Or do you see will as a whip master, like a military mandate in the mind—coercive, ironshod, pushy, punitive—shackling your good and healthy faculty of creativity or desire for wellbeing to a shaming or blaming directive?
Our culture emphasizes will as a faculty of force we use upon ourselves to get ourselves going. And so many of us know where an ironshod will can lead: to blame and shame on self or others, a sense of futility when force fails, a sense of infidelity to a commitment or vow.
Modern studies on will and will power[i] are discovering that force, humiliation, stress, and overload deplete will power. Force and humiliation weaken the focussing part of the brain.
In fact, modern studies on will power are finding an exquisite alignment with ancient perceptions of will in the Sacred Psychologies, as my teacher Paddy called the old paths at the core of the world’s great spiritual traditions.
There’s a hidden elegance to will; and the secret to unlocking it is buried in the etymological history of our word will and its roots in volition.
While neuroscientists twitter and tingle at brain discoveries and connections, linguascientists tweet and trip all over the joys of etymologies. And poets revel in both.
We all know that volition has to do with will or the power of choice. But way back when, when words were spelled and used differently, our English words will and volition had a lot more to do with the art of wishing, and with feelings of hope and well-being.
Volition comes from the Old English, willan, wyllan, meaning to wish and to desire. This Old English word descends through a long line of connected words, like the Old Norse, vilja, and the Gothic, waljan, meaning to choose; the Latin volo, velle, meaning to wish, to desire; the Sanskrit vrnoti varyah, varanam, to choose; Old Slavonic veljo, veleti, to command; from the Greek elpis, to hope; and from the PIE language root, wel/wol meaning to be pleasing.
In the old days and old ways, then, wishing was considered an act of a disciplined mind that can command its direction of focus; and wishing was considered the act of a caring heart that aligns itself in a serene and joyful manner with the most desired and keeps it there through loving attention.
MODERN SCIENCE & ANCIENT WISDOM
Modern neuroscience is also discovering this connection between the focussed brain and the loving heart.[ii]
Here we see neurobiology and etymology in agreement. Will as a pleasing, hopeful wishing toward the future and as the choice power of mental focus leads to wellbeing.
This thing we call will is actually a desirable, pleasing, and healthy faculty of being human.
In seeking the root of the matter, the definition of will leads to a perception of will that profoundly challenges the military macho of a coercive, domineering force. And so do new modern studies on will power.
Your willing power is more akin to a focussed and pleasurable act of wishing for that which is most pleasing to the soul, to the mind, to the body, to the heart; and to the faculty of focus which keeps the attention on the chosen path, desire, or wish.
We’ve gone from the idea of an iron will, that is, from forcing a path of action; to an idea of something intensely desired and pleasing, that is: to choosing, allowing, and enjoying a path of action.
WILL & DESTINY
Will as desire, wish, pleasantness, choice, and command is also a primary key to destiny.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says: As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.
An insuperable will surrenders ego and force to desire, focus, vision, action; and enhances wellbeing. The Great Will of our destiny is never forced; it is only allowed.
When you put all this together, you get a crazy sexy super power of insuperable ability.
WILL STRENGTHENING ACTIONS
~meditation, governing attention
~limited screen time
~pleasant time in Nature, less time in office/factory
~frequent mental focus breaks
[i] -Baumeister, Ray and John Tierney (2011). Willpower. USA: The Penguin Press.
-See The American Psychological Society, http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower.aspx
– McGonigal, Kelly (2012). The Willpower Instinct. The Penguin Group: New York & Toronto.