“If faith without works is dead, willingness without action is fantasy.” ~Anonymous
Willingness is probably not the first thing most of us think of when we discuss spiritual principles. Faith, Humility, Love, Forgiveness, and a few others usually come to mind sooner. But without willingness, none of those other principles would mean a thing, because without willingness they would come to no more than vague ideas and empty platitudes.
Willingness is what enables us to put all the principles into action. It gives us the power to step out in faith, to open our minds to trying new ideas, to dare putting others’ interests first, and to stop reliving the pain of ancient injuries and disappointments. It’s the key that unlocks the door between imagination and reality, between thinking and doing. So what, exactly, is willingness?
Webster’s dictionary describes willingness as a state of mind in which we are favorably disposed toward acting or doing something-cheerfully, readily, and voluntarily! In other words, it means that we want to do something. But willingness is more than a vague wish or half-baked desire. It must be an earnest, whole-hearted desire to achieve something together with the intent to do what’s required to achieve it.
Furthermore, willingness is not a reflex, like pulling your hand away from a hot stove. Willingness is a conscious choice. It is thoughtful, intentional, and freely chosen or volitional. And it is always accompanied by action.
If we’re hungry, we know that lying around imagining how good a hamburger would taste is not enough by itself to get us from thinking about a hamburger to actually eating one. To bridge the gap between wishful thinking and reality we must take action. We must be willing to determine what we must do to get a hamburger, and then we must get our bodies in gear and actually do it!
How many times while watching TV with friends or family have you seen a pizza ad, thought it sounded like a good idea, and asked if anyone else wanted a pizza? Did that inevitably result in having pizza … or were there times when no one was willing to go get one or even to call for delivery? If no one is willing to act, then no pizza appears, no matter how much everyone wants one and thinks it’s a good idea.
So it is with everything in life. If we are not willing to take the action necessary to achieve our goals, then our goals remain nothing but empty wishes. The old saying that “God helps those who help themselves” implies that even God’s blessings depend on our willingness to act. God may be the source of the miraculous force that makes seeds grow into plentiful fields of grain, but if we don’t till the soil and plant and fertilize and water, then there will be no harvest.
The very idea of willingness implies that we are conscious, self-directed beings able to choose our own goals and actions. In other words, willingness means that we are creatures who have free will.
Some folks doubt this. They claim to believe that the world is a mechanistic universe and that free will is an illusion generated by neurological processes in our brains. If so, then we are merely automatons, robots whose every action is determined by forces beyond our control, victims of a clockwork universe who are just passengers in our own lives. If this were the case, then nothing we choose would matter; morality and ethics would be meaningless; and everything that happens would happen anyway regardless of our intentions, choices, and will to act.
Some intellectuals apparently have convinced themselves of such nonsense. But those of us who live in the real world know absolutely that we not only have the ability to choose, but that we cannot help but make choices that direct our will. Even not to choose is a choice.
Will we eat…or not eat? Have ice cream…or eat a salad? Wear a shirt and tie to work or go naked? Comply with our manager’s directions, or yell at her and tell her she’s an overbearing slave driver?
Most of us know intuitively and without a doubt that these and other choices are ours to make. Instead of playing adolescent mind games that question the existence of free will, we would rather learn how to use our will wisely to make and implement good choices in life.
That means that we must be willing to examine ourselves so we can discover who we really are and what our purpose in life is. We must be willing to examine our behavior so we can understand what we do that serves our real interests, and what we do that sabotages them. And we must be willing to learn new behaviors so we can grow spiritually. In other words, we must be willing to become grown-ups who take responsibility for our own lives
Thus we see that willingness is a fundamental spiritual principle after all, for it is our will that directs our actions, and it is our actions that determine not only what we contribute to life, but what we can receive from it. What we do is not fixed by fate or predetermined by chemistry. As conscious and therefore spiritual beings, we are engaged in a continual process of becoming who we imagine ourselves to be. Our lives are adventures in personal growth and spiritual transformation, which we either inhibit or encourage depending on the choices we make, and on our willingness to do whatever is truly in our own best interests.
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Links to more information about Willingness:
Tom Stine, “Willingness Is the Key to Spiritual Awakening”
“Spiritual Growth: The Willingness To Change”
“Willingness and How To Develop an Open Mind — Which Can Then Help You To Develop Willingness” “Willingness and How To Develop an Open Mind — Which Can Then Help You To Develop Willingness”
Wray Herbert, “Willingness To Wonder”
Books about Willingness:
Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intention
Wayne Dyer’s popular guide focuses on how we can direct our Will to support behavior that enhances our spiritual growth and the meaningfulness of our lives.
M.J. Ryan, This Year I Will . . .
A guide to practical strategies for turning our desire for change into willingness to do the work required.
Cheri Huber, The Key: And the Name of the Key Is Willingness
A simple little book on developing willingness through the practice of meditation.
Alfred R. Mele, Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will
A technical philosophical exploration of consciousness, intention, and free will, informed by recent research in the neurosciences.