The Act of Will
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back,
the moment one definitely commits oneself,
the Providence moves, too.
~ W.H. Murray
The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, 1951
Each person has the will to make the necessary changes in his or her life in order to live a life of meaning and purpose. Whether or not this will is ever activated or sufficiently developed is a different story. Roberto Assagioli calls the discovery of one’s will “a most important and decisive event in our lives”. According to Assagioli, whose contribution to modern psychology matches that of Jung and Freud, the will is “the power to choose, to relate, to bring about changes in one’s personality, in others, and in circumstances.” In the personal development and success movement made popular by Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins, Jack Canfield and others over the past hundred years, the will is equivalent to one’s ability to commit to the changes one wants to see in one’s life. For example, making more money, finding your soulmate, becoming healthy and strong, and succeed at realizing your wildest dreams, whatever they are.
If you have ever accomplished anything of importance or meaning to you, and you took the time to analyze what made it possible for you to persist and eventually arrive at your intended aims, it would probably come down to the following: a burning desire (thank you Napoleon Hill), a profound understanding of what it would mean if you do not accomplish your goal (thank you Assagioli), a definite chief aim (thank you Napoleon Hill), massive action (thank you Tony Robbins), a mastermind group (thank you Napoleon Hill) to support you in your definite chief aim, and a belief in the Universe’s inherent good will and support towards your most meaningful goals (thank you Paulo Coelho). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the elements that will lead you to success. There are more. However, the empowering element in any worthwhile endeavor that I want to direct your wholehearted attention to in this blog is the role the personal will plays in engaging with the Universal Will.
A personal story here would probably help to illustrate the dynamic between the personal will and the Universal Will. In March 2017, I decided I would go to China in order to trace my roots, find where my ancestors lived, and ask for their blessings in my embarking on an ambitious project I felt inspired to realise. Finding the location of where my ancestors were buried required that I find a distant relative who had been separated from our family for nearly seventy years. Our family had lost touch with this person, who is the eighth son of my grandfather’s cousin, due to the war between the communists and the nationalists in China. The only clue I had in finding this person was the “family genealogy of names” and his name. In addition, I knew the name of the town that I would need to go to, but there was no guarantee that this person was still alive or if he had stayed in this town. I was enthusiastic about this ancestral pilgrimage and did not give much thought to the possibility of not being able to find this person or my ancestor’s burial site.
I planned my trip and four months later we arrived in Wuhan in China. I took with me my daughters who were still kids at the time, because I wanted them to come along with me and learn about their roots as well. We were supposed to take a four-hour train ride from Wuhan to Jingmen, and then take a two hour car ride to go to Shayan, which is a “small” town of about four hundred thousand people where my ancestors had actually lived. The truth is I had no plans or strategies apart from asking my friends in Wuhan who they thought might be able to help us on this quest. Weiyen, a dear friend from Wuhan, put me in touch with a woman in Jingmen. This woman owns a tourism company, so Weiyen thought she might have some contacts. After spending a week or so in Wuhan with some friends, my children and I left for Jingmen and arrived in early evening. Weiyen’s friend picked us up from the train station, and gave us a very warm welcome by taking us to dinner with three of her colleagues. Over dinner, I got to tell them why we are here, and shared the only clues I had with them, which are my family’s genealogy name tree and my relative’s name. This is when the magic started to happen. One of the three colleagues of this lady who owns a tourism company told us that he may be able to help, as he is a journalist in Shayan and may have other contacts who can help us out. This kind man and the tourism lady also offered to drive us to Shayan, which is about two hours away. The rest of the dinner was very pleasant and we just traded personal stories. Our background as 海外華僑, or Chinese people abroad, was very interesting for them, and their background as “small town” Chinese people were really interesting to me too.
After the extravagant and heartwarming dinner, my children and I returned to our hotel. I was very excited about the prospect of finding my ancestors the next day without giving any second thought to how difficult things may or may not be. After all, these people were enthusiastic, and they wanted to help. Next morning at 8am, the tourism lady and the journalist man picked us up. Two hours later, we arrived at Shayan and I simply held an open curiosity about what will unfold. I felt I like was in an adventure of sorts: the adventure of my own inspired journey. Anyway, the first stop in Shayan was the local police station. Apparently, this journalist man knew the police chief. We sat down with the chief and traded pleasantries briefly. As Chinese people in mainland China are fairly direct, I simply told them why I was here. I had no other agenda, and I did not even bother to think about the local customs of having to give bribes in order to have people help you. After a few cigarettes and some thoughts, the police chief said he would send out his men to inquire about in this town of 400,000 people. And so we waited. Within about an hour, one of the police chief’s men came back and said they might have identified this relative of our’s. Feeling the electricity in the air, we got up and got going.
As we exited the police station, I noticed a number of journalists with cameras were following us. Our journalist friend had evidently notified his other journalist friends, who thought this to be a newsworthy event: Chinese people from abroad are coming home to search for their long lost family members ! Ten minutes later, we arrived at a nondescript part of the town, where there are small mom and pop shops and dilapidated three story residences all along the street with broken pavements. We got out of the car, and began to follow the police officer who has the address of our “maybe” relative. By this time, there were probably about ten or more people following us. The air of excitement was palpable, and I could feel that we were on the edge of something. Local residents came out of their homes, curious about what we were up to, joined the search parade. Finally, we arrived at a little apartment building, and followed the police officer onto the third floor. An old man in a well worn tank top in his sixties opened the door and greeted all of us. In order to check if this old man is really the eighth cousin of my grandfather, I asked him his name. To my bewilderment, he responded in a dialect that I could hardly understand. Even though the people who came with us can help interpret on my behalf, I decided that it would be better to give my father a call even though it was 3am in North America. It is not uncommon that people would have the same names, even if Chinese names are rather unique. After making a few attempts calling my father without success, I finally got a hold of him. The rest was history. We had found our long lost relative that nobody in the family had been able to get a hold of for nearly seventy years. Thanks to synchronicity and another chain of events that I will defer from describing here, we also managed to find two more relatives in Jingmen that we had not been in touch with for this same period of time. Importantly, we also managed to visit a nearby temple close to where our ancestors have been buried and asked for their blessings for my intention to realise a particular project in education, which is what started this sequence of events.
As I reflect back on this experience, and every time I reflect on the series of events that unfolded, I am simply struck by the magic and ease with which the things happened in favor of the goal and intention I had. What does this story illustrate? Well, I believe it demonstrates, in a humble way, exactly what the quote at the beginning of this blog is expressing, which is that there is a Universal Will which organizes and creates the circumstances and resources that are necessary for one to attain the goal toward which one singularly committed. However, the Universal Will is not in active collaboration with you until you have arrived at a certain level of clarity within yourself about what it is you are going for. In addition, the “going for it” part is a process where one is to hold consistently an attitude of faith and effortlessness while still doing the work necessary for the realization of the goal. Of course, the Universal Will is a principle that expresses itself through other people and unfolding circumstances, but it is also palpable and tangible as an experience. Words can only indicate the existence of this reality, but it is up to the reader to experience it for himself.
The Universal Will is therefore the all powerful partner in a dance that nonetheless requires the involvement of the personal will. That is, your will and mine. Our will is activated when we truly want something and are willing to embark on an adventure that will require the use of all of our resources without reservation: personal, material, relational, and spiritual. I believe the rewards earned from realizing our dearest goals are more than just the goals themselves. In this process we also get to realize more of who we are, and we get a sense of the transcendent reality and it’s workings in our earthly lives. This for me is one of the most joyous aspects of living a life that is aligned with our deepest purpose.