Sample from the Fall 2004 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

By Swami Karunananda

Everywhere in nature, we see change. Day gives way to night. The hot and humid days of summer yield to the brisk, cool winds of fall. The garden is in bloom, then goes to seed. Similarly, the circumstances in our own lives are always in flux. Life is like a pendulum that swings between loss and gain, pleasure and pain, praise and blame.

We live in an ocean of change. We are a microcosm of the universe. The same laws that we see in the macrocosm are operative in us as well. Then, why do we sometimes feel powerless to make changes in our lives? Why do we get stuck in bad habits or situations? Why do some obstacles seem insurmountable, certain problems unsolvable? It seems like a paradox.

Very often the answer is quite simple: we don’t make changes because we don’t believe we can. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali lists doubt as one of the main obstacles on the spiritual path. Even a little doubt can undermine everything. It’s like putting a thimbleful of poison into a pot of nectar; the entire pot will be tainted. Or like a grain of sand falling into a large, complex machine; the whole mechanism will come grinding to a halt. Wallace Black Elk, a Native American teacher and spiritual leader, once shared stories of healings he had witnessed. He said that Mother Nature was always ready to heal us; what stood in the way was our doubt.

Change is always possible. Our own beloved Sri Gurudev was a Master in the art of transformation. In an instant, with a look, a touch, or a word, he could lift a burden, heal a heart, or dispel the darkness. A moment in his presence could change a life completely. The glance of such a Master is like a raft that can carry one across the ocean of samsara, this turbulent sea of comings and goings, and ups and downs.

Transformation can be the gift of grace, and it can also be the fruit of self-effort. In the treasure of his teachings, Sri Gurudev presents various strategies that we can use for self-transformation. There are techniques that utilize the will, the heart, or the intellect. Everyone has the power to make positive changes. Even if our karma is such that we can’t change a situation, it’s always within our power to change our attitude.

Let’s explore some of these techniques. The first approach involves application of the will. The Tirukkural says, “There is nothing that is impossible if one brings to bear on one’s work the instrument of a vigilant and resourceful mind.” And, “Don’t get disheartened thinking a task is difficult of execution; perseverance will give you the capacity to do it.” Will can be applied in any area of life with success. We see this in the sports arena, in political campaigns, in scientific research–wherever there is a contest of strength or a new discovery in the making.

Michael Jordan once said, “I visualized where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.” Great inventors have the same kind of determination. Thomas Edison was once questioned about all the problems involved in the discovery of the light bulb. He boldly replied, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times; I successfully eliminated 10,000 times materials and combinations that wouldn’t work.”

So, how can we use the will to effect change in our lives? Step 1 is simply to have the willingness, the desire, to make a change. Step 2 is to define your goal, to set an intention of what you wish to achieve. Intention is very powerful. We are surrounded by an infinite ocean of Cosmic Energy. Intention aligns us to receive that power in a particular way.

It’s often helpful to divide the task into do-able steps (Step 3). Using the will is like building a muscle: apply weights that challenge, but don’t overwhelm it. That way the mind will grow in confidence and strength…

Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2004 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine