Vincit qui se vincit
He conquers, who conquers himself
A young woman with a beautiful voice, a truly great talent, has worked hard at her training. But she is terrified of performing in public. Despite this she agrees to perform. She overcomes her nerves and gives a bravura performance. The audience is transported by the beauty of her voice.
What does this story tell us about true strength?
The timeless wisdom of Sanskrit gives us wonderful guidance on the true nature of strength and power. Let’s look at three relevant Sanskrit words: Balam (बलम्), Abhayam (अभयम्), and Abhyāsa (अभ्यास).
The first is Balam, which carries the literal sense of strength, power and force. But we are told that the deeper meaning of Balam will be discovered in ‘Prāna’.
Prāna means ‘breath’ or the ‘life force’. So, true strength lies in controlling, enhancing and wielding life-giving powers. Strong people are those who allow the life-spirit in everyone to flourish and grow. People such as the holy men and women in the epics and scriptures who cure the sick and revive the dead have mastery of Prāna, the breath of life, at the highest level, and therefore they have true strength – Balam.
So what does this mean for us? In our daily interactions we can ask ourselves a simple question. Do we, even in a small way, leave everyone we meet with their lives enhanced, improved and expanded? We are speaking here of a kind word, a smile, a little help with a heavy parcel, a little time to listen. Maybe in giving a beautiful singing recital that moves an audience with its power and beauty. Perhaps we haven’t considered this as a form of Balam – strength and power. Perhaps it’s time we did.
Another beautiful Sanskrit word related to strength is Abhayam, which means fearlessness. This is the strength to face one’s fears – Bhayam – and to do and say the right thing despite those fears. In fact, Abhayam (literally ‘a’ + ‘bhayam’), means to be protected from fear, bhayam, with a measure of pure consciousness – carried by that short syllable ‘a’ at the beginning of the word.
There is profound wisdom here. The very word contains the message that we all have fears, but we also have access to consciousness self-awareness. And with the tiniest measure of this awareness and wakefulness, we can move forward in life completely protected from the paralysing effects of fear. This is all contained in the word Abhayam.
Our singer overcame her fears to give her performance. She displayed Abhayam. She was strong.
So for us, if fear prevents us from speaking or acting, we can stop, take a breath, come into the Now. Then we can step forward and pass through the fear and say or do what is needed in the situation despite our fear. And thus, we experience the strength of Abhayam.
A final aspect of true strength is Abhyāsa, resilience. Abhyāsa means sustained disciplined practice. Such disciplined practice requires the trainee to experience failure and to return again and again to the discipline. In this way Abhyāsa also means resilience. This resilience is the ability to endure what life throws at us and to bounce back, to keep going and stay on course.
Our singer, even with her natural gifts, applied herself to the discipline of her training. She developed a great deal of resilience.
It is the same for us. If we stay the course through inevitable difficulties and setbacks our Resilience muscles will grow.
So what have we learnt about strength from the wisdom of Sanskrit? First, it is Balam, life-enhancing; next, it is Abhayam, it springs from facing our fears and acting despite them. And last it is Abhyāsa, it is flexible, resilient, able to bounce back from whatever life throws at us and to keep going, to stay on course and achieve our goals! In these three lies true strength.