The next stage of practice to add is conscious will. This is consciousness of one’s own distinct will. It is a consciousness of I will. It is not merely an idea that one has will; but rather a present moment experience of one’s will, that in this present moment I have will, or I will. This power of will is only in the present moment, so to be presently conscious of 'I will' is part of the general practice of consciously being in the present moment.
To be fully present, in the flow of the moment, requires wakeful interest in the moment. And this requires will, a will to be in this present moment. Being wakefully present is a matter of degree; that is, one can be more or less present in the here and now. So to be more present requires will.
But our will does not have to be pushy, bullish, manipulative, authoritarian, or oppressive. Those are possible negative traits of some people with strong will. Yet strong will does not necessarily act in such ways. So instead, when we think of strong and powerful will, let us think of a very caring, sensitive and loving will. Let us think of will that is compassionate and serving in life. So may we be strong in this positive kind of will. To be good people does not mean that we have to become passive or sublimate our will. Even self-surrender, which is usually juxtaposed as the opposite to self-will, is a change that requires will. Self-surrender does not just happen by itself; rather it requires self-will to do so. It requires a will-to-surrender, or willing surrender.
So, this is a different kind of will from what we usually think of as will. …it is receptive will, a listening will, a will that is open to what is given in the moment. One is wakefully open to what is given in this moment. And wakefully interested in what this moment offers, or what the world shares with us.
The power of will has to do with the power of decision. It is the power to decide in this present moment. So it also is the power of self-direction, or the power of being charge of oneself. This power of present decision and being in charge of oneself is important for our spiritual work. Without it, the subconscious mechanical patterns of oneself tend to maneuver our boat from one direction to another. The power of will also builds unity in oneself, because will brings all the forces of oneself into one unifying purpose or intention. This is the power of I will. Will is also related to intention and commitment. Will can make strong intentions, with strong commitment, and then bring determination into fulfilling these intentions.
As a conscious practice it can be useful to maintain for awhile a very basic experience of I, or I will, as one practices conscious breath and conscious presence in the ongoing present moment. So throughout conscious breathing and being consciously present, one can add this additional practice of being I conscious, or conscious of ‘I will.’ This helps strengthen the will and unity of oneself. One might also meditate some on the reality of ‘I am’, and ‘I am will’.
Then from here, at this stage of conscious concentrated practice, one can recognize relationship between I and world, or between will and world. This sense of relationship is the next significant stage of the practice. The conscious experience of I involves two basic kinds of relationship. One kind of relationship is horizontal and the other is vertical.
The horizontal kind of relationship is with other people and dealing with the needs of our lives. Also included is our relationship with nature. The fundamental experience of such relationships is ‘I am in relationship with’, or ‘I will in relation to.’ Being conscious of this basic relationship between ‘I and world’ helps to develop important relational qualities of sensitivity and respect as the I (or will) relates to others in the world. We should spend some time in this practice of conscious relationship.
The vertical kind of relationship is also very significant, for it is our relationship with Higher Will or with Divine Purpose. Remember that will is necessary for self-unity, self-direction, and getting things done. Our will is the director of our spiritual path, so we need strong and focused will. Yet we also need to be in the highest will possible, which requires a work of spiritual attunement and alignment. This added practice of spiritual alignment to the greater divine purpose makes our own will more reflective of the higher Divine Will. The great masters have said, “Let my will be Thy Will.” This is the work of spiritual alignment.
Our own will is a portion of the Divine Power and Freedom, which also means that we need to be responsible for our will and how it is used. The will should be like a beacon of power directed into the present moment of life, from a higher source of divine purpose or love. It should be a will of service to a greater divine purpose. We need strong will, yet a will that is guided by a greater spiritual purpose, such as love. So the highest will in oneself is the will that is in spiritual alignment, dedicated to the highest purpose, and working to bring forth the highest divine qualities.
Let us briefly consider the spiritual polarity of will and surrender. Will and surrender are sometimes viewed as opposites, but we need to see how they both are necessary and complementary in spiritual work. Having will and using will is necessary for self-directing our path and also for getting things accomplished. Yet if our will is dis-connected and dis-aligned with higher purpose, then it might be working only for egocentric purposes. In fact, this is the common reality of general humanity.
So in complement to a strengthened will, there needs to be a strengthening of spiritual alignment or connection. The practice of making this connecting alignment is the true meaning of surrender. In other words, one is surrendering to a higher Will, but this higher Will must come through one’s own developed will. One is allowing higher Will to come through personal will.
An incorrect understanding of surrender is to give up one’s will in the sense of eliminating individual will. This is the idea that: if I give up all my will until I have no will, then the Divine Will would come through. But this is not how it all works. An elimination or destruction of individual will, or a lack of developing will, can only result in individual passivity and weakness, and what really happens is that lower emotional forces simply take over. Yet if strong will is balanced by fervent surrender, then one becomes a strong servant or representative of the higher Divine Will. One surrenders to the Divine Power as it comes through one's strong and focused individual will.
As we are considering complementing polarities, let us briefly consider the polarity of the I experience and the self-transcendence experience. Some traditions view self-transcendence as the ultimate goal, whereby the I experience disappears into mystical union with God or with all life. Other traditions view self-transcendence suspiciously or with contempt, and modern society generally emphasizes a strong sense of I as individual as well as giving high value to personal will. But the true path is a balance between I-ness and self-transcendence. Both are viewed as significantly positive, and neither is more important than the other. One is like an in-breath, and the other is like an out-breath, and both are complementing aspects of the greater Purpose or Process.
Imagine you are walking in a beautiful natural environment, such as a forest or meadow. There are two fundamental ways of consciously being here. One way is to be conscious of I-in-relation-to-this. And this experience of I-in-relationship can be quite profound. It is something very important to develop, and as previously discussed this is also related to individual will, that is will in relationship to other beings of life.
The first stages of spiritual practice should be focused on building this conscious I-ness, in relation to the surrounding world, which develops our consciousness and our self-unity. Yet once we can maintain this unity of consciousness and self-presence, in relationship, it is then possible to surrender this I-ness and allow oneself to dissolve into union with the nature of life around us. It is as though one breathes in all of the air that one can, and then from this self-fullness one naturally releases the breath, surrendering it back to life. This is the great rhythm of being: increasing I-consciousness’, like filling up with breath, and then releasing the I-self, like relaxing and releasing the breath. Both aspects are part of the greater process. Build up the breath and then release the breath. Increase I consciousness, and then release it in self-dissolution.