I had my heart broken this week. Heartbreak is the worst. It makes you all dark, curmudgeonly. It makes you afraid of people. It makes me become sharper than needed with my friends, family, students, all my loved ones.
I woke each morning this week with raw grief and some dense crunchy movement in my sternum. It felt like there was a rock stuck between the shoulder blades. Nobody done me wrong. I just really saw something, for real and maybe finally. I saw that a dear friend of mine was actually stunningly unavailable to end his patterns of dysfunction and suffering.
In retrospect, it was obvious. I used to say to him that he was redefining slow change, and that he was amazingly okay to hang out with resistance. But I thought he was committed to change regardless, until this week when I saw what was true: he is unwilling to stop his patterns of dysfunction. Not willing to turn away from the voices of resistance and fear. And it’s tragic because, as with each of us, our dysfunction hurts so many people around us. You know the body count as well as I do. You know your kids hurt, you know your loved ones hurt. You know full well the cost to your boyfriends or girlfriends, your sisters and brothers, your dear friends, and most importantly, to yourself.
My heart feels jagged and rough for the suffering created by the unwillingness. I can’t affect someone’s willingness; I can’t give it to anyone. They either reach for it, or turn away from it. They’re either willing to stop paying attention to the dark voices, or remain captivated and stuck.
And I think the reason it feels so tragic to me is that willingness is actually so available. Willingness is this light, simple stuff that is always sitting just within reach. And with its support, anything can happen. Without it, nothing can.
Wanting change, or desiring change, is not willingness to make change.
Willingness is the essential ingredient. Paying five hundred or five thousand dollars for a weekend workshop is not willingness. Attending every retreat and reading every book is not willingness. Sadly, it can just as easily be escapism. Willingness is the fuel behind actual transformation. Willingness is where you see change, where you see profound self-awareness and transparency and risk. That is what happens with willingness. Willingness, not wanting, is what is behind the real, tangible changes in anyone’s life. No tangible change? Likely no willingness.
My dear friend has been to plenty of retreats and workshops. I personally drew him maps from 100 different perspectives over the years: how to get out of the dysfunction, step by step. And of course, even louder, life has been throwing warning balls at him, and he has had to suffer enormous challenges. But neither the challenges nor constant maps have made any change, because there is no real willingness.
And I wish with all these pieces of my heart that are laying about here, that it was something I could give. But I can’t. Instead, all I can do is use this rock between my shoulder blades to smash out the remaining bits that are piercing me, so my heart will break all the way open, to be as wide as the sky once again.
Also, I can set a boundary—use this beautiful ferocity that comes with my broken heart—so I don’t have to watch the suffering continue.
Also, I can wax profound about willingness, about what it is, and how easy it is to access any time of day or night. I can talk about the transformation that is just on the horizon if you reach out and take a hold of it…
…until the day something else smashes open the sky on me, breaking me open again. Because since this awakening, my heart keeps being one love, being so all about loving, and love so much wants for you to finally be willing to stop being entranced with the fear already.
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