By: Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
There is a story about a master who was wandering around the country with some of his followers. During his travels, he came to Athens, where there was a fair with an archery competition. People from all parts of Greece and Europe had come to this fair and they wanted the master to participate in the competition so that they could observe his skills. The winner of the competition would receive a stone block from the Acropolis to take home! The master was not really interested, saying, “What would I do with a big piece of rock in my ashram?” But his disciples said, “Well, it would look very nice and you could use it as a chair. It is our desire to take that piece of the Acropolis back to India.”
Somehow, the master was pulled into the idea of competing with the other archers. After giving his name, he waited in line for his turn. Each participant in the archery contest was given three arrows to shoot at the target, which was seventy metres away, the distance used in the Olympics. Many people tried, but some arrows fell short of the mark and others went beyond the mark. Deep down, I have the feeling that very few people wanted to lug home the stone from the Acropolis!
When the master’s turn came, a big crowd gathered to see this famous Indian who had come to participate in the contest. He picked up an arrow, positioned his body, checked the direction of the wind, the humidity of the air, made sure his arrow was straight, adjusted his cap and very proudly let fly an arrow. Despite all these precautions, the arrow was off target by about thirty or forty metres. The crowd started laughing and giggling .
However, the master had a bright disciple, who said, “Well, there must be a reason why the arrow was off target.” He posed a question to the master, “O great one, you are so focused and concentrated. How did your arrow go off target?” The master replied, “Well, the person who shot the arrow was overconfident and when you are overconfident and do not focus properly, it is very easy to lose aim.” When the crowd heard this description, they fell silent.
Then the master picked up the second arrow. This time the arrow went less than half way and fell to the ground. Again there was laughter from the crowd. The disciple came to the rescue, asking, “Master, tell us, who shot that arrow?” The master replied, “Well, when you are overconfident and miss your aim, you lose confidence. When you lose confidence, you are never true to your direction and fall short of the target.”
The master then picked up the last arrow, and without looking left or right, up or down, he simply let it fly. And surprise of surprises, the arrow went straight to the centre of the target. The master told the disciple to pick up the rock and carry it back to India. Then he started to walk away. Many people in the crowd were quite impressed by his wisdom and asked, “Please tell us before you go, who shot the third arrow?” The master looked at them and said, “That was the natural me!”
Now this story may have happened in the past, we don’t know, but it indicates the process of unmasking oneself, of removing the different masks that we put on in our lives. People find it very hard to become natural. They have to identify with something, either with their ego projections or with their emotional or intellectual projections, and they become that for the time being. The natural person never really manifests.
We are always projecting ourselves in different ways, in all situations, whether it is a social event or whether we are simply at home with our family. When we are constantly trying to project ourselves, we create certain identities with which we associate deeply. We always have this inner drive to be recognized as unique, as someone who is able to project the personality in a way which makes us superior to other people. So priority in performance, or in intelligence, or in expressions, or in creativity has been our drive.
It seems that we swing between the two poles of overconfidence and lack of confidence. Both states create destruction of inner harmony and peace, leading to stress and tensions which are psychological, emotional and spiritual in nature. Overconfidence can lead to arrogance and narrow-mindedness. Underconfidence can lead to depression and loss of self-esteem. But there is a process of unmasking oneself of all these different identities and becoming natural.
When your are natural, you flow with the situations and circumstances of life and there is greater adaptability, adjustment and acceptance. These are the qualities that we lack as human beings. Yoga helps us to find that naturalness within and to become aware of the different identities that we adopt in the course of our lives, knowing what is appropriate and inappropriate for us.
When adults try to change their identities and become natural, it is difficult because of their conditioning. When we confront these conditionings, they create more stress and anxiety. Nevertheless we seem to manage. It is a slow and gradual process in which we try and fail, try and fail, try and fail. Those who continue eventually succeed. Like the story of the hare and the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race.