There is a vast difference between willingness and willfulness.Gunilla Norris from Becoming Bread
Most often willfulness is based on fear. We try to make the world the way we want it by forcing solutions. Compensating for the uncertainty inside us, we become motivated by power instead of participation.
Then we find struggles instead of solutions because force is often met with resistance. We stay emotionally hungry yet cannot be fed. We ask for more and more and receive less.
Willingness, on the other hand, allows life to show us the way.
It is late October, and the glorious rituals of Fall are in full display. Living in New England means we cannot escape these reminders of change, even if we try.
Whether I look out my window, go for a walk or a hike, or open my Instagram, the visuals and messages of the change of season are undeniable. People are sharing their insights and sentiments along with photos of their favorite Fall landscapes. There are cooler temperatures, fiery trees, incredible sunsets, and yards and pathways covered in red and golden leaves.
Fall comes slowly, gradually, and with flair. It combines beauty and inevitability.
“Let me show you how it’s done,” she says. “Look at these leaves lining your path. When the trees release them, notice how they sway softly on their way to the earth. Their dance of letting go is gentle. They are weightless.
They have done this before. They know when their time to let go has arrived. It serves no one and no purpose to keep holding on. Therefore, they become willing participants in a process as ancient as our planet.”
Fall is a vibrant metaphor for life’s cycles but caught as we are in our day-to-day activities and emotions, we forget to pause, take it all in, and remember that we, too, evolve and change with the seasons. Fall reminds us that the time has come to let go of outdated beliefs, habits, perspectives, ideas, and attachments. Releasing that which has run its course will create space for insights and possibilities to present themselves.
Of course, we are not always willing or ready to let go. Often, that which we need to let go of can’t seem to be able to release us either.
Change can be a challenge at best. As Gunilla Norris reminds us:
“There is a vast difference between willingness and willfulness. Most often willfulness is based on fear. We try to make the world the way we want it by forcing solutions. Compensating for the uncertainty inside us, we become motivated by power instead of participation. Then we find struggles instead of solutions because force is often met with resistance.“
There are times when we have to hold on and solve the problem. Then, there are times when we need to recognize that the solution may be in letting go, thus making room for new possibilities to enter our lives.
Giving in to fear and anxiety can undermine our understanding and sense of personal balance and rhythm. It slows our progress and clouds our judgment. We get stuck and paralyzed, going round and around in circles. We never land where we want to be.
How can we let go of fear and anxiety?
How do we transition from a place of struggle and insecurity to a place of willing participation?
This is when the rich metaphors of Fall can help.
Take the time to sit quietly with yourself and reflect on the following. You could also bring these questions with you on a walk or a hike and let the season guide you. Use your journal or record your thoughts on your phone.
As you rest in this moment, let your mind wander back to the season of new beginnings and sowing seeds.
- What projects did you initiate and saw to completion?
- What relationships did you nurture? What happened?
- What are the aspects of your life that have come to fruition?
- In what ways has your mindset changed?
- What have you learned about yourself?
- Can you hold it all with gratitude and kindness?
When you are ready, bring your awareness to the present time.
- How are you feeling these days? How does your body feel?
- Is there an area in your life that is draining your energy? What is going on?
- Is there anything that you sense has run its course?
- Are you ready and willing to let it go? If not, why?
- How can you best prepare for this transition?
- What do you need to have in place so you can feel safe and cared for?
- Are there conflicting messages occupying your thoughts?
Pick up your journal or a piece of paper and write down your insights. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind and accepting of everything that comes up. This is a living, breathing process. It is meant to help you ease into whatever transition is coming your way.
One last thought on willing participation.
There is a stream flowing through our backyard. There are big rocks in it and the water flows undisturbed around them. When the leaves land in the stream, I watch them being carried away by the rushing waters. A few of them become lodged around the rocks and among the reeds. They can remain stuck there for a while, but sooner or later, the water or the wind will nudge them along, and they will be on their way.
This is how it works with us too. Change happens, and we land on the ground, sometimes softly and other times abruptly. We may be able to go with the flow and let life take us places. Sometimes, we get stuck. It’s a timing thing. When we are ready, life will intervene and show us the way forward. I guess that is one definition of willing participation. It is not always about doing and struggling to get things done. Sometimes, it’s about leaning back, embracing our day-to-day life with care and open curiosity, and waiting until the moment we are set free.