I was brought up to believe that other people’s needs and desires always came first, especially when they conflicted with mine. As a result of this, two things happened:
- I was often out of touch with my own needs and desires, and
- When I did recognise them I was either too afraid of expressing them or diluted them in such a way that they mostly went unheard.
I recently completed an introductory course into Psychosynthesis – one of the various schools of therapy but with a focus on spirituality. Our main reading material was Ferucci’s ‘What we may be’. He comments that if we do not exercise our will we are crushed by life. It was a comment that applied to me.
I am a firm believer in the importance of timing. Since the beginning of last year I have been engaged in significant personal change and the timing of my coming across psychosynthesis could not have been better in that I had already been engaged in overcoming a series of barriers. I had entered this work almost out of desperation, a realisation that twisting myself into knots makes no difference on whether or not you get to keep or lose someone you care about. But learning to be true, both to myself and to others does not come easily given a lifetime based on the belief not only that expressing my needs and desires is an act of selfishness but also that the risk of doing so would lead to, at best, disapproval and, at worst, abandonment.
In the context of the Will, in my mind, this went hand-in-hand with boring discipline, brute force and, ultimately, failure. I am thinking in particular of an area that many of us will recognise: losing weight. However, on reflection, this is probably not a particularly good example because a slim figure for women is an ideal imposed by society’s concept of beauty and I don’t think I ever really thought about whether wanting to lose weight was something I truly, truly wanted to do for myself or because I wanted to be regarded by others as attractive. But, for the moment, these waters are too murky. Also, my priorities have changed.
When I first started reading the chapter on “The Will” in Ferrucci’s book I was especially interested. Although at first my interest was purely intellectual I was particularly attracted to the idea that genuine will is an expression of awareness and freedom. I also recognised, from personal experience, that denying the expression of the Self leads to feelings of powerlessness. In my case, whenever I censored or edited my feelings and my thoughts I felt conflicting feelings: disappointment with myself for not having been able to express myself clearly and appropriately, frustration that I had not been understood without having to “spell it out”, relief that I had not caused some conflict or disapproval and that I had, therefore, been “reprieved”.
A little while ago, while I was reading the chapter on “The Will” I came across his exercise “The Will in Everyday Life” and, first on the list was “Do something you have never done before”. Quick as a flash – apparently from “no-where” – came the words “Tell the Truth”. To say I was shocked would be an understatement and, eventually, since I could make no sense of them, I set them aside.
A couple of days later I was talking to Alan, my life coach and whingeing about a phone call I had committed myself to making to a friend. This call was part of a “support” agreement I had entered into because “that’s what friends do, when asked”. I also knew that it would last about an hour which I resented so, there I was that day, talking to Alan and whingeing. And then he said “tell the truth.” And that’s when it all fell into place. I was not, after all, the truthful person I had always believed myself to be. Even with the best intentions in the world what I was actually doing was lying to myself and to people I cared about. I suddenly realised that it was an act of betrayal to both.
Step 1 – becoming aware of an area I wanted to change (Purpose). The next step was to Deliberate (Step 2), that is to think of the best way to word my message so that it was heard as intended. And (Step 3) the only Choice here was to go ahead.
The next Step (Planning the ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘who’) depended on the situation. In practice, that meant waiting for something to come up that required me to tell the truth.
The hardest step of all, not surprisingly, was Implementation. In fact, given the perceived – real and/or imagined – risks that telling the truth entailed for me, it was extraordinarily hard and scary. But the commitment had been made and now, for me, there was no turning back. In fact, despite the fear, I didn’t want to turn back.
So far, there have been five situation where I needed/wanted to express a need that went counter to their expectation and the results were:
Three positive outcomes where I expressed myself clearly, one was fudged and the last one resulted in my not hearing from that person since.
In view of the results obtained and in the specific context of telling the truth I now aim to use my Strong Will to persevere in the face of uncertainty (that I may actually lose somebody), my Skilful Will to choose my words carefully depending on the person and the situation, and my Good Will to ensure that, telling the truth about my needs and feelings doesn’t deprive others. In practice, this would mean listening to their response and being sensitive and flexible enough to consider (or re-consider) each situation on its own merits. And then it means to freely decide whether, in any particular situation, it is appropriate and reasonable to have their needs fulfilled even if it is at the expense of my own (depending on the magnitude of my need, since not all needs carry equal weight). The challenge and exercise of my Will for me is to persist where it really matters and where the risks are perceived to be great.
Exercising my Will in this particular context was an amazing experience. Willingly doing what I knew to be the right thing to do, doing it despite everything I had ever learned that fed my fears but doing it nevertheless, finding the words and speaking from my heart and – best of all – being heard as intended was uplifting, inspiring and even exhilarating. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that I exercised my Will in two ways:
Discovering that where there’s a will there’s a way was an amazing experience. Not only did I do something I had never done before but I also carried out the second suggestion on Ferrucci’s list of ideas. I performed an act of courage. At least, that’s what it felt like to me.
Just as Ferucci said, once I started exercising my Will consciously and willingly the whole process seems much less daunting – picking new purposes and continuing to take real responsibility by making conscious choices and looking at all my options without fear – that’s the way I want to go.
I will also listen to his warning not to expect things to always run smoothly (not that telling the truth went altogether smoothly all the time) or to become overly enthusiastic and create an “indigestion of the Will”. But, once my eyes are open to the possibilities, there is no turning back.
My ultimate aim is to exercise my Loving Will, that is, my Strong Will to exercise my energy rather than my “should”, my Skilful Will to achieve the most and the best outcome with the least effort and struggle, and my Good Will to create a win-win situation.
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