Applying the SWAN Theory

Swami Yogatirthananda Saraswati, Switzerland

The first time I heard Swamiji talk on the 'SWAN' theory was in May 1994. I decided to discover this hitherto unknown SWAN, these Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambitions and Needs.

For three months I wrote down a seemingly unlimited arsenal of Needs, Ambitions, Weaknesses and Strengths. It was the sheer amount of different qualities that surprised. I never imagined so many things and names within me. At least two dozen ambitions and weaknesses ranging from anger to jealousy to laziness to fear to those innumerable lacks – lack of this and lack of that. I realized that what I lacked in the Weaknesses I badly needed in the Needs and wanted in the Ambitions. Thus I could encounter the same item in the whole SWAN. Patience was one of these items with many faces: quite a regular among the Needs and Ambitions, its absence was badly felt in the Weaknesses and its presence among the Strengths elicited joyful satisfaction. Ignorance versus understanding was yet another pair that recurred, again and again, in one form or another throughout the letters of the SWAN.

After three months of SWAN-searching I took a break and started another three month spell again in 1995. The outcome was as unexpected as it was fascinating. While writing down the SWAN, every evening, with honesty and sincerity, two things came up. Firstly, the long list of items melted down to a handful of character traits. Secondly, sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly, I could see the cause or the root of a certain character trait. Anger could be traced to a particular incident, jealousy to another, lack of this and lack of that to yet another childhood experience. But not only the Weaknesses found their root in childhood, so did the whole SWAN. The same incident, the same experience could be the cause of both a dominant Weakness or a major Strength, it could be at the bottom of an Ambition or the cause for a certain Need. It was very reassuring to see that the whole makeup of the SWAN consisted of a handful of interrelated character traits – all having their origin in a few crucial formative moments, followed by years and years of pattern repetition.

The relationship between cause and effect was clear, almost matter of fact. Doubt, resentment, insecurity and arrogance were seen as reactions of habit. If a certain experience had caused a Weakness as well as a Strength there was no space left to react with anger or pride, fear, submission or greed. The experience was thus slowly being stripped of its impact on attitude and behaviour. SWAN was a theory no longer but something very tangible and concrete – a tool working on itself.

Nevertheless another break followed and in 1996 I started a longer dip into the depth of SWAN, returning with only 5 items for each letter. There were only 5 real Strengths, that worked in many different ways. Equally there were 5 major Weaknesses, causes of woe and suffering, 5 Ambitions, positive and inspiring, and even the Needs were reduced to only 5. For five months this SWAN consisted of the same elements, recurring in different combinations, according to the day I had spent, the interactions I had lived and how I had lived them. Behind all these elements, be it anger or fear, sickness, faith, trust or courage, there stood 'understanding' – it stood behind every Strength, behind every Need; Weaknesses existed because there was no understanding and every Ambition implied a good portion of it. Its absence or presence seemed to be the key to SWAN.

Of course there were also traps – just to mention the 'cheating trap'. With a noble Ambition like 'guruseva' the temptation to note down 'guruseva, guruseva, guruseva' for a couple of days in a row (or maybe even in advance) is great indeed. Yet only honesty will admit the Ambitions for eternal health and wealth, for a carefree life on the South sea island or in the Himalayan cave to take their place on the list. No cheating, no judging, just noting the most dominant SWAN of the day.

Then there were exciting moments like the first day of 'self-acceptance' as a true Strength. With the distance of pen and paper and the attitude of a SWAN-observer, acceptance was to become first a hesitant and then a more determined Strength. SWAN was obviously fitted to juggle with life.

Breaktime! and a new approach a few months later. The 5 items of each letter I reduced to two. The two most frequently noted traits of the previous period. This time though, I had given myself a different task. The title was: 'What have you done about your SWAN today?' and having not done anything about it got a (-). For instance, poor health was a great Weakness during the previous SWAN period. Did I do my sadhana, go for a walk, eat with awareness, both in quantity and quality, I gave a (+) to the Weakness, did I not do so, but ate indiscriminately, neglected exercise, forgot meditation etc. – definitely this deserved a (-) for Weakness.

Often it was interacting with a person, sometimes over a few days that showed most clearly which part of SWAN got a (+), which one a (-). The same situation was seen from many different angles: well done here, not so well there and always in relation to the personal make up of the SWAN. Need number 1 was (and still is) patience. I could be patient in an interaction with another person or towards a certain situation, but not towards myself, a project on hand, even an Ambition or a Weakness. The next day it could be the other way round. Looking at key moments of each day was looking at the working of the SWAN. Like this I would review the whole day in relation to the SWAN, recognize its expression and manifestation in daily life and try to improve.

Each period of 'Applied SWAN' had its own natural development and evolution. The rest between each period was needed and an important part in this process. The end of each period left me knowing what the next step had to be. SWAN is a reality that I can watch (if I take the trouble), that I can modify (if I respect limits and limitations), that I can live with and learn to accept.

Now it is breaktime again and I felt like telling the tale of a very personal SWAN journey. Full of wonders and discoveries, it will be a different journey for all: different insights, different pains and joys, different reactions and a very different SWAN – yet a SWAN it will be.

And with a heart full of gratitude towards Swamiji, SWAN will continue to surf the waves it cannot stop.