We all have goals, from fulfilling a lifelong dream to simply getting through the day during tough times. Willpower is one quality that moves us toward realizing our goals. In “A Yogi’s Willpower, Part I,” I introduced Paramahansa Yogananda’s article “Developing Dynamic Will.” There, he outlines five stages of willpower.
This post relies on advice given by several yoga masters, including Yogananda. A master’s advice is often straightforward and blunt. It’s intended to set the seeker on the razor’s edge path to enlightenment.
Meditation: Your Most Important Ally
According to the masters, meditation is the most important tool for developing willpower. In today’s world, it’s no longer a mystery that meditation is good for us. Decades of scientific observation have shown that it works. Some meditators claim that it’s like a “magic pill” because of its many benefits.
Daily meditation produces the best results. But what can we do if we haven’t yet established that practice? We need a starting point, and sometimes the first steps are the most difficult. One of my goals is to help you establish your daily practice. Posts offering suggestions and support are found in Quiet Karma’s category Spiritual Practices/Meditation.
The effects of meditation are cumulative. The more you practice, the more benefits you’ll experience. Encouraged, you’ll become more committed to your practice. Willpower begets more willpower. Soon, before you know it, meditation will become a habit. And habits, by definition, are effortless.
How Meditation Affects a Yogi’s Willpower
Meditation trains your mind to watch itself. This practice is widely known as mindfulness—attention to our thoughts and actions. If we want to make positive changes, like increasing our willpower, then awareness is the first step.
However, good intentions are not enough to affect change. We need mental strength, another boon of meditation. A strong mind provides clarity, patience, and perseverance. These valuable qualities assist us in reaching any goal. Setbacks might occur, but our mental power puts us back on track.
Most importantly, a regular meditation practice helps us recognize and combat the will-killers. These activities are like detours along the road. They’re detrimental to our goals. Let’s take a look at the will-killers that yoga masters urge us to avoid.
Avoid the Will-Killers
The following activities are especially harmful on the spiritual path. They affect our willpower because they curb our ability to think clearly. Then we’re unable to make good decisions and follow through. Success on the spiritual path is easier when we follow this sage advice:
- Drinking and drugs: Yogananda doesn’t mince words when he advises us to avoid drugs and alcohol. He says, “Under no circumstance should you let yourself be tempted, for in a short while you can be lost. Drink and drugs are sins against the soul. They paralyze the will, without which soul-realization and salvation are impossible.”
- Sensuality: When our senses are overloaded, we become distracted, restless. Then we can’t focus, and the power of persistence wanes. Satisfying the senses is an area where we should seek balance—the middle path. For example, there’s nothing wrong with the enjoyment of food. But if we often overeat, our bodies will eventually suffer from disease.
- Greed and lust: Neither money nor sex are bad in themselves. Money is necessary in today’s world. But spiritual masters warn us about the desire for more than we need. Excessive desire leads to other qualities like anger or envy. Similarly, sexual conduct falls into this category. Excess disturbs one’s focus—a quality necessary to a strong will.
- Harsh speech: Words spoken with intent to hurt or damage another is harmful to the speaker. If you’ve said an unkind word to someone, the vibrations of those words remain with you. Often, after a heated discussion, you might notice the argument still going on in your mind. Although you might have been “right,” the cost of harsh speech is your own peace of mind.
- Lack of meditation practice: The complaint I hear most from would-be meditators is, “I’m too busy. I can’t sit still even for a few moments.” No doubt, our days are filled with many important activities. But we must get over the hurdle of this excuse. Remind yourself daily of the importance of meditation and its many benefits. At the end of each day, there’s still one last chance to meditate—when you retire each evening.
- Avoid bad company: I’ve saved the best for last. Yoga masters stress that bad company weakens our resolve. It clouds the mind of its best intentions. An important yogic scripture, Narada’s Bhakti Sutras, states clearly:
Shun evil company by all means. It leads to lust, anger, delusion, forgetfulness of the goal, and ultimate ruin. (VI: 43-44)
Yogananda warns, “All around you are thieves of circumstances. They try to steal your vitality of will; but no one can take away your will but yourself.”
Start Building Your Willpower Today
Whatever your goals might be, willpower is necessary to achieve them. It even takes willpower to develop more willpower. But every moment of every day gives us opportunities to get stronger. Start with small tasks. Complete them, knowing that you’re growing your willpower. Then aim higher; make good decisions and follow through on them.
Always remember that meditation, along with avoiding the will-killers, has enormous power. Following these principles will lead you straight to success.
Do you have an example of how using your will has led to success? Please lend encouragement to others by sharing your comments below.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.