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Will, Surrender and the Will o’ the Wisps

I generally don’t seek out animated films, but in a move to avoid a snarl of a traffic jam, I pulled off the freeway and found myself watching “Brave”, a current Pixar-Disney production.

Before I realized it, I was engaged in the story, which is a mix of ancient themes woven into its own new storyline: Individuality vs independence, mother vs daughter, tradition vs change and fate vs will. It is this last tension – fate vs. personal will – that I am thinking of today. In particular, the way destiny and will are interwoven in this film through the symbol of the Wisps.

As this story goes, Merida, princess, is on the verge of womanhood and her parents, king and queen, have arranged the traditional event in the kingdom that will determine whom Merida shall marry. Merida has no interest in such a life, as she is the epitome of the maiden archetype. Like Artemis, she is a father’s daughter who loves nothing more than riding horseback through the woods with her bow and arrow – freedom in the wild, unto herself. Her mother’s attempts to shape her into a Queen/Mother of the Kingdom have little effect on this willful maiden.

Merida takes action to seize control of her own life. A pivotal moment occurs when she follows the Wisps – legendary luminescent sprites – that beckon her down an unknown path. In folklore, we are warned to beware of the “will o’ the Wisps”, for they can lead you to fortune or doom. That is, follow them and you may change your fate. I won’t tell you the rest of the story, but let it be said that Merida learns a bit about the interplay of will and destiny. And without my knowing it, so did I. This fairytale image – the Wisps – stirred something deep inside me and appeared in a dream a few nights later:

For several months, I have been in the throws of a difficult decision. Attempting to surrender my overly developed will, I tried to let the right decision reveal itself to me. Inevitably, I found myself calculating, strategizing, trying to create a solution. Then I would remember to surrender, consult my dreams, allow destiny to guide. Back and forth; assert then surrender. After many rounds of this, a clarifying series of events occurred and the answer, in fact, revealed itself. Done. I felt great relief. That night I dreamed of the Wisps directing me toward the Truth. I woke with a feeling of reassurance and certainty about my decision.

As I muse on what happened, the symbolism of the Wisps became increasingly interesting to me. The Wisps offer the possibility of changing ones fate. If you have the courage to follow them, they will guide you down a different path than that your fate has designed. This can be seen as an act of taking your fate into your own hands. Of course, this act of will (attempting to change ones destiny) is simultaneously an act of surrender – to the Will of the Wisps. The Wisps can lead to fortune or doom. You are now at their mercy as your new destiny unfolds. Is that will or surrender? Yes! Both!

Perhaps the Wisps are a complex interplay of how our personal will acts in relationship to our destiny. This fairytale image captured my lived experience. As I grappled with my decision, I both held a sense of respect that fate would reveal itself and I acted with some assertion by calling fate forward through the imagining of various possibilities. As one of my teachers says, “push, push, yield.” Set intention, then let go.

I never would have guessed that a Disney movie would give me so much to contemplate!

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