The New Year 2019 is approaching! How many of you have already made some New Year`s Resolutions? Many do it every year. The change of the year seems to have a special symbolic significance for most of us. People try to stop their bad habits, want to spend more time with their families, want to do more sport, live a healthier life or would like to lose some weight. However, 88% of us, according to a British survey, will not be successful in maintaining their good intentions. Why is this the case? What is it that prevents us from keeping our own resolution? Something within us is stronger. In German, we call it the `innere Schweinehund`, which means the `bastard within us`, our lower nature that causes us to have a lack of willpower.
In the late 1960’s, the psychologist Walter Mischel wanted to understand how small children deal with temptations. The four-year-old kids were told that they can eat a marshmallow but that they would get another one if they would just wait a few minutes. After the adult left the room, the child would be left alone with the sweets in front of them. While some kids were able to restrain themselves, others would immediately swallow the sweet, being unable to tolerate the temptation. Years later it turned out that those kids who had more self-discipline earned more money, lived healthier and had more stable relationships, whereas the children who were impatient had more difficulties at school, at work, had issues with drugs and breaking the law. This goes to show just how crucial willpower is for one's success in life.
If strong willpower is necessary in order to maintain one’s New Year’s resolution, then of how much more importance is it in order to achieve the goal of life? As a sadhaka, we not only want to get rid of one bad habit, not only want to lose a little weight so that we can wear a more attractive swimsuit in the summer, what we want to achieve is much greater than that! Our whole life is an attempt to become personalities endowed with divine qualities such as humility, tolerance, compassion, and forgiveness. We strive for a transformation of the heart. We want to turn lust into love, we want to become selfless instead of being selfish, we desire to become a goswami, a master of our urges, instead of being a godasa, a slave of our senses. We want to think, feel, and act in such a way that the Lord feels attracted to us. We want to follow in the footsteps of the great saintly personalities and live our lives according to their example and finally, we want to overcome the ocean of material existence. We want to free ourselves from the cycle of birth and death and attain eternal life. Isn’t that quite ambitious? Do we not need an immense amount of willpower for this?
When it comes to New Year’s resolution we find many suggestions on how to achieve one’s desired goals. One should write down one's resolution and keep it somewhere so one can see it daily and be reminded of it. It is advisable to tell others about one's resolution because the more people who know about it, the greater one’s self-commitment will be to act accordingly. It’s good to have a clear goal that is properly defined. Some people write a diary to keep track of their progress, others make sure they find a person with a similar resolution in order to encourage each other.
This principle may also apply to spiritual practice. Fortunately, there is another factor that is supporting us, the Lord's mercy! The story of the sparrow who lost her eggs in the waves of the ocean beautifully illustrates this fact. How can a small sparrow ever empty the whole ocean, in order to get her eggs back? It`s absolutely impossible. Similarly, our attempt to overcome our lower nature and become a pure devotee seems to be a similar hopeless endeavor, but the willpower of the sparrow shows us how such determination attracts the mercy of personalities with superior strength. Srila Prabhupada completes the story by saying:
„Similarly, the practice of yoga, especially bhakti-yoga in Krishna consciousness, may appear to be a very difficult job. But if anyone follows the principles with great determination, the Lord will surely help, for God helps those who help themselves.“ 1
May we all have a wonderful new year and may our endeavors to improve our devotional service attract the Lord's mercy!
1 – Bhagavad Gita, Purport to 6.24