The colonizing nature of the will
The colonizing nature of the will; tools for essential connection
We use “will” frequently in our language. And often with little precision, because what is actually said in the expression “I want.…” And does it work? What is its operation?
Different kinds of understanding of “the will”
In the philosophical tradition, the will is themed at a number of moments. In Hobbes, for example, free will is defined as the ability of rationally acting persons to exercise control over their own actions and decisions. In the example, “I want to make tea” would fit in well with this. Making tea is a clear, orderly action for which I can choose to perform those actions and the end result is tea. Other examples are already a lot more complex because it raises questions such as: does the other person want to do that (do your homework), or how to do that (become a football player).
In the example of doing homework, the will focuses on the movement of the other person. Suddenly, intentions and definitions of reality come into play (does the other person also find important what I find important, and what I think is good homework, the other person also thinks). In the philosophy of a.o. Levinas and Heidegger, by introducing “the other” and “being”, is introduced to a world that goes beyond the private of the “I”. That which I want can be grounded in me (and is then connected to the rational, the desire to take control) or in a gesture, a light from the other or the being. In this last description, the will is no longer private (rationally acting persons) but comes about in connection with a larger whole. Me and she or I and it are lifted up in it or coincide. In the context of this collection of blogs, we refer to this connection with the “other” or the “being” as the connection with the future.
An order of the will
It is important to understand the direction of “wanting” well in order to understand its nature and its intention and to get clear in which field it can be effective (and in which it cannot).
The will in acting
In acting, the will shows itself as an activity. It is therefore in relation to the here and now: I perceive a concrete situation, a concrete question or need and I act accordingly. I’m hungry and make myself a sandwich, I run away from fire, I hang up a cupboard.
The will in knowing
In knowing, the will shows itself as control and power. It gives meaning through ordering and that order becomes decisive for the other. If I declare the world by stating that God exists, then anyone who does not go along with it is either a sinner or a madman (and those who do go along with it are my brothers).
The will in desire
In desire, the will shows itself in the relational. The will focuses on what it longs for: the love, the attention of the other, for example. An image is made of the other that can provide for the desire. In this way, the will organizes in desire and also reduces.
In the acting, the knowing and the desire you could call the will individual. The intention starts from the self and from there enters into a connection with the world and thus puts that world (no matter how small) to its hand.
The will in the invitation
In the invitation, the direction of intention seems to be changing. It is not the individual that wants, but the individual that is addressed from the whole and works from there. Actually, it is therefore strange to speak of “will” in a strict sense, because it is more about being addressed. In this addressing, something becomes clear that then triggers individual action, knowing and desire. The line between wanting and not wanting is then very thin. For example, the artist who, after being touched by an essence, turns to painting can both want and not want; does the energy run from the touch to the work of art or does the work of art itself become central? The will becomes “possessive” again when this touch takes the form of statements such as “god”, “the truth” or “the Art” with large A and the energy is sent from there.
On the border of the individual will
The four forms of will described above are familiar to us, and they are also very helpful in getting a grip on our daily lives. At the same time, in some cases, the will does not help at all.
My own experience is that I can make a substantial contribution to the world by making use of this individual will, because the existing, the already known is reproduced. If that is the intention, then wanting is very effective. But there are also situations where something else is needed. It’s like the parable of the elephant being felt in the dark: it’s a snake, it’s a wall, it’s a tree.… Wil is no longer a useful concept because “the world” is too big to grasp. But then what? The clue is actually in what is literally obvious, namely taking seriously the observation that it is unclear what I perceive, in stead of trying to explain what it is (as in the example of the elephant). To the four forms of will above, I add an observation that gives an indication that the will is coming up against its limits and something else is asked for.
The will in action runs up against the uncertainty
One way to deal with uncertainty is to start doing something, to choose practical solutions. Uncertainty is experienced as unpleasant and not practical.
Being at ease with the uncertainty means that we feel comfortable with what the future has to offer us, when we connect with it. Whether it’s practical, beautiful, pure nonsense or the insight of the century, we won’t know for sure until we start exploring it. Being at ease with uncertainty means that I don’t mind that it’s not certain, that there’s no certainty and that I don’t put it in a category. I meet what I perceive without judgment and leave it for what it is.
The will in knowing encounters incomprehensible
Organizing, structuring are ways of taking control and not knowing how to avoid it. If you try to imagine the future from knowing, it will produce self-affirming images to justify and even strengthen your beliefs. Beliefs are based on what you already know and have mastered, it is the learning from the past that has led to how you do things now. It has no vision of the future, it can only produce a long-term past-now. Not knowing how is essential to be able to come to new paths, literally outside of existing images.
When you stop organizing, you experience things to organize themselves. If I look for my keys where I think I put them, I won’t find them. If I search open-mindedly, I will find them. Learning from the future works in this case by being fearless in not knowing and by using hermeneutic research.
The will in the desire encounters the unexpected
The desire is directed at the other person to receive something that is important to myself (affection, protection, love). The extreme form of expectations are archetypes (such as the hero, the mother), which makes it almost impossible to behave outside of the predefined expectations we have of each other.
To prepare for the unexpected, we must be willing to enter a situation without will, shame or condition and be open to being influenced by whatever the situation brings us, and to act accordingly. While it sounds simple, our cultural values make it difficult to be open to the unexpected. It asks to find ease in the fact that in these situations vulnerability, sensitivity and emotionality are the reality.
The will in the touch encounters the unapprochable
There are situations, events that literally give “no sense”. We have learned through faith, magic and rituals to cope with the world with which we cannot connect and that we have no control over.
To prepare for the unapproachable, we must hold back and accept the existential fears as reality instead of seeing these fears as a problem that needs to be solved. This attitude towards the inexperienced opens the way to see the beauty of things and to take care of the whole by contributing to life to its essence. It requires a preparedness in which the tension between the most extremes of being (existence and non-existence, individuality and collectivity) is accepted in its duality. It accepts “what is” in being without feeling the need to control it, it does not make a choice for any of the extremes.
In other words: The will distracts
If I really want to achieve a goal in an organization, I use power to let others conform to it, my consciousness is not focused on what is, but on what should be. If I want my partner to love me, then I’m not looking at something that is, but I’m demanding something that should be. These are two simple examples of how our “will” does not help if you are really trying to see reality. The will acts as a disruptive, distorting filter. It is an instrument of control, of power. Usable, if you apply it in the right field. The field of reproducing, repeating what we already know or can do. The above described sensations of the uncertain, the not-knowing, the over-guarded and the inexperienced, cannot be approached with the will. The will then distracts, or to put it another way, back to what we already know instead of us investigating.
Beyond the will, in the connection
Let’s practice using an example to bring the workings beyond the will a little more clearly to mind. Take an organization for primary education. The teachers observe that for a significant proportion of students there is inequality of opportunity: they come to school without breakfast, they learn less easily, they structurally reach lower levels of education. These teachers use all kinds of tools to do something about this inequality of opportunity: teachers go to training, extra lessons are given, a healthy eating program is started. It doesn’t change much about the directions of outflows. You could say that the measures they take are based on the observation of outflow figures and are then converted into action on their will (no inequality). This in itself is a good intention and it has been clearly thought about. In any case, these teachers show a touch by the deprivation and they turn that into action. A program is created. When I ask if they have taken the opportunity to talk to the children and the parents, their reaction is: occasionally, but we don’t have enough time for that. And there might be an alternative route here. Instead of a general solution (a program), an individual approach that looks at what is there per family and situation and asks parents what is going on and what could help.
The objection is quickly: parents can’t, parents don’t want to, or that takes too much time.… What if we saw these observations as information instead of organizing around them. Instead of seeing them as disruption that we want to “organize away” as what we have to work with? By standing in the connection and taking these signals seriously and working with them, what would that bring? For example, doing nothing. Or, for example, work on improving the situation of a parent (not all parents) if it turns out that there is an issue there (being able to make a meaningful contribution, which is passed on to the children).
The dance with being
Perhaps this brief example feels unsatisfying. I can well imagine that. Because what should I do now, couldn’t it be clearer? And does that make sense? Nevertheless, in this example, I think it becomes clear that the action can actually be very concrete and at the same time has only a limited difference. Both are on the agenda. I would call that feeling of concreteness and discomfort the dance with being because it has something of “I get it, I’m there” and “I don’t get it, it escapes me”.
In the moment of “I get it” there is an understanding of the situation, there is action possibility at hand. In the moment that followed, the perception that that’s not going to solve everything. And I think it’s also about both.
The violence of representation; solidified will
In the “I get it” lies as far as I’m concerned, the tragedy of being human. We are so incredibly good at it and at the same time are entangled in it. If I take the “I get it” too seriously, then I will believe that I have understood what is needed, then I will make a program against equality of opportunity. And along the way, frameworks become facts, rules become straitjackets and order becomes repression. The lines are all too thin and that has also been described by many (including Hannah Arendt). In the language of this paper, you could say that the will solidifies and becomes unwavering. We’ve come to the believe what we’re trying to grasp. The liberating movement in this seems to me that we fundamentally recognize that getting a grip on is necessary and at the same time does not succeed. Both. And that we train ourselves in that skill.
Didactics for the dance with being
What is clear to me in any case, that we are poorly trained in “not-wanting”, in dealing with acting from the connection. The crazy thing is: we do that every day, only our consciousness seems to be focused on it to a limited extent.
From the descriptions so far, I get a number of clues as to how the will is effective to use and where it is not. Learning to deal with this boundary could look like this
- There is an event
- The event calls on me as a person to act, know how to use it etc
- Does this appeal become conscious, ask yourself the question: is there a repetition of what we have already done before, what we already know etc or is something else needed? I experience the uncertain, the not-knowing, the unexpected or the inexperienced
- If that is the case, call your will to order and literally give room for discovery for research: leave the event and take the discomfort and feel free about “the uncertain” “the unexpected” “the unexpected” “not knowing” and the “not approachable” by leaving it for what it is. And don’t let the burden come to your inward life. Do not suppress these in itself potentially unpleasant experiences but let it fuel your wakefulness
- And then, follow the situation and follow the impulses that the situation gives you
- In the meantime, you will have brief moments of acting, of knowing, of being touched; be aware of them, allow them and at the same time train in a wakefulness that ensures that you don’t get stuck into the believe that you have “the solution”, the “approach” or “the method” (hence the original title for this piece was: the piece that should not be written, because before you know this has become a method for everything).
It requires a wakefulness or “preparedness” to be able to do this in everyday life. I call that the constant work on the hygiene of perception. What I mean by that is that the perception can have its effect unencumbered, without pressure. In another way said: the body is “empty” to receive and process the signals uninhibitedly. Honestly, I’m not sure how that works. I can indicate what I do: if information “occupies” me I choose to take a time out in order to bring balance or hygiene back by walking, listening to music or “hanging out”. At a certain point I experience a peace from which I can literally work without difficulty with what I have become aware of.