Why the Will Matters Now

We are living at a time when the vision of wholeness is seeping into consciousness, upsetting all sorts of established patterns of thinking, seeing and acting. As a species we are, perhaps for the first time in any collective sense, beginning to care about the good of the whole, noticing that the well-being of the individual unit in any system depends upon the well-being of the environment within which it is embedded. There are huge challenges in lifting our vision so as to see the patterns of synthesis and order in a whole system. Yet we are on the way, aware of the need to perceive forces of inter-dependence and the primary role of relationships between different entities in any system.  

This raises inevitable tensions. Established habits of separative thinking (engrained within each and every one of us and dominating modern cultures) rub up against the new sensitivity to the integrity and well-being of the whole. These tensions are most obvious in issues of the day such as: climate change; competition for available water resources; social and economic inequalities; fundamentalist and inclusive integral approaches to religion, economics, politics and so on.   They also live within us as we become increasingly aware of the wholeness of our own being with its dimensions of mind spirit, soul and body (subtle and physical).

It is no coincidence that just at the time in history when the wholeness vision is creeping into the thinking of intelligent women and men across the whole spectrum of diverse cultures, professions, arts and sciences there is a parallel almost gut level awareness that because of historically embedded pathways of competition and separation humanity has become an endangered species. Nothing concentrates the mind more than imminent danger.

It is precisely in this situation that it becomes necessary to observe the role of the will in all levels of the relationship between the wholeness vision and ourselves. How often do we hear the cry that there is a lack of political will in the world and in our own lands? It is a cry that must be answered and is being answered. We human beings in our millions are being called upon to give expression to the wholeness vision with a dynamic will – in our lives, in our groups, in our professions, communities, schools colleges and universities and in our deepest circles of faith and spirit.

All of us who have been touched deeply by the sense that we are part of a greater whole ultimately have no choice but to become, in small human ways, units of loving will-full activity, seeking to create patterns of synthesis and wholeness in every aspect of our lives. The future depends on our willingness to approach the opportunities of our time with a sense of purpose. This may be a rather nebulous purpose when we set out but it is important to imagine it becoming, through time and experience, an unshakeable, rock-like centre of our being.   If this sounds too ‘majestic’ or ‘grand’ or ‘noble’ we should remember that the will is all about the intention we apply to small steps in bringing our sense of wholeness into expression in our lives, our professions and our fields of passion and interest.  Through time patterns of quiet persistence emerge as we notice and care about the progress we are making towards re-orienting our lives and our communities in response to the wholeness vision.  

In the middle of the last century, soon after the formation of the United Nations, the visionary Secretary-General of the organization, Dag Hammarskjold, spoke of the Taoist view that the world cannot be shaped by the will and purpose of human beings because the world is a spiritual thing. No one, Hammarskjold commented, can foresee with certainty what will emerge from the give and take of the forces at work in any age. We cannot mould the world as masters of a material thing.  … But, he added, we can influence the development of the world from within as a spiritual thing. This leads into the central role of the will in our time. The efforts to shape the world as a material thing, to be mastered and dominated, are what have led to so many of the environmental problems we face.  Partly in response to these problems there is now a growing awareness of the spiritual will – paying attention to the spirit of wholeness and seeking to act in ways that reflect concern for the good of the whole. For Hammarskjold this means: As individuals and groups we can put our influence to the best of our understanding and ability on the side of what we believe is right and true. We can help in the movement towards those ends that inspire our lives and are shared by all [people] of good will – in terms very close to those of the Charter of the United Nations – peace and freedom for all, in a world of equal rights for all. [Dag Hammarskjold, To Speak for the World : Speeches and Statements. Stockholm, Atlantis, 2005, pp. 145-6]

Fresh insights into the nature of the whole milieu in which we live and move and have our being (the physical environment, the human, animal and plant environment as well as the spiritual environment) call us to love … purposively. They call us to a will to love – a will that leads us to explore how we might love selflessly and how we might grow in our capacity to love transparently, without expectations. Resistance to this call comes from elements of self-interest and self-absorption that are a part of our human nature. And it also comes from the voices of those who stridently refuse to see that the realities of wholeness demand deep changes in our understanding of ourselves and in the way we live, from our response to climate change and the use of energy to our undisciplined obedience to the manipulation of competitive market forces in the economy. It is these forces of resistance (within and without) that lead us to draw on hidden depths of will that are beyond our understanding, reaching in to areas of faith, grace and the sense of a Greater Will.  For the world is a spiritual thing.

Two qualities of consciousness and of being have been central to our understanding of human development as well as our understanding of the divine: the light of knowledge and the radiance of love and wisdom. It might be argued that the human meditation on these principles (through time and across all faiths and traditions) has created the conditions in which the revelation of wholeness has now become possible. Today, in order to respond appropriately to the challenges of the wholeness vision and to the damaged ecosystems that have been caused by our ancient habits of separation, it is the third quality of consciousness and of being, the third quality of divinity, will, which is becoming of primary concern.

Countless acts of will, particularly in its higher dimensions (the transpersonal will ,the will to love, the good will, the will to harmonize apparent opposites and the will to act for the good of the whole) are required today in response to the crisis we face. This is not some call to cold discipline.  It is a call to re-value the will, particularly in its more refined expressions. The planetary life of which we are a part displays patterns of order, harmony, beauty, beneficence, nobility and joy.  As we first sense the dim outlines of the magnificence of the whole there is an awakening will to understand and see more clearly and to experience its livingness more fully, as well as an awakening will to live in some degree of right relationship with the joy, harmony and beauty that is revealed. The will leads to action – action to awaken and broaden our intuitive as well as our scientific understanding of wholeness, and action to move ourselves, our communities, and our world into right relationship with this vision of wholeness.

It’s Time to hold the Will in the Light.

In the past the will was often understood in terms of ‘thou shalt not’ and of power over others- maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of difficulties and repressing anything unpleasant or not understood. We know that repression doesn’t work and that trying to battle on without addressing issues as they arise, or without ever questioning what we are doing, simply sets up new problems for the future. More often than not problems and issues are a sign of something needing to be addressed – something that is out of alignment. The deeper will is concerned with purpose and with understanding the role that purpose can play in crafting a fulfilling and meaningful life. It is about fostering a sense of direction and nurturing a realistic sense of future possibilities, ‘Thou shalt’ replaces ‘Thou shalt not’.

In a sense the will is all about the way in which we as individuals and groups respond to our perception of human need and to our sense of the future. As problems arise in our communities and in the world as a whole they provide an opportunity to heal, transform and redeem ancient patterns of separation. As such the problems can be embraced. In learning about a particular social problem we can train ourselves to recognize the forces that are causing the problem (forces in the human psyche reflected in economic, social and cultural dynamics) while at the same time looking for the individuals and groups that are responding to these forces in a meaningful way – using the problem to break through ancient thought forms of division and to nurture love and goodwill in the community, to empower disadvantaged groups and individuals with a sense of their own dignity and possibilities as human beings.

In the process of responding to the problems of our time something wonderful is happening to human beings. The quality of will is being mobilized as never before. It is happening at the local level in every community on the planet, just as it is happening regionally, nationally and globally.  There is today a vast network of groups of citizens that are applying the will to transform the quality of human relationships. Think of the vitality and purpose of the 350.org movement; or of the mindfulness networks that are emerging in health, healing and education around the world; think of the One Campaign fighting extreme poverty with almost 6 million global members; think of the activities of countless Amnesty International groups throughout the world, or of the countless actions by concerned citizens on International Day of Peace every September 21st. These are just the tip of the iceberg – we are living at a time when people of concern are becoming willfully engaged in diverse ways to transform the quality of relationships on earth.

There have of course always been periods in history when forces of goodwill coalesce with an unusual degree of single-minded purpose and focus. In this country, for example, there was an extraordinary period during the height of the civil rights struggle when a culture of hatred, lawlessness and violence was confronted by countless acts of individual and group courage. The anti-apartheid movement (within South Africa and around the world) saw a similar concentration of will. What is different about the will that is emerging today is that it is emerging as a universal force. Millions of people feel themselves to be a part of the One Humanity and the One Earth and feel a measure of personal responsibility and engagement in building a culture and civilization that reflects this new awareness. The good will is arising amongst individuals across the face of the globe, just as it is arising in groups and movements in every field of activity. There is an awareness of a common purpose linking community development groups with human rights groups, those working for the empowerment of women with groups targeting the need for nutritious food, and the massive global movement calling for new economic and political structures in response to the challenges of climate change. We are witnessing a quiet and steady mobilization of the will in human affairs.

The process of dialogue and negotiation surrounding the definition of a new set of achievable Sustainable Development Goals for the future humanity at the United Nations is one of the clearest examples of the new role that the will is now playing in the world. Previous planning initiatives at the United Nations tended to be ideologically and politically driven with high sounding objectives. In 2000 this began to change with the declaration of a set of 8 Millennium Development Goals, each with specific targets to be achieved by 2015 and with annual reports measuring progress on each target. Now the process has moved forward in preparation for a new set of goals to take us through to 2030 and this time there is a massive process of negotiation between different stakeholders, movements, civil society organizations, business as well as governments. The final goals will be declared at a global summit next year, and they will reflect some sort of balance between the self-interest of nation states (particularly the powerful interests of the five permanent members of the Security Council as defined by their governments) and the wider interests of the common good. These wider interests have already been well defined in a set of 17 goals (each with specific measureable targets) prepared after lengthy negotiations by a Working Group of the General Assembly – they include: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; Reduce inequality within and among countries; End poverty in all its forms everywhere; Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Goals like this set intentions and help focus the will of different networks and associations (including government) to ensure that targets are met. They move from statements of principle, such as the Declaration of Human Rights, to become statements of focused purpose where each country and each particular social movement is left free to determine how to concentrate their energies on achieving specific targets and broader goals.

People of concern linked into groups and networks of focused concern (groups like the Commons Movement, the New Economy movement, the Sustainable Development movement) are using the opportunities of the time to bring purpose and will into the centre of their being and their activity. There is a vitality and vibrancy about the new movements – and what the General Assembly’s set of Goals demonstrate is that a momentum of intentional activity is building which has the power to lead us into a new era.

This article originally appeared in Kosmos journal - see kosmosjournal.org

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