A short definition of the will, by Roberto Assagioli:
“The will is the synthetic power which coordinates, organizes and directs all the other faculties and, therefore, should have a greater development in order to truly master them, while nearly always the opposite is the case.
The will is the least realized and understood of all the human faculties. Some schools of thought deny its freedom and potency, and therefore its real existence; and it is commonly confused with desire, impulse, obstinacy, personal self-assertion, or with a dominant passion. Therefore, I think that the student should take pains to discriminate accurately between these masks and substitutes and the true Will.
Sometimes the revelation of the Will as an independent faculty comes spontaneously into life; chiefly in moments of danger, or of great stress and emergency, but it can also be purposely sought and developed. This can be attained through a special kind of exercises which have been paradoxically called “useless exercises,” in as much as they have no personal utility in themselves, but which are, in reality, most useful, as they reveal to us our most precious faculty.
They were first advocated in modern times by William James, and they form the substance of Boyd Barret’s method in Will Training. According to this writer, the characteristics of Will exercises are
- Systematic variation,
- Tenacity of tasks,
- Simplicity and Trivality,
- Graduated effort,
- Persevering effort.
He strongly insists on characteristic three:
“The tasks should be trivial. This may seem strange, but it is an important condition as the one and only object of the task is-to-train the Will. There should be no ulterior objective interest connected with the task, lest the primary object of Will-training be lost sight of.”
The technique of these exercises is very simple. The essentials are: a quiet room where they may be carried on without interruption, a watch and a note book.
“To begin the experiments, the date and hour are written into the notebook, together with the resolution, which is at the same time formally made. Then the task is duly carried out, and the exercitant writes into the notebook his introspection.” For example: Resolution, August ii, 1913. “Each day, for the next seven days, I will stand on a chair, here in my room, for ten consecutive minutes, and I will try to do it contentedly.”
Some of the exercises he recommends are:
- To walk to and from in a room, touching in turn say a clock on the mantel-piece and a particular pane of glass, for five minutes.
- To listen to the ticking of a clock or watch, making some definite movement at every fifth tick.
- To replace in a box very slowly and deliberately, one hundred matches or bits of paper.
- To write very slowly and carefully, fifty times the words, “I will train my Will”.
Boyd Barrett’s book, Strength of Will and How to Develop It, published in New York, contains much good and practical advice on the object of will training and I heartily recommend it.
It may be surprising at first, but it is a truth advocated both by esoteric philosophy and by psycho-physiology, that control, inhibition, negation, abstraction, are in a certain sense the most specific characteristics and ultimate qualities of the Will.” (A Contribution to a Modern Yoga, The Beacon, 1933)