I want to:
study but I can’t concentrate
exercise but I end up watching TV instead
be calm but I lose my temper
forgive but I can’t seem to forget or forgive
let go but I’m unable to do so
be …(fill in the blank)…but can’t…
and so on and so forth.

On a daily basis, I hear stories of despair and frustration, of helplessness and procrastination, where with utmost sincerity someone or the other tells me that they so want to do or be a certain way but no matter how hard they try, they keep going back to their old behavioral patterns. Why do we fail to keep our promises or why the path to success (even in small endeavors) is paved with hurdles and obstacles?

I think I might just have the answer for you in simple and clear terms. But first, a little story that highlights my underlying philosophy.

An affluent farmer owned coconut plantations, a barn with tens of cows and a small poultry farm. Waking up to a glorious sunrise over the ocean and sleeping under the starlit sky, he lived a simple and content life with his wife and a pet dog.

“We need a full-time farmhand,” his wife said, “someone who can stay with us.” The farmer agreed as most of his staff would go back to their homes in the evening and given that they were aging, they required someone to be with them. He sent around a word in the village that a vacancy was available. Many people approached him for the job but one young man stood out in particular for his enthusiasm and confidence.

“And why should I hire you?” the farmer asked.
“I am honest, hardworking and skilled,” he replied.
“Those I presume by default. Most who apply have those qualities.”
“Maybe,” the young man said, “But, I can sleep through a raging storm.”

The philosophical reply caught the farmer’s fancy and he hired him. True to his word, the farmhand worked tirelessly and managed the affairs well. Within a few months, he completely won the confidence of the couple and they started relying on him more and more.

One night, their pet dog began howling rather ominously. The farmer and his wife tried to pacify it without any success. Soon, they realized that a violent storm was building up. He leaped out of his bed and rushed to his farmhand who was fast asleep.

“Wake up!” The farmer shook him. “A massive storm is coming!”
“Go away,” he replied with squinty eyes staring into the flashlight the farmer held near his face.
“This is ridiculous! Get up, I said!”
“I told you, I can sleep through a raging storm,” he answered in a groggy voice and turned to the other side.
“I’ll deal with you in the morning!” the farmer yelled and ran outside with his wife to secure his property. The gale-force winds were blowing and a constantly thundering sky made it hard to even hear each other.

They went to the shed first only to find out that bales of wheat and haystack were neatly bound and covered by a tarpaulin that was secured using tight guylines. The farm tools were placed in the storage shed next to it. The barn was properly locked and the cows looked calm and content with plenty of fodder and water in the trough. The door of the coop was latched properly. Everything was in its place.

“Well,” the wife said to the farmer, “he is certainly prepared to sleep through a raging storm.”

We wish to be safe from adversities, temptations and obstacles but the key is preparation. Wanting to secure yourself, desiring to be a certain way, while important, is only the beginning. In fact, it’s the easy part. Whether or not you are equipped with (or at least committed to learn) the right knowledge and experience is what determines the probability of success.

Recently, on the first day of my program, our AV vendor took a double booking and put an inexperienced person in his place to handle our event. The competent core team who was handling the event and our army of devoted volunteers sensed that the quality of our PA system could be better.

“Sorry, Swami,” someone came to me afterwards and said. “We’ll ensure this doesn’t happen tomorrow.”
“Apology accepted,” I said, “but, unfortunately that’s unlikely to fix the problem.”
“I’ll personally man the PA system tomorrow,” another pitched in.
“I appreciate it,” I replied, “but, are you an expert? Please let’s aim to get the vendor back in here.”

To their credit, they took control, pulled up the vendor, made some changes and the rest of the program went smooth as fresh butter (since I’ve been talking about cows and barn, a more appropriate analogy didn’t occur to me).

I went on to explain the difference between intention and skill. It is one thing to have the intention to do something right and it is quite another to have the skill to do so. Sometimes you want to help someone or the other person wants to help you, that’s all very good but unless you possess the right skill, such intention is not going to amount to much. This gap between intention and skill is why many of us face failures in our endeavors. You may be a great artist, for example, but if your work isn’t selling then acquire sales skills. Success in each area requires a different skillset. Perhaps, that’s why, learning is a lifelong process.

You want to be calm, but have you learned this skill? You want to surprise your partner by baking a cake but do you know baking? Plus, if the cake turns out a brick (hopefully, not charcoal), and your partner doesn’t appreciate, should you feel bad? Could you deliver in line with your intention? We want to care, love, succeed and so on but in the face of not having the appropriate skill, there’s little hope. Almost everything we know in life, we have learned it somewhere. And what we know really well is usually what we have done repeatedly, something we have championed by way of practice and training. That’s all there is to it: whatever we intend to accomplish, we need to master the skill behind it. A wise person told me once, “The only thing more expensive than hiring a professional is to hire an amateur.”

A small crowd gathered around an old man who fainted in a busy market. Tearing into the assembly a man rushed to the spot where a woman was trying to revive the patient.

“Get away, woman!” he shouted. “I’m a first-aid specialist. I know exactly what to do.”
The woman tried to speak but he wasn’t having any of it. Finally, she stood on the side, her arms crossed, while the first-aider made frantic efforts to resuscitate the old man.
“When you get to now-call-the-doctor part,” the lady said calmly, “I’m right here.”

Whatever it is that you want to attain, that’s what you want to be. To achieve that, you wish to act or work a certain way. That’s your intention. Whether you are able to actually work in your intended manner is a matter of skill. The good news is that given reasonable time, guidance and discipline, each one of us is capable of mastering just about any skill.

Next time, you find your efforts are not taking you anywhere near your goal, just write down your intention and underneath it the skill required to act in line with your intention. All confusion will dissipate. Work hard on the skill and the rest will fall in place.

Bridge the gap between intention and skill; success is not far then. It’s never too late to start building that bridge. Indeed, now would just about be the perfect moment to begin.
Still waiting?

Singapore and Sydney meditation camps are full but we have managed to add 20 more spots. Registrations will close soon.

  1. Singapore Weekend Meditation Camp. Apr 28-29. 120 4 spots left.
  2. Sydney Long Weekend Meditation Camp. Jun 09-10-11. 100 4 spots left.


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