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Will and Patience

By: Rev Bowen

Stay with me on this one, even if pickled eggs

are not quite your thing!

What is the cost we pay, consciously or not, for living in this modern world of instant-gratification? How do all these conveniences impact our human souls?

Want something?

We can have almost any item purchased and delivered to our doorsteps 24-48 hours.

Want to "know" something?

Type in a few keywords and a search engine will yield thousands and thousands of results within a fraction of a second.

Want to eat something?

Fast food is there, waiting to hand over a warm meal within minutes.

This list can go on and on, of course. When we consider the amazing feats that human beings have accomplished, this ability to yield information within nanoseconds, to provide a warm meal within minutes, or to deliver physical items within a couple of days is actually quite astounding.

Whenever I think about it, I cannot help but compare my modern life to Almanzo Wilder's life, as described by Laura Ingells-Wilder in "Farmer Boy" (one of my top-5 favorite books, honestly). I often wonder what Almanzo's Ma and Pa would have thought about today's life, and I wonder how they might relate to today's people, myself very much included.

So I will ask these questions: What is the cost we pay, consciously or not, for living in this modern world of instant-gratification? How do all these conveniences impact our human souls?

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education, spoke and wrote extensively about three "soul forces".

Before we go there, allow me to take a brief digression, for it is always at this point, whenever I mention the word "soul" that I hear a question echoed from a parent in the first class I taught, way back in the year 2000. Quite innocently, she asked: "What is the difference between soul and spirit?" That question has remained with me ever since as a regular contemplation. Again, this is another potentially wide-ranging topic. So let us consider this briefest of differentiations. As related to the human being, both soul and spirit are more "invisible" and "eternal" aspects of our existence. Soul can be characterized as "more individualized" and spirit can be characterized as "more universal". Let's leave it at that.

Of the three soul forces--willing, feeling and thinking--it would be fair to say that the willing forces are the least contemplated, the least understood, and the least developed in the modern human being.

Will forces are the forces to do. The Nike slogan of "Just do it" was so popular because we can all relate to that experience of knowing (thinking forces) that we should exercise, of not feeling like it (feeling forces) but finding a way to do so (willing forces). We almost always benefit when we will ourselves into action in such moments. When we will ourselves into activity, we begin to create a new experience for ourselves, we begin to shape a new reality. We are active rather than passive. We engage our being in freedom. We become the authors and creators of our realities. We strengthen ourselves in myriad ways against the inhibiting and resistant forces of inertia, gravity, and poor habits--to name a few. It is so commonly sensed that we have a tradition of creating "New Year's Resolutions" to engage our will forces and create new habits and new experiences.

It is not easy either. No, it is not easy at all. Activities that require a tremendous and sustained force of will are difficult. These can be outward, physical activities, but these can also include inner activities like the will to concentrate, to focus, to meditate, etc.

Why do we respect or marvel at someone who rises up to some big achievement, such as climbing a great mountain? Personally, I would not choose that particular pursuit as a life's goal, but I remain in awe of such a climber's force of will.

When we contrast that feat against modern life, it is striking. Climbing a great mountain is not easy; it is not convenient, and it is not quick. It requires a special combination of resolve and patience.

So how often do we give ourselves and our children opportunities to exercise the will forces in this way? Are we actively developing our resolve as well as our patience? Are we actively developing our children's resolve and their patience? Can we recognize that both of these are aspects of strong will forces?

Recently I created some cooking lessons for the Simply Waldorf third grade curriculum. One of the lessons was to create pickled eggs. I was struck, after completing the lesson, by the idea that the third grade student would engage in creating this jar of pickled eggs and then have to wait a couple of weeks before eating one. The will forces are thereby involved in both "ends" of the process. Rather than order a meal, there were many willful steps of obtaining and preparing the ingredients on the front end, and then the willful step of waiting for the food to be ready. I realized that more lessons and experiences like this are needed for today's youth--indeed, for all of us.

Naturally, pickled eggs may not be your "thing". And these days it is likely not within a child's normal desires either. Yet it abides as an example. How often do our children engage their will forces in activities that are not convenient? How often do our children have to wait for a result that they want? How often do they have to develop their strength of patience before the gratification of a desire?

The value of engaging the will forces is that we become stronger in all levels of our being, more able to function as free human beings, and thus healthier in our feeling lives.

For parents and teachers, I offer something that benefitted me profoundly as a young parent and teacher. In any unhealthy situation, say only what is absolutely necessary to address the immediate, and then say, "We will talk about this further tomorrow".

Whenever I was able to manage this, everyone benefitted. I benefitted from the time to cool down, to consider the situation, and to contemplate the best follow-up words and actions. The child benefitted from experiencing a parent or teacher who modeled patience and control of their will, a parent or teacher who would not simply allow his emotions to create a stampede of chaos. I had to continually renew my commitment to a process that was aimed at good and clear consequences that would not be convoluted by layers of emotional reactions and venting. When everyone had the experience of this delay, there was a much greater potential for positive growth and development.

For me, this took a profound level of will and patience. I failed many times, of course, just as I have "failed" many times during meditation, conversations, interactions, etc.

Can we see where we need to have stronger wills to do what is needed?

Can we see where we need to have a stronger commitment to patience?

Can we see how valuable it is to experience desires that are not fulfilled, perhaps for a long time?

If so, then we can all contemplate how to create more experiences in which the young person strengthens their inner force of will and develops the strength of patience. Of course, it requires that we "walk the talk" too! What a pickle we are in!

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