Willingness vs. Will Power: A Lesson in Receptivity
I was with Swami Kriyananda on the first Holy Land Pilgrimage in 1985. I watched him as he carried a black videocassette recorder each day for many hours while he filmed the sights and events.
Several days into the tour, I asked to carry his video recorder, which looked like a small suitcase and was attached to the camera by a long cord.
He said, “Sure!” and off we went. After several blocks, I found the thing damnably heavy, like it was filled with bricks. A while later, just when the thought crossed my mind that my body was beginning to strain under the load, he immediately came by and whisked it gently from me.
Two weeks later, we were in Assisi, and one evening, word came that Swami would change hotels, and that he would need help to move. I appeared at the door with three others, just in time to take the luggage. I picked up two large bags that weighed at least the legal limit of 70 pounds apiece, and began walking down the street, around the corner, up the block, up a very long flight of steps, down the block, over to the hotel. Finally I staggered up two flights of stairs to his room. During the trip, he kept asking me if the bags weren’t too heavy, and I always puffed, “No.”
When I set them down at last, my arms afire and legs trembling, Swami was very strong with me. He admonished me not to use my will that way, and he lectured me very sternly about it. He had clear insight into my process, and I welcomed it, though somewhat ruefully for a while after.
I thought about the lesson for a very long time, because Swami had never shown the slightest strain during the three weeks he carried that heavy recorder. He was always, on the contrary, light, joyful and relaxed. It was especially powerful to me years later, to learn that he had a bad hip at this time, and that even a simple daily walk was, in his words, “like walking on the point of a sword.”
Fourteen years later, this simple lesson is still teaching me the true meaning of will power, as opposed to “willingness,” By the way, I am no weakling—I am used to a life of physical labor, and I’m 6’5” tall and weigh 235 pounds.
Swami was strong with me for many reasons, on many levels. At the superficial, physical level, it was a long way from home, at night, and accident or injury in a foreign country would be a very serious concern.
At the energy level, the idea of pilgrimage is to lessen strain and tension in order to receive Spirit more fully.
At the attunement level, to the degree that one wills to an intense focus, one actually contracts from the larger view. Willingness, on the other hand, is an everincreasing flow of energy and attention to a desired end, which implies expansion and a lessening of tension. Contraction, by contrast, gradually excludes both Divine receptivity and that delicate connection to guidance (Guru, the still small voice), and ultimately has the quite opposite effect of strengthening the ego, the loud voice of “I, ME, MINE.” This brings us back to why we are on pilgrimage in the first place.
Swami’s first, quiet attempts to dissuade me from that course of action were excluded by my action of willing something to happen, in a personal way. As that energy built into a fortress of contracted strength, he was left with no choice but to speak strongly to gain my attention.
As I consider my discipleship to be the foremost direction in my life, and since both he and I accept my willingness to be guided in the right way, he took the next step as a true friend in God—he made the effort to make the truth clear to me.
Now, the next point is where I have seen many, many failures: How do I receive his guidance?
I was not a very good disciple at that time, so I was puzzled for a while as to why my best efforts to overcome an obstacle were met with only another obstacle. Since I do try to remain loyal in the face of any adversity, I finally uncovered the thread of truth in the lesson.
We really slow things down with our inertia. When the ego forces the will to engage in a personal effort, it really bogs things down. And conversely, when we expand into willingness, we really fly along!
Kent lives with his wife and family on private land adjacent to Ananda Village. For many years, Kent’s work was to restore vintage automobiles. Now he primarily teaches others the many innovative techniques for metalwork that he has invented. He is also a core member of Ananda’s Healing Prayer Council.