This month of mid-spring is all about growing: light, warmth and vegetation are all on the rise. The essence of May can be captured in the image of plants reaching toward the sun at the stage just before they tumble over, pulled down by the weight of their own abundant growth. In the seasons’ never-ending interplay of light and dark, now is when light is most on the rise. Not at its peak, which comes next month with the summer solstice, but growing stronger every day. As a personal metaphor for growth, May embodies the energy, aliveness and passion of reaching for the heavens and pursuing our dreams. So, if there’s something you’ve wanted to do but never seem to find the time or energy for it, now’s the time!
However, passion alone isn’t enough to bring our dreams to life. What makes the difference between exuberant, undirected bursts of energy and productive manifestation is will. Passion without will is like a tomato plant that’s left to grow like a weed without a stake. There may be tomatoes but they’re all on the ground rotting and buggy.
Will is our power to get the job done, to put dreams into action and make our creativity truly productive. It’s not to be confused with self-discipline which is the force we need to exert to keep ourselves doing what we don’t really want to do. Self-discipline becomes necessary when we’re acting on what we believe we should do rather than what our heart wants. It’s fueled by our fear and we act because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t.
By contrast, will is fueled by love. It’s the energy we put behind things we’re passionate about. When we’re pursuing our dreams, we may experience challenges or feel resistance but the energy to push through comes more readily. We handle the boring chores and obstacles of life easily when they’re steps toward our heart-felt desires.
While the energy of willpower in service to our dreams is easier to call up than self-discipline toward those things we have no passion for, will still needs to be developed. It’s like a muscle: if we don’t exercise it, it becomes weak. When we seldom use our will, it’s not there when we need it, much the same as when we seldom exercise our bodies and find even the simplest exertion leaving us breathless.
Three Aspects of Will
I think of will as having three distinct and equally important components. The first is courage. Courage includes obvious acts of heroism and bold action in the face of real or perceived danger, but it comes into play in more subtle ways as well. Any new venture requires a step beyond what we know and, consequently, a step out of our comfort zone. For example, if you haven’t exercised in twenty years, going to the gym for the first time can be a courageous act.
The second aspect of will is strength. This is the willingness to work hard at something, draw upon all our resources and apply ourselves fully. No matter how much courage it took to join the gym, that’s not enough! We need to actually get on the equipment and give it our best, until we’ve applied all our physical strength and emotional fortitude.
Last, but far from least, comes commitment. This is where, after courageously joining the gym and working out ferociously, we come back and do it again. And again, and again…. Commitment is the willingness to follow through on our intentions and act with consistency, even when it’s become a little boring, because we know it’s in service to our highest aspirations. Commitment lacks the high energy of applying strength and the adrenalin rush of courage but without it, the tremendous energy expenditure of the first two can wind up being for nothing.
Most of us are better at one of these than the others, and we may be comfortable with applying all three in certain contexts. A firefighter who exhibits obvious courage in his job may quiver in fear when it comes to taking emotional risks. People who are excellent at keeping their commitments to others may not be able to summons the energy to keep the ones they make to themselves. The more we develop an over-reliance on comfortable strengths, the more we limit ourselves and become weak.
Just as will becomes weak when not used, the good news is that we can grow it stronger with practice. So, if you have a special dream, why not make now the time to grow it? Offer a small effort and let the energy of the season carry you higher. To get you started, here are some calisthenics for the will:
Calisthenics for Developing Willpower
Identify your most passionate goal and think of one step you could take toward it that would push you out of your comfort zone, requiring some courage. Next, think of something you could do in service to this goal that would test your strength and take some real effort on your part. And finally, think of one small action toward furthering your dream that you’re willing to do every day for a month in a committed way.
Now, of course, it’s time to get moving! If this goal is truly something dear to your heart, considering taking this challenge and discover for yourself how far passion and will combined can take you.