Willfulness to Willingness

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This morning at breakfast, my husband, Dave, was complaining about the size of the type in a document he had been attempting to read. With frustration he mumbled, “The headlines are always so big, but the message itself is always so hard to read.” And a light bulb appeared over my head illuminating the process of acceptance.

Acceptance is crucial to healing and evolving throughout the twisted turns of a human life. It is a point of entry without which there can be no moving forward – no new way of being with and in the context of our challenging and ever-changing world. The path from willfulness (non-acceptance) to willingness (acceptance) is a unique adventure blessed with both edge and promise. In fact, its promise lies within its edges. Our ways of being with such edges can lead us either toward the entry point of acceptance or back in the more comfortable, yet tiring, position of resistance.

Catching Up With the Words

It has been my experience that acceptance is never an instantaneous event. Even in the moment when I might verbally affirm, “I have accepted this”, the truth is that there are some parts of me that have not quite caught up to the one who said the words. There is more to become conscious of before there is true authenticity behind the declaration. Letting go and letting be aren’t things one does in the
moment. They are the effortless result of the process of gradual discernment, in which it will seem as though nothing was actually done, but rather allowed. I need only to be consistently, curiously aware of the small internal shifts and those opportunities to choose in favor of acceptance that come my way on a daily basis.

Acceptance is a process of moving from a conscious initial awareness toward an embodied, almost unconscious, new way of being as a result of a deep integration of what has been accepted.  Like Dave’s reading material, acceptance starts with a BIG headline, but the small print that follows takes time to discern and absorb.

What Happens Next?

In receiving a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy private session, clients may become aware of their relationship to accepting the life material at hand.  They experience the sensations of both resistance and letting go in a physical manner. They become curiously focused on the connection between these physical experiences and the life realities they are immersed in outside the session. They ride the emotions that dance around the edges of awareness encountered. They reflect and connect to their own deepest source of knowing. They speak aloud that guidance in honor of having received it. They say the “HEADLINE”. And they declare the next steps, effectively setting the process of acceptance into motion.

What happens next? In the absence of the deep witnessing that happened in the powerful private session, do they keep themselves moving on the path of process, or do they find ways out – distractions, rationalizations, inertia?

Now, the thing is, either way is okay. The person’s unique process has been set in motion, and it will keep attempting to move them no matter their degree of participation. It comes down to choosing between resistance and letting go over and over again as part of the natural process yet to come.1

Movement in a New Direction

To court acceptance is to encounter change.  Change implies movement in a new direction. And movement creates friction – a normal response to all change, especially those involved in accepting.2 As such, friction (resistance or willfulness) will be an inevitable player in the process of acceptance.

We know from the world of science and research that it takes, on average, somewhere between eight weeks and six months of continued intentional practice in order for a new way of being – an internally driven change – to become a lasting way of being. Our brains need that amount of time to begin the process of re-wiring our neurons so that they more consistently re-fire in new synaptic connections that create the habit of being our new selves.3 A gradually layered approach to acceptance along with mindful, intentional repetitive practice moves us through the process. Over time, we weaken the old channels of belief in our brains while simultaneously forging new ones.

Phoenix Rising group sessions, especially when combined with private sessions, are a valuable and effective support for continuing along the path from resistance to acceptance. Other than the longer commitment to intentional practice, there are three elements of the more active (versus passive) group experience that encourage mindful focus on an individual’s process of awareness, adjustment, and change:

     1. Actively learning through one’s breath and body. Acceptance can easily become a mental battle in which our brains may try to convince us that we are over it, through it, past it, and around it. But our bodies hold the true story of where we are on the spectrum of resistance to acceptance.

Taking time to notice the physical nature of such struggle (or the lack of it) in a guided active breath-and-asana practice can bring to light the story behind the story. Noticing the sensations associated with both resistance and letting go accelerates the process of acceptance by deepening our self-understanding.

This noticing also teaches that we can tune into our bodies at any given point in this process to discover what is really happening – where we really are and how we really are being along the way.  When we involve our bodies, we progress in ways that are more lasting and profound.

     2. Receiving edges. In a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy group setting, there are no hands-on or passively assisted elements. This allows for the possibility of a different sort of experience of exploring edges.

During these group sessions, we cannot as easily attribute our edge experiences to the Phoenix Rising practitioner. As such, it may become easier for us to notice that we create our own edges – that our edges are unique to us. The life connection inherent in this, (our realized personality, beliefs, patterns), can wake us up to ourselves, especially when acceptance is the edge being explored.

Acceptance, at its heart, is deep receiving at the edge of change and friction. To be with the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual edges of the changes inherent in the process of acceptance is to receive the teachings of letting go and letting be.

When we become aware that our edges are internally created and choose to receive them as teachers – “beautiful enemies” who kindly challenge us – our tightness around acceptance loosens, a little bit at a time.4

3. Acceptance as a theme. While acceptance often emerges as a theme during a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy private session, it is never forced or enforced as a necessity during a session. The practitioner will witness and support the client’s unique way of being with the process, however and wherever it goes in the moment. He makes no attempt to channel the direction backward if the client diverts from the theme of acceptance.

However, in a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy group experience, the theme of acceptance and a participant’s relationship to the process of acceptance are highlighted and coached repeatedly during the active asana component and the mediation period. The participant leaves the session not only with a deepening of awareness through the experiences of her body, breath, and edge, but also with tools to enhance the possibility of continued engagement with the process of moving from willfulness to willingness.

However we come to the entry-point of acceptance, whether the process is private or in a group setting, the energy of promise wells up in our favor at the moment we decide to embark.

Willingness happens through gainfully letting go rather than giving up. It concerns the present rather than the future or the past. And who knows? From the wider perspective on the other side of the whole process, we just might find that we end up with equal gratitude for willingness and willfulness.

To deepn your understanding of acceptance in how it relates to your body, visit www.ijpryt.com and read Renée Dumouchel’s article Befriending the Body: a Journey Toward Trust.


1. Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali, (Shambhala Publications, 2003), 5-7.

2. Dennis Wholey, The Miracle of Change: the Path to Self-Discovery and Spiritual Growth, (Simon & Schuster, Inc.,1997), 40.

3. Tal Ben Shahar, Ph.D, “Positive Psychology”(lecture, Kripalu, Lenox, MA, 2012).

4. Ibid.

About the Author

Elissa Cobb

Elissa brings more than 25 years of combined practice and teaching experience in bodymind practices, yoga, and yoga therapy to her writings, including her experience as the former Director of Training Programs with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. She holds a Master’s degree in Embodiment Studies, has developed many of the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training programs, and has trained hundreds of students. Elissa is the author of The Forgotten Body: A Way of Knowing and Understanding Self. She is a life-long resident of Vermont.

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