A student writes:
I have developed a habit of being able to act from willpower, which may not be connected to my heart so is not coming from a place of joy necessarily. I made the mistake of thinking that willpower was a virtue and yet it seems it can be a disaster!
It seems I need to stop, re-learn and realign to my practice from the beginning again with it all coming from my Heart Wish and being more playful and light.
Lama Shenpen responds:
The idea of willpower is an interesting one. It could mean determination, single-mindedness, not giving up, being totally reliable at keeping to your word, integrity, grit and many other admirable qualities.
However, you are talking here about using willpower in a mistaken way, using it to not only push yourself but to bully and torment yourself, to not listen to yourself and to just blinding keep going.
I would call this misplaced willpower. It is willpower being used one-sidedly. It is as if one side or part of you doesn’t want to do the thing in question and the other side does but there’s no clear dialogue going on between the two.
For some reason the part that does want it is given authority over the other part and then bullies the other part into submission. It’s not an easy submission, it is a deadly submission, angry and despairing and just waiting to get its own back.
So, what we all need to learn is to listen to our Heart Wish and make sure that we are clear about why we are doing what we do and getting our whole being behind it – not split into one part/side being for it and the other against and the one side using its will power to force its way on the other.
But willpower itself is a virtue, it’s our power of pranidhana [powerful aspirational/wishing prayer], it’s our power of shila* [discipline], the power of our word. It is important to cultivate it in an integrated way. I think sometimes we let voices from the past, of parental or other authority, speak to us as if they knew what was best and somehow not listening to the whole of our being – not trusting that we have wisdom ourselves.
One of the ways to cultivating that wisdom is to have the courage to take risks, make mistakes, try doing things in a different way, even try doing less, but in a more spacious way – feeling for well-being rather than just getting on and getting things done all the time.
We need to question what the values are that we are harnessing our willpower to. Maybe we need to use our willpower to do less rather than more? Could doing less be more generous in the end, more disciplined, more patient and therefore more energising and more conducive to meditation and wisdom? There may be something like that involved here, it is worth considering.
Lama Shenpen Hookham
*Shila – Discipline, which is entered by making a commitment. This is done formally by taking precepts or vows from a preceptor. The initial intention or vow and the keeping of it are the shila.
What is the Heart Wish
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