“Reshape yourself through the power of your will; never let yourself be degraded by self-will. The will is the only friend of the Self, and the will is the only enemy of the Self.”The Bhagavad Gita
I love this verse of the Bhagavad Gita because it gets me thinking about why I go after the things I go after in life. Are my efforts aligned with ‘reshaping myself?’ Do they lead to me becoming more self-aware? Or do they keep me hooked/ looped/ grasping from ego?
Willpower is a great force whose job is to achieve goals. According to this verse it can be our friend or enemy. If we honor it by turning it in on ourselves, witnessing our own mind with perseverance and staying with our mental patterns, it becomes our friend. If we just use it reactively to push and pull external stuff for our short-term gratification it becomes our enemy.
Our actions of moving toward our goals feel supported when we’re motivated by self-acceptance, compassion, and personal growth. They feel like torture when we’re motivated by a sense of envy, ‘not enoughness,’ or the mistaken view that others’ lives are better.
Willpower is strength. Strength to resist, to fight back, to protect against injustice. This verse helps us see if we’re fighting fair or just being defensive.
The will to win an argument at any cost can quickly pull us down into misery and just wanting to be right. But using that same will to see the other person’s point of view, be on the same team with them fighting the problem together, leads to friendship/ fairness.
It’s been my experience that when I fall off the wagon of my bhakti practice, or objectify myself and start letting my identity be formed by the external world, my will gets me into trouble. Because then it’s working hard from a place of lack, and trying give, give, give of myself to get something. This is not giving from a selfless place, but from a drained, needy, selfish place (ironically!) to fill a void that can never be filled.
On the other hand, when I keep doing the practices- reading, contemplating spiritual literature, meditating, practicing self-enquiry, japa, and offering- my willpower starts doing this wonderful thing- it opens to receive! Go figure, the will to receive is more selfless in this case.
It’s interesting to look back on my life at the ways I’ve exercised my willpower, for better or worse:
As a teenager I resisted high school hard, often walking out of class and rebelling with drugs and alcohol.
At age 20 I packed all my stuff into my car, said goodbye to my friends and drove to Arizona to work on a ranch alongside cowboys and wranglers.
As a musician I spent 4 hours a day running jazz piano drills in the University practice rooms and countless hours rehearsing other instruments with various bands.
As a spiritual seeker I keep reading sacred books, studying Sanskrit, and dedicating myself to a daily meditation practice.
What do you sacrifice, sweat, or climb upwards for? When does your willpower become your friend and when does it become your enemy?