Above: The story of Sakkiya Nayanar, one of the 64 Tamil saints, depicted.

The best thing to do to succeed in your spiritual practices is to develop your willpower. That is because everything begins in the mind. The practices that we do in the name of Yoga are to help us become masters of our own minds. Your mind should be your instrument; you should not be the instrument of your mind. To control the mind, to develop willpower, start with simple things. All the great thinkers say that the greatest victory ever won is the victory over your own mind.

My Guru, Sri Swami Sivanandaji, used to say that to develop willpower start gradually, with simple things. If you are using three teaspoon of sugar for a cup of tea, try two and a half. Your mind should learn to accept it. If you are sleeping with two pillows, take out one pillow. If you are successful in these attempts your will confidence build. Then, take it one step further. Long and high jump athletes learn to jump that way. They take only one step higher each time. Gradually, they gain confidence. Ultimately, you will develop a strong will and you’ll be able to do whatever you want.

The Tirukkural, an ancient Tamil text, says that you can do whatever you want, achieve whatever you want, if only, the want is strong enough. A similar idea became popular in the 1960s with the expression, You want it, you got it! But, your want must be strong; not like oh, I’ll try to do it. There is a feebleness in that. Instead, make what we call in Sanskrit, a sankalpa, a firm decision. I am going to do this! And I will achieve it. This kind of strong decision itself makes the work half done. Instead of saying halfheartedly, Well, maybe I can do it. If you can develop real willpower, nothing is impossible to achieve.

The main goal in your sadhana is to control the mind. And unfortunately, the mind knows that. So when we begin sadhana, the mind goes, Aha, he’s going to control me, so let me put all possible obstacles in the way. That’s why in the beginning, when you want to achieve something, you will have a lot of challenges to face. The mind puts them there because it doesn’t want to be under your control. It doesn’t feel happy about being your servant, so it’s a constant fight between you and your mind. Just know that, and don’t give up. Even if you fail a number of times, each time, immediately get up. Nothing is accomplished in one step. How many times does a baby fall down before it can walk? Everything worthwhile begins in a small way. Make up your mind to do something and do it.

One of the well-known saints in India, saw devotees offering flowers at the altar. He thought, Anybody can offer a flower, I’ll offer a stone. He just made a decision to throw a stone at the altar every day before breakfast. He thought, Well, I can find one of those every day, but I may not always find a flower. He wanted to make some offering and this was his sankalpa. What a crazy decision! He took up the challenge because it was easy for him to do. But remember, every kind of achievement has an examination time, a test. One day the test came. He couldn’t find any stone. He searched and searched everywhere—no stones. The poor man could not eat his breakfast until he found a stone. All day he searched and by evening he was very hungry and weak. A couple of days went by and still no stone and therefore, no meal. He became weaker and weaker. All of a sudden, he thought, Oh, what I fool I was to make this sankalpa, and he threw up his hands in exasperation. Holding his head in his hands, and in his excitement and his weakened state of mind, he thought, Oh, here is a stone. Come on, I’ll just use this. He pulled and pulled his head with all the strength he could muster and then God appeared to him, saying, “Stop, you don’t have to do that anymore, you are my true devotee.”

What is the point here? He made a vow and because he stuck to that, he won a victory over his own mind. He could have thought, Oh, there are no stones available, so I just won’t throw one today. I’ll find two stones tomorrow, so I’ll just go and eat my breakfast. But no, he didn’t give in. By doing that, he won the victory over his mind and received a blessing from God.

The purpose of all our Yoga practices is for that complete mastery over our own minds. If you accomplish that, nothing in this world is impossible for you to achieve. Christ called it faith. He told us that if we have faith, the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. That kind of faith brings the same fruit as willpower. Because to have that kind of faith, you must have a one-pointed mind—and the mind becomes one-pointed by developing will power.

In a way, Nature is teaching us to control the mind through life itself. You run after things and everything fails. In the beginning, these things seem to be charming and sweet. Very soon they all become bitter. Everything in life is like that. You become disappointed with everything. Why? Because you are running after things. So outside things should fail you. Then ultimately, you will feel, I’m sick and tired of running after things. When you honestly feel that you are sick and tired, be happy about it. Why? Because only then will you will stop running. And when you have nowhere else to go, you will turn around and look within. It’s almost like running after your own shadow. When do you see your shadow? When you walk with your back to the sun. But can you catch your own shadow? As you try to catch it, the shadow runs ahead of you. You run and run and run and get tired of it! Finally, you feel, I don’t want to run anymore and you turn around and start walking towards the sun. If you slowly turn and look to see who is following behind you, it is the same shadow, running after you!

So stop running and let things come to you. That’s the meaning of the saying “contentment is golden.” If you want to have gold, be happy with what you have. Seek that contentment first. The Bible also says that: “Seek the Kingdom within and all things shall be added unto you.” I love that part. When you look within, you don’t have to run after anything, all things will be added to you.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda