Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Will and God 

We are our will. Yet Will enshrouds a mystery, a mystery so hidden that we fail even to recognize it as a mystery. Will so fundamentally, so intimately constitutes our very self that we stay utterly unaware of it. In fact, we cannot be directly aware of our will. Find the wind. We cannot see the wind itself, yet it possesses a sometimes awesome power. Will forms that part of us who genuinely says “I”, the one who sees by means of our awareness. More subjective than awareness, will is the user of awareness. We can be aware of our awareness, but we cannot be directly aware of our will, because will originates beyond awareness, will is the one who is aware. At best we can, so to speak, ride it, open to it, become it.

We may most easily recognize the action of will in ourselves by acquiring the taste of its lower modes of operation. First among these stands attention. Our attention moves our sensory awareness from object to object. Yet we do not investigate this innate mechanism. How is it that I am able to switch focus from noticing what I see with my eyes to noticing the sensation in my hand? Working as attention, our will directs the energies of awareness.

Noticing how we make choices, also enables us to recognize will. Typically we have an emotional and thought process of weighing the pros and cons of a choice confronting us. Informed by this process, we choose. But the choice itself is no mere thought or emotion. When our thoughts or emotions “choose,” then it is not a real choice and carries no staying power. When a thought says “I think I’ll lose five pounds,” the “choice” soon evaporates. Real, effective choice rises to the level of decision and commitment. Our will engages the situation and we know it. We stand behind our choice. Then we see it through regardless of the time or effort involved.

For years I contemplated the question: Where does attention (Will) come from? I do not take this as an intellectual, psychological, physiological, or philosophical question. Nor do I strive to think up the correct answer or try to reason it out. That proves totally useless, like venturing to describe the Grand Canyon without ever having been there. So it is with this question: What is the source of attention?

To take it practically, we ask whether we can approach the source of Will in our own direct experience, within ourselves. This appears impossible, because Will cannot be objectified. Will can never be the object of our awareness, because Will is always the subject: the seer rather than the seeing or the seen. To move into the seer and behind the seer, we can use attention as a kind of a rope, guiding our steps back along itself toward its source, back beyond consciousness. The Korean Zen master Chinul coined an apropos phrase: tracing back the radiance.

We might ask: So what? Why bother with this will business? The reasons to bother go even beyond the fact that our will is who we are. Will is the link through which we serve our Creator, through which we participate in our Creator, through which we can be an instrument of the Higher Power. In fact, one could go so far as to say that God is Will. What can be everywhere, yet not be recognized? It is Will. Will is in us. The tree has the will to be a tree. The car has the will to be a car put into it by its human creators. The people of a nation share the will to be a nation. Yet we do not recognize Will. We may be familiar with the workings of energies and the functioning of physical bodies. But what drives these, the Will, we do not notice. And indeed one could say that the Lord is an infinite mountain of purpose, of Will. The universe has a Purpose, an immense Purpose beyond us, beyond our scope, beyond our consciousness, beyond our pay-grade — at least for now.

The reality of will goes far deeper than our usual definition of it. Typically we take will in the sense of will-power, determination, uncompromising attitudes, and even aggression. We think of God’s will as an all-powerful and capricious source of actions impinging upon and controlling our lives. We recall Christ throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. Yet will lies behind all actions, human and Divine, including acts of kindness, generosity, humility, meekness, service, and above all, love.

To understand this in another way, consider a simple but astonishing and well-known fact of modern physics. A photon of light acts as both a wave and a particle. In a particular experimental arrangement, the photon, wavelike, follows all possible paths from its starting point to its end point. But when an experimenter makes an observation, the possible paths suddenly collapse into one, as if a particle-like path is being chosen retroactively by the act of observation. This act of observation is an act of will on the part of the experimenter. The physicist’s will, in effect, creates the path of the photon, creates the photon as a particle. Until the act of observation, the photon remains in the wavelike realm of possibilities and becomes actual only when looked at by the physicist. This fact about photons also holds true for the rest of the world, because all elementary particles exhibit some wavelike behavior. The remarkable upshot: our collective will creates our world, moment by moment. Because God puts the freedom of God’s own will into us, we participate directly in the continuing creation of the universe at every instant. We should deeply contemplate this co-creative role of ours.

This mysterious Will matters to us profoundly and immediately. For our personal journey through life, our relation to Will is crucial. In particular, to go very far along the spiritual path requires more and more resolve, for example the resolve to be continuously present so as to develop a stabilized presence, and the resolve to let go of our many attachments along the way toward that stabilized presence. As the force behind a state of true presence, Will allows God to see through our eyes. Opening to Will, beyond consciousness, opens us to our higher soul and to love.

According to the sacred traditions, Will enters the ultimate choice of a human being at the culmination of the personal phase of the spiritual path: the choice to surrender our will to God's Will, to return our will to the Great Will as a free and independent servant of that Greatness. God introduced Himself to Moses as “ I AM THAT I AM ,” a phrase that openly embodies the deepest of all truths. God is the true I within us all, the Source of will, the I of the universe and beyond.

So, will emerges as the crucial factor in our personal and collective spiritual work. Everything that happens has will behind it, even if it is the capricious will of random chance. Most importantly, will not only includes the active, forceful determination we usually think of, but also the non-force of loving, giving, connecting, allowing, and harmonizing. Our will can be fragmented and conflicting, weak and passive, overbearing and timid. Nevertheless, our will determines the course of our life and what kind of person we are. One way to look at the spiritual path is as a process of unifying and purifying our will, and making it a vehicle for the higher will. Toward this we can begin our study of will by looking directly and carefully at our own attention, intention, decisions, and will-to-be.

See Also:
    Stages of Inner Unity: I
    Living As Intention
    Approaching the Divine
    Surrendering to the Divine


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