I have a deep love and appreciation for the Bhagavad Gita. I have spent last 20 years learning and sharing its unassailable wisdom with so many others.
Over the last 10 years, I strove to find ways to map Arjuna’s challenges and Krishna’s solutions to modernity. What do karma, dharma, atma, the yogas, maya and other Gita themes have to do with our everyday experiences? How do they hit home?
Reflecting on the relevance of Arjuna’s struggle to do what he must, I decided to focus on something very tangible. My own shortcomings.
It made me think even more deeply.
Why do we spend so much emotional and psychological energy covering our blind spots? Why don’t we share more of our shortcomings even with those closest to us so we can identify the target and then destroy it?
Arjuna the (In)vulnerable
Arjuna, the protagonist of the Bhagavad Gita, demonstrates that no matter what your status in society and stature in life, we all live with blind spots. We all carry the burden of faults and weaknesses. He stood on the precipice of world war and broke down into a pool of sadness.
So what next? What is the approach we take to grab this dilemma by the ankles before it takes fire to our path forward?
In three broad steps, we need to:
- Be conscious of the blindspots
- Provide disclosure when they hurt us and others
- Work to rectify them
To do any of this, we need to become more vulnerable. Vulnerability is the need for every individual to acknowledge their inherent shortcomings.
But why should I ever disclose my weakness?
It makes me weak in the eyes of the world out there and the ego in here. It makes me susceptible to ridicule, disrespect, and defeat. Why even open that door?
This is our bravado. It ultimately suffocates our potential to grow and blossom into the best we can possibly be. False pride is the psychological noose that never lets us touch the ground so we can make true internal progress.
The greatest consequence of weakness manifests through its suppression. We could have achieved so much more for our inner lives but were roadblocked by the great wall of dishonesty.
Arjuna saw this. He understood that no matter what he felt about this war he needed to come clean. He needed to provide full disclosure about why he couldn’t fulfill his solemn oath to fight for righteousness at any cost. He needed to let Krishna know that there was this gaping hole in his conscience and he couldn’t get across it.
He revealed his heart to Krishna and that was his saving grace. Without it, there was no chance of absorbing the wisdom he needed to uproot his weaknesses.
The Need for Honesty
Being fully integrated doesn’t come easy for anyone but more so today. From the moment we are exposed to the media, we are trained in the art of image management.
More significantly, we are informed that image is paramount. The message out there is loud and clear – the way we hold ourselves up to the world will shape our destiny and our opportunities.
This means that our image will always trump our inner lives. After all, why would you want the world to know how many times you yelled at your employees, cut in line at the amusement park, or gossiped behind your neighbors back?
When it comes down to it, I am not going to hang myself out there like a piñata. What’s the payoff for me?
The effect of this mindset on society and culture at large is incalculable.
When fear and insecurity influence the most important decisions, we lead around our blindspots leaving ourselves exposed to personal, interpersonal and organizational disaster.
Our weaknesses, shortcomings, blindspots and character gaps cannot be wished away. They cannot be ignored forever. They will only be exacerbated to the proportion we push them aside.
This is the massive price we pay for failing to appreciate our own failings. The karmic toll only perpetuates a life of fear and psychological slavery to our lesser selves.
In the end, no one really wins.
If I Don’t Look Strong, Others Won’t Respect Me
What is strength? What does the current culture inform us about what it entails?
The above photo is a man wearing a woman’s shoes. Without hesitating, what are your impressions? Take a moment and be clear about them.
Here is the answer to the mystery man in the photo.
If you deeply understand human nature at its highest peak, you will see how nothing inspires others more than character and spiritual qualities. That is because qualities and values of humility, sincerity, and vulnerability speak to a side of ourselves that transcends the mortal coils and are independent of race, color, creed, sex, religion, nationality, and upbringing.
We see this especially across so many exemplars of many spiritual traditions.
Yet for the most part, we continue to bind ourselves to lower and more restrictive standards of power and strength.
Some emphasize their physical prowess through either brute force or beauty. Others dig a little deeper to harness their intellectual and psychological wits to influence. We could probably affix the majority of leaders to either or both of these categories.
But why does this happen?
a) I, Me and Mine
Ultimately, those addicted to power are so for a very important reason. The ego has convinced them that they own it. That this power is something to be possessed and concurrently it’s something that can be taken away.
Ponder this for a moment.
If you have something precious that you believe can be taken from you, what will you do and not do to ensure that it never is? What will you say and not say? What will you be and not be? This sense of proprietorship can shape your entire life, all your decisions, your relationships, and paradigms.
This state of consciousness, which is what it really is, leaves one consumed by survival of the fittest approach to all aspects of their lives.
And naturally those who are weak cannot be fit. Then why would you ever voluntarily display any weakness unless it’s another ploy to protect or expand one’s strengths?
The reality is that all power is at its core, energy. Energy can be contained for some time but its very nature is to flow and move.
Sometimes it moves from one container to another but move it must. That is the very nature of energy.
Therefore we so often see power making its move and the ‘containers’ panicking. Struggling ever so hard to keep it in its grasp.
Think Lord of the Rings. Think Precious.
It is this deep-seeded fear that inspires so much chauvinism amongst leaders and laymen alike.
Power is fleeting so when I have it, why would ever sabotage myself by conveying my own weaknesses?
It’s because we lack the Truth about power. There is a greater power than the one we wield to control others, to control our image, to control the externals of life.
The greater power is one that transcends the fleeting and temporary. It is the power that lasts. It is the power that inspires the very best of our selves and others.
You may acknowledge to yourself that you have shortcomings. Maybe they are no surprise. But you definitely don’t want to relinquish your image of the ‘always right, always strong boss of bosses’.
You have in turn let others define your sense of self-worth. You are at the mercy of the ever changing perceptions of others.
This puts you in a precarious position.
Not only are you struggling to internally to fill a void left by the gap between the truth and the image but now you are constantly calculating your words to uphold the image.
It creates a stressful scenario because being and feeling whole is natural. The absence of internal integrity creates a friction that eventually leads to a fissure in our conscious selves casting off the true identity like a boat without a paddle.
To avoid this, we need to find a state of security independent of others. We have to stand up for our own selves – flaws and all – and simply be honest.
Of course, this does not mean we are not careful about how, when, where and to whom we are honest. Intelligence is the guiding force here. But ultimately we cannot be afraid to disappoint others more than we are afraid to disappoint ourselves.
c) Education and Habit
No one elevated your thinking especially while you were growing up. You were simply trained to believe that it’s a dog eat dog world and you had to look out for yourself.
And I am not pinning the blame on parents or family exclusively either. Society at large, educational institutions, friends and so on all had a part to play in shoveling aside the call to dig deeper.
As such, no one pushed, encouraged, or influenced you to see your entire self in a different light. Even if the light was shone upon you, you didn’t know how to notice the opportunity – the new paradigm.
You are habituated to thinking of the world as zero sum game so that’s that.
But it isn’t. It never is.
You can only blame your upbringing, your teachers and guides, your karma for so long. At some point, you need to put your own self on the hot seat and grow.
Observe: Can you list any situations where you were unwilling to disclose a fault or weakness of yours with others? What were the circumstances? What were your conscious justifications?
Introspect: Were there any deeper reasons to hide your gaps that you never acknowledged to yourself or others? What were you most afraid of? What could have perpetuated this type of fear? Does it spill over into any other facet of your life?
Do Akarma: Who could you lean on to help you be accountable for your flaws? Is there an individual with your best interests in mind, able to provide honest (positive and negative) feedback and hold you accountable to improve?