In a few days it will be a new year, 2017, and it’s time to think about changes you might like to make. An artist once was asked how he could sculpt such a perfect image of an elephant. He replied, “It’s easy. I just chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.” We need to chip away everything that doesn’t look like the saint we want to become.
There is much spiritually to be learned from one of the most famous of all sculptures, Michelangelo’s “David.” Here are a few techniques and attitudes that will help you resolve in this new year to conquer the Goliath of the spiritual path:
Give 100%: Michelangelo used every bit of the giant piece of Carrara marble that he was given by the Commune of Florence. In fact, there is a slight flat area in the back where there was not enough marble to finish the curve of a shoulder. Our spiritual takeaway: At birth, you were given certain talents, tendencies, and limitations from past lives. Use all of yourself in your spiritual quest.
Stay true to your own vision: There is a famous story: When Michelangelo had completed his masterpiece, the city officials who had commissioned the giant David came to visit and view it. An officer criticized the shape of the nose. The wily sculptor climbed up the scaffold, secretly holding a handful of marble dust. While pretending to chisel the nose, he let the dust fall from his hand. The official looked again and said, “Yes, now it is perfect.” Our spiritual takeaway: Others—parents, friends, co-workers—may want to mold you according to their vision, not your own. On the spiritual quest, you must always be true to yourself.
Use your strengths, ignore your weaknesses: Michelangelo purposely exaggerated the size of David’s hands and head, to better portray his capabilities for the upcoming battle. Our spiritual takeaway: Don’t be afraid of seeming a bit unbalanced. You will need all your talents to achieve your spiritual goal. Ignore most of your weaknesses—you could spend all your time trying to improve them only to achieve mediocrity.
Prepare yourself for battle: David is portrayed just before his battle, using a motif called “immanent action” that artists from ancient times have used to heighten tension. David’s physical posture is relaxed, but his head, eyes, and demeanor show intense concentration and determination. Our spiritual takeaway: We must prepare ourselves mentally and through proper attitudes if we hope to conquer maya—the apparently impossible enemy in front of us.
Don’t fight maya on its own terms: In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell points out that David’s victory was assured as soon as he chose to fight. In ancient warfare, a warrior such as Goliath fought against other foot-soldiers with a sword and shield. Someone with a sling, such as David, stood back at a distance and hurled his stone, more like an artillery man. As soon as David stepped onto the field, the onlookers realized that he would win. It was the change of tactics that was key. Our spiritual takeaway: In our sadhana we must change our tactics—we can’t think our way or will our way out of delusion. Our techniques are not meant to help us win the battle in maya’s realm, to make us rich or powerful for instance. Our practices, instead, help to withdraw our life-force and go beyond delusion altogether. And yet, we need to continue to fight the battle because, unlike a static marble sculpture that stays unchanged for centuries, we continually either progress or regress.
Choose the right model: A dear friend, Devi Mukherjee, wrote a book called Shaped by Saints. In his youth he’d decided that he wanted his life to be molded by true gurus, and he spent a great deal of time in the company of the great ones. A great master, such as Paramhansa Yogananda, comes in order to serve as a model of how to live an ideal life, in tune with God’s will. As he said, “O Divine Sculptor, chisel Thou my life according to Thy design!”