When I first attended a seminar on meditation, one participant introduced herself as having a Buddhist ‘practice’. Curious, I asked her what that meant. “Well you know,” she said, “I set a time and place every day to practice my meditation. I practice every day.” Trained in psychoanalysis, I always thought that insight was what led to change, but over the years, I learned that my colleague was right. Insight may be the spark, but daily work is the warp and woof of transformation.
In my daily clinical practice, I am amazed by the unwillingness of people to work for personal improvement. I often suggest that clients start a meditation practice. Begin with, “Five minutes a day”, I tell them. When I follow up, very few have followed my advice. But a psychiatrist friend told me that when he prescribes medication, his patients run to fill the script. Over the years, I have had lots of people tell me that therapy is not working when they leave my session, and never even think about themselves until the next time I see them.
The fact is, at some point a person has to choose to put in effort if they want change in their lives. Motivation is the pathway to growth: it is the impotence of every health care practitioner; we can lead but we cannot control.
It was that great philosopher Woody Allen who reminded us that “90% of success is just showing up.”
In the Tantric systems of India, Will is located in the second Chakra or energy center. The second Chakra is labeled Svadhisthana. Developmentally, it is birthed from 6-24 months. Parents who are used to a malleable and compliant infant have often referred to this stage as the, terrible twos. While uncomfortable for parents, a child’s opposition and assertion of self is a necessary precursor toward being an independent person, a person of will. It counterbalances the passivity of total dependency on parents which is anchored in the first stage of life.
The failure of Will later in life fosters a view of ourselves as martyrs, invested in our distress in order to gain self-definition. This is often reinforced by the sympathy or even admiration of others.
Lack of Will also makes us victims of unbridled desire. Self-gratification becomes one’s mantra. Sex and drug addictions control us when not countered by the force of Will.
In order to cultivate Will, we first must face that demon in us. We must use the tool of honesty to acknowledge our own emotional indolence. This is the first stage of change, which indeed is insight or self-revelation.
Then we need to focus on a strategy of containment, countering our emotional laziness with discipline. Let me suggest several pathways.
Choose a mythic ego ideal that is someone who exemplifies the balance between desire and containment. Tantric meditation often uses mediation on images. The task is to meditate in order to absorb the qualities of that figure, in this case, a mythic figure of balance.
The Indian god Vishnu symbolizes those qualities for me. Vishnu is characterized as having four arms. In one hand is a lotus flower, in one a mace, in one a conch shell, in another a discus weapon. He is known as the ‘protector’, suggesting a balance between strength and softness as the path toward self-preservation, and safe growth.
There are also self-affirmations that can strengthen our Will — chant them daily, invoke them in moments of doubt:
“I release the doubts and fears which hold me back from achieving my potential”
“I forgive the past and embrace myself unconditionally”
“I am capable of healing my life”
A daily practice to strengthen the Will is challenging at first, but after some time the glory of self-discipline leads to both strength and pleasure.
Dr. Michael Abramsky