“One must marry one’s feelings to one’s beliefs and ideas. That is probably the only way to achieve a measure of harmony in one’s life” – Napoleon Hill (1883-1970), American self help author
A spiritual leader does have ordinary human feelings and mood swings. But what makes him special is his life isn’t governed simply by how he feels; he lives by a purpose and even if it doesn’t feel good, but if it’s right and in line with his deeper values and mission in life, he does it. Spiritual leadership calls upon us to not blame our circumstances, or conditioning for our behaviours; instead our behaviour is a product of our own conscious choice, based on values.
A spiritual leader may have human frailties; he may also feel good when it rains or may be irritated by the traffic jam. However what makes him/her an inspiration is the refusal to allow his feelings to affect the attitude and performance. He’s determined to subordinate the ‘feelings’ and impulses to true values. The Canadian motivational speaker Brian Tracy put it succinctly, “Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance”
The common denominator of Success
Albert Gray was an official of the Prudential Insurance Company of America and had over three decades of continuous experience as a life insurance agent and instructor. During his inspirational address at the National convention in Philadelphia in 1940, he made a startling revelation based on his careful observations that he gathered during his intensive travel and study of success literature. He searched for the one common thing that all successful people share.
He reveals in his landmark lecture, ‘The common denominator of success’ that he’d grown in life thinking that hard work is the key to success. However his search revealed that hard work is certainly a requirement but not the key; he had also seen many hard working men not being successful. His thorough research led him to a profound realization, ‘the secret of success lay not only in what men did but also in what made them do it’
His realization can be summed up in one sentence, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose” The burning ‘yes’ within for a deeper purpose and direction makes it possible to say ‘no’ to myriad feelings that disturb us time and again.
As various feelings swell up in the mind, a spiritual leader recognizes them to be the various birds that fly above our roofs. However the strength of his character is determined by his refusal to allow these ‘birds’ to build nests on his roof. He’s focused on the goal, and feelings don’t impede his pursuits. As my spiritual teacher Radhanath Swami puts it, “We may have feelings and emotions but if these are founded on our misconceptions, they are simply a disturbance to our goal in life.”
Teaching by example
Radhanath Swami was once scheduled to address two thousand Mumbaites in a youth festival. That morning he told me he was feeling sick and may not be able to give the class. The organizers of the event were nervous as the announcements and invitations to prominent people had already been made, and everyone expected Radhanath Swami to be there. Despite a high fever, he did make it to the programme and delivered a fantastic lecture, led kirtans and answered questions happily. Later at night I waited outside his room to thank him for extending himself. As I expressed gratitude, he in turn humbly thanked me for giving him a chance to serve; then he hugged me and said, “I don’t mind dying a thousand deaths if I can serve and please all of you.” That moment I realized his values were to serve and please; he often expresses the need for us to cultivate the mood of servitude. I realized then that not only he practises what he preaches, when occasions arise as on this evening, he also subordinates his feelings for a purpose he considers more important.
Of course he’s emphatically clarified on many occasions that we need to care for our bodies as well and take good care of our health. That night seeing Radhanath Swami’s ability to subordinate his own feelings for that of others, I retired reflecting on basketball legend John Wooden’s words of wisdom, “Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights”.