Change is like the boughs of the willow in a breeze. We can seldom control more than the very leaves and tips of branches, never the whole tree itself. When faced with absolutely solvable problems going unaddressed or imaginable future states not being approached, it can be extremely frustrating for the change agent. We’re talking mad-prophet-in-the-wilderness level of frustration. In the face of seemingly intractable obstacles in leading people towards improvement, one can tempted to give up and walk away.
Ono no Tofuu is a renowned 7th century Japanese calligrapher whose will to continue was similarly tested at one point in his studies. Taking a walk in the rain he saw a frog leaping towards the leaf of a willow tree to catch an insect, falling short and plunging into the mud. The frog leaped again and failed again. The frog leaped again and again until finally it attained its goal. Tofuu was both humbled and encouraged by this, and found the strength to go on to become a master calligrapher.
This “willow and the frog” story of persistence in the face of adversity is commemorated on many Japanese works of art. It even became a stamp, as seen above. Sometimes we just need the simplistic willpower and leg strength of a frog. Leap, fall, leap, fall, try, fail and try again. How small is this willpower? It is the smallest thing. It is merely intention, decision, volition. Yet the non-frog parts of our brains put all sorts of walls between us and this small act of will. We need to be reminded to leap, leap, and leap again.
There is a Bible verse that reminds us of a similar lesson, that if we had faith even as small as a mustard seed, we could command a mountain to move and it would. In the Ramayana the monkey god Hanuman is cursed with forgetfulness that he is a god with great powers. He despairs until he is reminded of his powers, leaping over the ocean to rescue Sita from the demons.