The River of Willingness
Marshall Rosenberg said that when we focus on only one way to meet a need, we take an abundant universe and make it scarce.
In non-violent communication, we learn how to make observations without mixing in our own evaluations and judgments. We learn a vocabulary for identifying and expressing our feelings and needs, and we learn how to make requests of ourselves or others regarding strategies that might meet our needs.
I want to share with you this concept I call the River of Willingness. This image first came to me in the summer of 2015 when I was attending the third week-long retreat at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado held by Robert Gonzales in a year-long intensive training called Living Compassion.
It was a profoundly transformative time in my life in which I finally let go of an intimate relationship I’d been in for over 4 years that had failed to meet my needs for quite some time. I knew that the reason I continued to cling to the relationship and try to make it work was because I was coming from a scarcity paradigm or an energetic deficit. In other words, I continued to hold onto the relationship out of fear rather than love.
If I’d been in an abundant and love-based paradigm, I would have been capable of seeing that both our needs would be better met if I chose to move on from the relationship. It was painful for me to acknowledge that we didn’t want the same things, and that I not only needed to let go of having an intimate committed relationship with him, but also let go of trying to maintain a friendship with him. My attempt to hold onto the friendship, I later realized, was also out of the fear and scarcity paradigm. It was a way of controlling and manipulating the relationship because our attraction to each other would always draw us back into an intimate relationship. Yet the results were always the same.
One day, while sitting in the circle of participants at the retreat, this image of a river came to mind. In my mind I saw a physical river, like any river you might find in nature. It was extraordinarily beautiful and seemed to radiate light. But I also realized that it was pure energy. It was the Divine taking the form of a river. It radiated the energy of Love and Abundance. As I continued to gaze upon it in my mind’s eye, I noticed that I was also holding within me the sadness, grief, and mourning from having ended that relationship only a week prior to attending the retreat.
As I held my pain and my broken heart, I felt myself drawn to the river and I felt the energy pouring from the clear, clean waters. I walked to the edge of the river and kneeled there. Then I took all the emotions and the needs and held them there at the river and felt the fullness of my needs being quenched.
The name “River of Willingness” came into my mind and that’s when I realized that during those years, I had been turning an abundant universe into one of scarcity by not trusting that my needs for intimacy, love, connection, and affection could be met elsewhere. Rather, I had continued to take them to the same place over and over and over, even though for years it had been "a dry well" because this particular person could not, or would not, meet those needs. In truth he did not have the willingness to meet the needs I was longing to meet.
Imagine that you are thirsty. That is the feeling you have identified, which points to a need for nourishment, perhaps in the form of water. Next you come up with a strategy for meeting that need. You want to find water to quench your thirst, so you go to the River of Willingness.
When you arrive at the banks of the river, you kneel down, but you discover that you have arrived at a place where the river is dry. There are shallow pools of stagnant water, but as you move closer to the water to drink, you find it unappealing. It doesn’t look clean. It smells a little strange. The water is cloudy and might be filled with harmful bacteria.
So you stand up and continue walking down the shore to find a better place to meet your need for clean, fresh water to quench your thirst. You pass an area where the water is now rushing by so quickly, it’s become white-water rapids. You dare not step into it or you may be swept away. So you continue on.
Next you come upon a place where there is a whirlpool, but as you lean forward, again you sense that this might not be quite right. You might fall in and drown. So you continue on.
Finally, you find a place that looks ideal. There is a soft grassy bank where you can kneel down comfortably. You are able to dip your hands into the water and lift up sweet, fresh, cool water that is flowing just enough to keep it clean. High up in the mountains now, you are close to the source and you trust that this is just the right place to meet your needs. So you drink in deeply, returning over and over until you are fully satisfied. Now you can relax and feel the delicious fulfillment of your need.
In this way, we can take all of our needs to the River of Willingness.
Imagine it as a flow of energy, the abundant energy of Love. This is the true nature of the universe. We would not be here today if we were not given everything we need to meet our needs. This is a truism.
The world is full of infinite ways to meet our needs and we are born with the capacity to meet our needs. If something emerges into being that is not capable of meeting its needs, it will die or disappear from existence. This is also a truism.
So, the very fact that you exist, that you are alive, and that you have a need, automatically means that the universe has a way to meet that need.
Sometimes it’s difficult to access the River of Willingness when we are deep in a story of scarcity, and an energy of fear, lack, and deficit. Our needs are not being met and we may be in deep pain and suffering. We may feel rage and feel powerless to meet our needs, yet if we have a willingness to be present with that, if that is all we are capable of being present to in that moment, even that willingness will begin to open us up to a strategy in which our needs can and will be met.
This is not a black and white view of the world. I am not suggesting in any way that “positive thinking” or “getting a better attitude” is all you need to do, and then everything will work out perfectly. Finding your way to the River of Willingness and then to the right place where your needs can be met may take time and a lot of courage and perseverance. The point is that if you open yourself up to your experience and trust that you will find a strategy that meets your needs, you will find one in a matter of time.
If you need honesty and are in a relationship where that need is not being met, you may decide to let that relationship flow right on out of your life.
The River of Willingness does not ask us to sacrifice our needs, especially when they are non-negotiable, but it does require us to be responsible, to empower ourselves, and to find solutions and strategies to meet those needs, but the more we are coming from an energy of love and trust, openness, willingness, and abundance, the more we will know when it’s time to surrender and let go, and when it is time to take action.
Life, itself, flows like the River of Willingness. We have days when we’re fully energized, hopeful, and enthusiastic. We can easily make things happen and enjoy life. Other days, it takes all our willpower to get out of bed. I invite you to stay open to it all.