Know when to be hard with yourself and when gentle

When we resolve to lead a principle-centered life, abstaining from indulgence, we sometimes relapse. Irritated, we may beat ourselves up: “Why was I so stupid as to do that? What a fool I am!” By being hard with ourselves, we hope to do better in future. And yes, being strict in reproaching ourselves can help. But not always – it depends on what caused the lapse.

If we slipped because of carelessness, hardness with ourselves is called for: “Why was I so lax?” Or if we slipped because of complacency, again, being hard with ourselves can increase our future vigilance.

But if we succumbed because of diffidence, uncertainty or anxiety, being hard with ourselves can demoralize us further. In those situations, what we need for improvement is not chastisement, but encouragement. We need to gently raise ourselves up, “Yes, you can do it. Everyone falls at times.” And bhakti wisdom gives such self-encouragement a divine fillip: “Even if it is impossible for me to do, Krishna’s almighty grace can make it possible.”

In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna expertly demonstrates hardness and gentleness at appropriate times. Initially, when Arjuna exhibits a seeming weak-minded reluctance to fight, Krishna speaks strong words (02.03). But later, when Arjuna apprehensively compares the mind with a raging wind, Krishna first gently acknowledges the mind’s recalcitrance and then encourages Arjuna to persevere in controlling the mind by adopting the right means, assuring him of eventual success (06.35).

If we are hard when we need to be gentle or gentle when we need to be hard, we take away our impetus for self-improvement. Protecting ourselves from such self-sabotage, Gita wisdom helps us better understand our consciousness in general and the cause of our lapses in particular. Then, we can intelligently decide when to be hard with ourselves and when gentle.

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