An Inch of Will

Several weeks ago, I asked my spiritual teacher for advice on how to work with the compulsions I experience during a bipolar episode.  She suggested I read what G.I. Gurdjieff or P.D. Ouspensky had to say about Will.  After several library searches, I finally found a copy of Ouspensky’s The Fourth Way, and what he had to say about Will gave me some much-needed direction.

Both Ouspensky and his teacher, Gurdjieff, viewed Man as a sleeping, mechanical automaton.  What’s normally thought of as will, or free will, is actually a line of action that follows our desires.  Since our desires constantly change, the direction of our will changes with them, resulting in a line of action that goes every which way.  We think we’re heading in a straight line.  That’s part of being asleep.

To develop true Will, Ouspensky said, one must save enough energy to be able to struggle with weaknesses in the personality and to resist following one’s desires.  If a person doesn’t have enough energy to resist strong urges and big weaknesses, tackling something smaller and less difficult will save one’s energy.  These smaller battles also increase a person’s capacity for making the larger efforts.

It’s the friction generated by these struggles that create the energy needed to fight bigger and bigger battles.  I forget this.  During an episode, I become so focused on surviving and getting past it, that I forget to use it.  If Ouspensky is correct, the efforts I make in controlling my attention (taking it away from distorted thinking, for example) and observing myself help to grow true Will in that moment.

He said, one must try not to “escape” from the friction, which would call for a minimum of distraction.  Granted, he wasn’t talking about individuals with mental illness, so all this must be filtered through that particular lens.  Like most things, a balance must be found.  How do I hold the tension of resisting desires and controlling weaknesses in my character without stressing myself into an even worse mental state?

I believe I’ve started that process.  Last winter, I thought surviving a six-day bipolar episode was more than I could bear.  This current episode has lasted over three weeks, and while I’m certainly sick of it, I’m managing.  As my compulsive eating and spending rise and fall, I resist to the best of my ability.  Now, I’ll try to turn my attention to the energy being created by that resistance and use it to further my cause.

“Will has to be used,” Ouspensky said.  “We are never ready for Work, but we must Work all the same.  If one has an inch of Will and uses it, it will grow.”

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fiddle gal
    Sep 05, 2011 @ 20:23:38

    I found this very helpful. Thanks


  2. Kathryn McCullough
    Sep 05, 2011 @ 21:15:00

    How fascinating, Sandy! I’m going to have to think about how this applies to my struggle, as well. Thanks for sharing this!


  3. Kitty
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:06:49

    As I was reading this through the first time I was thinking of the thing we’ve heard… “That which we resist, persists.” which makes us think that we need to stop resisting. But this article says that resistance is a tool to be used (a good thing). So when I put together, “If one has an inch of Will and uses it, it will grow.” and “…turn my attention to the energy being created by that resistance and use it to further my cause.” my mind went to the idea that it’s more about the shift in focus toward the productive than it is about resisting the counter-productive. Using the energy of resistance to move us in a more productive direction. Is that what is working for you?


    • Sandy Sue
      Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:20:08

      I think so. It’s like pushing out the sides of a container to make more space.
      Also, it’s not resisting against any particular *thing* that’s the important part. I can create the friction Ouspensky talks about just by acknowledging my compulsions as they happen, watch them instead of going numb and unconscious, and then taking the teeniest little step in the opposite direction. At least that’s my interpretation of all this spiritual gobbeldygook!


  4. aealmon
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:15:27

    thanks for this post, I’ve been struggling with will myself. -Ashley


  5. ManicMuses
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 07:33:32

    I’ve always had a strong will, but sometimes my will has a will of its own 🙂


  6. martin
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 12:12:48

    Wow, I happened across this from my search, going crazy in America. I am impressed with the openess and honesty of your thought. Something to look foward too, coming back and reading more. thanks, Martin


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