Willing Without (Fully) Knowing


Sometimes we must move forward into will without a full sense of knowing our desire. We have a subtle wish, or an unnameable yearning, or we just know there is destiny out there, somewhere. Or sometimes we are just dissatisfied and want something more. All of these point to, and can stand in for, what may look or feel like a deeper or more profound desire.

pic by Scott Liddell

Here’s the secret: We always begin where we are.

I know someone who is actively seeking out a new career. He tried going back to school for re-training. That was engaging, and sparked a good change, but ended up not being quite the right thing. So he tried applying for jobs he was already trained in, only to find that in a difficult job market, he’s a strange combination of overqualified and too long out of his field. What has he done? He has doggedly shown up and daily continued to develop his will. He has joined networking groups, attended conferences, arisen early in the morning in order to study Mandarin, and through all of this, continued his spiritual work and leadership in his magickal lodge. Has my friend found success? On one hand, no. He’s still searching for the employment. On the other hand, yes: his will is strong and he continues to persist in this desire to have fulfilling work that will pay the mortgage and allow his brain and skills to stretch and grow. His will is in service to his desire. Even though I know there are days where this must feel like a struggle, he keeps showing up.

We can ask ourselves: “When do we decide to keep showing up, and when do we assess that we are beating our heads against the wall?” That is a good question. We must measure success by a feeling inside. Here are some criteria: do I feel engaged and satisfied by at least one part of this process, even when it feels hard? Is something in me still willing to move toward this goal, this dream, this desire? Can I imagine myself there?

When my greatest wish was to become more present and spiritually strong, I arose at 5:30 each morning in order to sit in meditation and do my prayers and energy work before attending classes, doing my homework, heading off to teach workshops on weekends, and write my first book. All of these felt important to my larger work in the world, even though I could not have told you at the time what I felt my larger work in the world was. I had a vague sense of it, and knew that no matter what it was, no matter what was needed to flesh out the desire I felt tugging upon me, I needed to be spiritually strong and far more internally integrated than I felt at the time. It was only later that I realized I was working with my whole being to what some magical systems call Knowledge and Conversation with my Holy Guardian Angel, and what I now call Self-Possession.

Despite this barely named desire, I brought as much of my will as was possible to bear on it, daily, knowing that a strong will would be needed in order to step into whatever my greater Will turned out to be. My greater Will turns out to be teaching. I still have to find ways to show up for all the systems that support it. Some things I am better at than others, and I have to apologize when facets fall through the cracks, or I simply drop the ball. Does this stop me? Nope. I keep making my best attempts to show up, even when sometimes those attempts feel like failure to certain parts of my ego. The whole of me knows I am engaged in my Divine Work.

Somehow, I have a feeling the same will be true for my friend. He will keep showing up, doing the best he can, trying different angles, learning something new. And one day, all of the disparate things he’s working on will come together, fanning the flames of a clear desire. For now, my friend is committed to arriving each day at the center of his life, as it is.

9 Responses to “Willing Without (Fully) Knowing”

  1. Gwion

    Somebody once told me, in my professional life, that “90% of doing the job is just showing up”. Now I might disagree with the math a little, but I really embraced that ethos.

    If I don’t show up, put in the work (or play or rest), study, research, learn, re-learn my tasks, the chances of me understanding a subject more or getting through that personal block are greatly dimished.

    And waiting for that “perfect” time to start is a non-starter too. Begin now, with what you’ve got and keep showing up.

    Great piece Thorn.

  2. Starr

    Thanks for this. I feel as though I am lost some days, other days I describe it more as “searching” which at least puts me in an active role in my life. Lots of change right now and many days I don’t feel I know who I am or exactly what I want… it’s been overwhelming.. but I keep showing up to my writing and that’s been helpful.

  3. Phaedra Bonewits

    There’s a dance between what we desire and what is achievable. Through application of will, we can achieve a lot, but not necessarily everything.

    I meditate a lot on the idea of True Will, on how understanding my own talents and limitations and the circumstances in which I find myself (the state of the economy, for instance, is not changeable by application of my will alone) will help me manifest the highest use of Myself, whether that manifestation is called Knowledge and Conversation with my Holy Guardian Angel, or Self-Possession (a nice term, by the way) or something else entirely.

    Which reminds me of a story. Many years ago, I heard someone, upon receiving much good advice on her circumstances, exclaim, “But what if you do all that and still keep butting your head against the wall?” A small voice in the back of the room said, “Turn left.”

    “Sooner or later, you’ll find away around the wall, or a spot low enough to climb over, or a way to get under it, or a soft spot to smash through it. But if you keep banging your head against the same spot, all you’re gonna get is a headache.”

    When circumstances open to you, it’s a good bet you’re operating according with your True Will. When everything keeps going against that which you desire, maybe it’s time to turn left. There’s nothing noble or magical about a preventable headache.

  4. Thorn

    Turn left, indeed! That is why listening is such a central practice for me these days, and something I keep returning to in as many aspects of my life as possible.

    We show up with as much of ourselves as we can muster, we are part of life, rather than life happening to us.

  5. Hecate Demetersdatter

    There’s nothing noble or magical about a preventable headache.

    I love this; I should have it inscribed in large letters on “my wall.” 🙂

  6. Emaan

    Thank you for this post. I really appreciate the depth with which you approach your topics. I have been moved and inspired by many of your past posts but this particular one in this particular moment really touched me. I have felt a “pull” for most of my life. This pull led me to study Rabia al-Adawiyya, Hildegard of Bingen, Hafiz, the Bauls, etc. so that I could find inspiration from others who were such shining examples. But despite this burning that I feel I mostly remain in the realm of study… always fervently picking up a book, reading, and pondering. I often wonder what it will take for me to get out of my head, ground myself into Earth and consistently commit to an embodied practice. What will it take for me to fully feel that which I yearn for?

    • Thorn

      Many blessings on your way. I hope you find the will and inspiration you are seeking! You get to choose…

  7. Scott Reimers

    I am a septuple fire-sign Ares. The urge to continue beating my head against the wall always seemed like my default nature.

    The fact that a small percentage of the time the wall fell to the assault delayed my realization that wisdom is to (as Phaedra recounts) “turn left” and at least survey other options BEFORE deciding to try to destroy the wall with ones head. ^_^


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