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How to Stumble And Then Recover

Who says life follows a linear pattern? Just as the structure of our DNA, life experiences and their lessons seem to follow a spiral path. Every time I am tempted to declare that I am over this and that behavior, a temptation revisits almost immediately. It reminds me of a story about the 19-century Indian saint Ramakrishna. It is a moral story, but also a map with a light on how to navigate situations in which we fall prey to our weaknesses.

In the story, Ramakrishna warns his disciples that our temptations come to us through pride. If we say to ourselves, “I have conquered” a disturbing behavior, we will immediately begin to experience it again. Once in the midst of it, however, the only thing we can do is to accept it and pray for it to pass. In the end, we must let go of it. By thinking or worrying about it too much, we lend it power over us and increase its significance.

Repeating Lessons

Ramakrishna’s story was specifically about lustful thoughts, but I have always felt it relevant to any other behavior that we wish to conquer. In my case, it was my thoughts of pity and false empathy. Instead of asking questions and keeping a clear perspective, I let assumptions float unchecked. The student appeared childishly naive and exhibited many signs of disabilities. Instead of setting up clear and firm boundaries, I let sorry for him cloud my better judgment. Of course, he happily took advantage of that and sneakily pushed with his unchecked behavior. Little by little, the situation grew out of proportion to include escalating academic misconduct and screaming accusations in the office.

I’ve seen situations like that before. Even more to the point, I have experienced them on multiple occasions. I thought I had learned from my past mistakes and proudly believed to be over with such lessons. I guess I was wrong.

What Is the Lesson?

It has been almost a week since the drama ended, and I am left with some philosophical musings. Where did I make a mistake? What could I have done differently to avoid the unpleasantness in the end? Perhaps, I should have talked to the student earlier in the semester. Everyone in the office also seems to have their own opinion and advice, including my colleagues and my boss.

I am beginning to wonder, however, whether I should be thinking about this at all. I am clearly in the last phase of the situation where all I can do is worry about it. Or rather, not worry about it if I were to follow Ramakrishna’s advice. Perhaps I should just own my mistake and let it go. After all, by thinking or worrying about it, I add power to it according to the Indian saint.

In an imperfect world where many disturbing behaviors exist and nobody can be completely free of them, his advice remains as loving, kind, and forgiving as ever:

If we worry about our lustful thoughts, we give them added power over us. It is better to take it for granted that they exist and will visit us from time to time. No one can be absolutely free from them in this life, without the grace of God.

“Ramakrishna and His Disciples”, Christopher Isherwood, Vedanta Press & Bookshop (1965)

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