the mail. Now, I have them paid via direct withdrawal so I don’t have that little satisfaction, but I don’t really have to think about it either.

    I have 3 hampers so I sort laundry as I take it off and when it is time to do a load, it is easy peasy. Having a washer and dryer in those instead of using a laundromat makes a huge difference, too.

    The washer and dryer were the biggest indicators to myself that I was a real grown up. OMG

    How frustrating to finally grow up enough to realize that so man things my mother nagged me about are true. If I tend to the little things as they crop up, they never have opportunity to become overwhelming.

    My desire for a tidy, comfortable space inspires me to pick up as I go instead of waiting for everything to be a major effort.

    My desire for a happy relationship has me checking in with my husband frequently, too. “Are you getting what you need? Do you have enough space, enough attention, enough what-ever-makes-you-happy?”. AND telling him, constantly, “I’m thinking this or that or whatever.”. So that happiness happens because we are aiming for it.

  • Liss

    For me, I think it’s experimentation. I’ve experimented with giving in to those momentary rebellions and impulses–sometimes more intentionally than others. And I’ve discovered that it doesn’t actually make me happy to follow them. I know it to be true because I’ve tried it. I can re-confirm that truth any time I like by repeating the experiment; it’s quite reliable. My lifelong detestation of being told what to do also helps, oddly enough; after a while, it starts to feel like I’m being pushed into something by my own mind/brain, rather than choosing to walk toward it, which generally causes me to dig in my heels and refuse on principle :) That, in turn, demands an answer to what I actually desire (beyond “not that!”) and how I can align my actions to it.

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