ITIES 10–12: Adaptability, Humility, Tenacity*

Swami Yogatirthananda Saraswati, Switzerland


Watching movies is a test of adaptability. How far do I adapt my mind to story and character? When does adaptation become identification? The same goes while reading a book, where it is necessary to adapt to the style, language and intentions of the author.

Besides adapting to others, there is also the need to adapt to decisions taken. It is very important that once a decision is taken, the mind and action adapt to the new situation. This is not always easy, as the attachment and identification with the old situation may be very strong. Adaptability is the expression of constant change. Adapting to others is only one way, adapting to the changing self is another.

Adapting to new people, their expectations and demands makes one forget one's own needs for some time. It is necessary to take time, a few moments to evaluate the situation and the person I am dealing with before adapting. It is a discipline to take this time.

I feel how much personal habits and role patterns are in the way of adaptability. As soon as an old and maybe even well tested behaviour pattern is used, adaptability is less spontaneous and threatens to disappear. Adaptability does not allow for any identification. Besides, applying adaptability is a wonderful means to counter daydreaming; maybe daydreaming is the opposite of adaptability.

Adapting to the needs of another person makes one also aware of one's own needs and ambitions. Adaptability is awareness and expression of our strengths, the S in the SWAN; when we act or adapt out of a weakness, be it fear, timidity, lack of clarity or indifference, then we act without awareness and it is more a case of submitting to a situation rather than consciously adapting to it.

The art of adaptability might be a skilful juggling between one's own needs and those of others, the art of finding a compromise to suit all. Maybe one's own needs and the needs of others have to be evaluated and balanced. But how about a classroom situation, with the needs of the teacher (respect, discipline or simply survivable conditions), of each student (personal attention), of the class (its group dynamic and social interaction) and the needs of a given program (syllabus, examinations). I must decide all along which one of these four elements has priority and then act and adapt accordingly. In order to manage the demands of a class, in a highly personalized classroom setting with twenty highly-strung teenagers as well as a syllabus to follow, adaptability is essential to survival. Yet the invested effort must be well managed and balanced or over-exertion may result.

The practice of adaptability is a necessary preparation for the next ITY, humility.

Entering a provocative destructive game with someone is not adaptability but weakness and lack of awareness. When caught up in a 'let's-see-how-far-we-can-go-teenage-student-game', it is absolutely necessary to adapt to excitement, anger and frustration with an efficient antidote; and adaptability means to change the direction, to look for alternatives. An important aspect of adaptability therefore is to have always one aim in mind and adapt according to that aim rather than to any situation at hand. The situation must be seen in regard to the aim.

It is an ITY that might be difficult to live in our over-individualized society. It seems almost that adaptability goes against the nature of a teenager who is out to identify her/himself, to find her/his place and role and who sometimes feels she/he must fight for it all. Adaptability is the opposite of self-centredness.

Adaptability is also a quest for responsibility: what are my responsibilities and what are the responsibilities of the other in a given situation? I feel that responsibility is something not very popular among the young, something they would rather postpone and ignore for a while longer. Maybe adapting means also being aware of one's responsibility and the sharing of responsibility.

Maybe it is also an important ITY for women who often go beyond adaptability and lose their own direction, their own needs and ambitions in order to attend to those of the family. Adaptability is not self-denial and it is definitely a positive attitude and should never give way to negativity or a destructive situation. One has to adapt only if all involved benefit; blind adaptability without awareness is maybe nothing else but a giving in, submission out of weakness and not out of strength.

Sick and trying to adapt bodily needs, like rest, with a workload waiting on the desk. Besides, there are the needs of others. Again it seems like setting priorities before adapting. Adaptability turns more into an energy management; maybe that is what adaptability is all about, finding the right amount of energy for the right task at hand as well as the ability to generate the required amount of energy. Sickness is a good teacher as one has to deal with a reduced amount of energy at hand.

It is impossible to adapt to the needs of all people, especially when there are many at the same time, and I feel the trap of controlling. To control a situation is maybe the opposite of adapting to a situation, controlling is like 'killing' as it does not allow for change and movement. It does not seem an alternative to adaptability.

The magic key to adaptability seems to be extra-super awareness. I am frustrated and discouraged, and I feel that teaching teenagers who do not want to be taught has been a rough, and almost unfair, test of adaptability. Somehow there seems to be no end to fine-tuning adaptability, but at one point it might just get unrealistic and above all useless for any practical application.

The juggling of needs, my own and those of others, has been very difficult, to know when to let go and when to be firm and impose. Imposing is necessary sometimes, but has to be done not out of self-interest but in the interest of all, not with an attitude of forcing but in order to serve the other. The test is actually very simple: if the outcome is more tension, uneasiness or conflict, then either the method or motive was wrong; if the outcome is a positive, constructive move ahead, is mutual understanding and harmony, then imposing one's will has been done with an attitude of adaptability. Awareness, understanding, discrimination, setting priorities as well as taking one's share of responsibility for a given situation are all necessary ingredients for adaptability. The aim is to solve conflicts of different needs and desires and to create an atmosphere of harmony.


I am very apprehensive about the month of humility. Is admitting failure already humility? Why is humility so charged with the notion of being noble and spiritual? Is pride the opposite of humility? Is saying, “I am sorry” humility? What is the difference between absence of vanity and humility?

Accepting praise and criticism alike, without emotional response, is humility. Maybe as soon as identification comes in humility goes out? Maybe gratitude and service are the two safest expressions of humility?

Regularity and discipline need a lot of humility in order to function. To accept imposed or self-created discipline demands humility; ignoring or violating the same discipline is arrogance, ego, pride.

Gratitude for all the situations I find myself in is a good way to learn humility. To be aware that I am a tool, to do the best I can and to be grateful for being a tool is humble.

Politeness is another aspect – to always find a polite way of saying things, pleasant or unpleasant. Humility lies more in the personal effort than in the actual adequate words. To take the time and think of the person who will receive the words is a sign of humility.

Humility is to make others feel at ease, be it through jokes, kindness, politeness, some service rendered, a smile or a step towards the other. If the intention is to make the other one feel at ease, then the attitude is one of humility and the means of expression are manifold. Teaching yoga is a way to live moments of humility, when I am aware that there is (a) the tremendous wealth of yoga with which I may reach out, and (b) the love and guidance of guru and God who help me do so.

Self-study is also a great teacher in humility, when one is face to face with one's own storehouse of impressions, memories, images, and when their relation to the conscious mind emerges, then there is nothing left but humility. Stripped of ego, and for some time unable to identify, it is a lesson in humility. Letting go of the past, like tidying up and sorting out accumulated material, is a humbling experience. Even children live it very intensively when they are face to face with change, and when beloved toys have become meaningless and nothing but memories. Such change is a humbling experience, because it happens without us doing anything: the sandbox becomes the football field and the toy car becomes – eventually – the real thing. Maybe all change is a humbling experience because some part of it is always beyond our control.

Looking at one's SWAN (Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambitions and Needs) is a good way to learn humility: First of all, to know one's weaknesses, ambitions and needs is a humbling experience. Secondly, being aware of the constant change and fluctuation is a humbling experience; and thirdly, knowing that everybody else is living his/her SWAN helps to understand and care. Being aware of my shortcomings and weaknesses makes it easier to live humility. Identification with strength, or maybe the resulting arrogance, is certainly the opposite of humility.

Humility only functions with total sincerity, no element of flattery or fishing for compliments. As soon as that comes in, there is no humility but self-interest and ego-motivated action.

I was tremendously bored looking at holiday pictures. It has never been a favourite pastime, but still there are bad and worse. I felt how I was cheating myself in regard to humility. My polite pretence was just a cover up of overflowing arrogance; it was good enough for the social occasion but a far cry from humility. Humility is not an outer form but an attitude, the attitude of wanting to make the other person feel happy and at ease. Without sincerity, there is no humility but just show.

Struggling with this ITY, I look up the dictionary definition and I am surprised. I thought it had to do with 'human', but it comes from the Latin word 'humilitates', which means 'with little elevation, baseness' and humble is derived from 'humilis', which comes from 'humus', earth. So the word humility is related to earth and the flat extension of earth without the elevation of 'ego' sticking out.

I keep thinking about the meaning of 'humilis' and the relation between humility and earth. It must be quite an achievement to feel like earth on which everyone may walk. But it is also earth that with the help of the sun and rain may bring forth flowers and plants to delight and serve all …provided the earth remains without elevation, keeping the ego low. Like the field that gets turned over, ploughed and walked upon but gives us all we need. Maybe Mother Earth is a beautiful example and symbol of humility.

Humility is actually a prerequisite for all the preceding ITIES. No ITY can be practised without humility. It is like bowing to the ITY and leaving the ego behind, putting the ITY above the interests of the ego. Yet the practice of the ITIES is a very humbling experience itself. The ITIES are a family where each one of the eighteen members needs the help and support of the other members. The ITIES are a small orchestra and only when all instruments play in unison will the music of life be filled with beauty and harmony.

How will I know humility?
Forget the I, the mine and me?
To think of love and how to please?
To speak and make you feel at ease?
To act and do all just for you?
Forget the I, the mine and me,
And I will live humility.


The ITIES do not follow each other in a haphazard way. Humility had been well prepared by the preceding ITIES and now, after the challenge of humility, the sheer impossible task of putting the other person always at ease, no matter what, an extra effort in tenacity is required in order to continue the sadhana of the eighteen ITIES. Tenacity is very close to fixity and implies the discipline in living up to one's resolve. At this point, it is definitely the resolve to go on and get ready for the last six ITIES. Tenacity is the quality of holding fast, determination, firmness and persistence.

Looking at a picture of a tiny fern plant pushing itself through a block of concrete I feel that nature is a great teacher of tenacity. Of course, patience is part of tenacity as of all the ITIES, but it takes an iron will to push through concrete, to refuse to give into obstacles, to accept nothing but the goal set. I wonder if nature finds it easier than man to be tenacious. Do we have the same one-pointedness as a bird building its nest or migrating? Do animals have a stronger identification with duty than we have? Is their one-pointedness really just instinct?

I need a lot of tenacity on my path of self-acceptance, self-knowledge, self-control and self-transformation. I am aware that these steps are necessary but they are not the end, they are the means to be able to reach out. I feel pressure now, I feel too much like the doer: I must do this and I must do that; I must be tenacious and I must stick it out – total identification as the doer. As a result I am aware of an incredible amount of anger within, anger against the ITIES that are so difficult to practise, anger at myself for not being able to practise, anger at my impatience, and just anger. Exhausted from the wavering mind, I think that behind these doubts lies the fear of failure; as long as I differentiate between success and failure there will be a desire for a result and the 'fruits of action', as the Bhagavad Gita calls it. Once I am able to relinquish the desire for a result, then action and tenacity become one and the same. Then all action is carried out with one-pointedness and goal orientation.

I am going through the month of tenacity with the usual ITY-ups and downs, the moments of frustration and the moments of satisfaction. Yet somewhere deep down I feel the other ITIES working, especially serenity. I am able to switch off more easily and remember the tools that give me back much needed serenity. It is no coincidence that the ITIES start with serenity; it is the one ITY that has seen me through the other ITIES and accompanied me all along.

It takes so much patience to go on and on, to fall and get up, to fall and get up. Patience is not an ITY but I am sure that tenacity is a good substitute. Patience is the first and foremost condition for all ITIES, as it is for any path or sadhana. It seems that the only way tenacity can be practised, without ups and downs, without doubts or a wavering mind, is when there are no expectations at all as to the outcome of the activity carried out. To do something just because it has to be done, and to do it as well as possible, is the secret of tenacity. As soon as there are expectations attached to the action then tenacity is in danger, because expectation is the source of desire for success and fear of failure.

I make an effort to do what has to be done and the effort is worth the trouble. There is clarity of mind and it seems as if no energy is wasted at all. Maybe activity carried out with the sense and attitude of doing one's duty does not use up energy. Can tenacity be only for something positive and constructive or is it also valid for a negative destructive goal? Is it a positive attitude that acts regardless of the aim one has in mind?

Somehow I got to see addiction as the ultimate negation of tenacity, the last step where there is no more awareness, no more control, no more will and a step totally determined by expectation. Tenacity can only work and be practised if there is no expectation as to the outcome of action, yet addiction can only function if there is complete expectation as to the outcome. Without expectation as to the desired effect (a high, a thrill, satisfaction, stupor or escape, happiness) the addict would not take the trouble to get what s/he thinks to be the means of attaining the expected effect.

I need to think that smoking the cigarette will calm me down, or the bottle of wine will make me forget. I need to expect happiness from money and success, because if I do not have this expectation then I will have no motivation or drive to smoke, drink, work, gamble or eat.

Everybody is addicted in one way or another, yet I was wondering why some of us still function, while others lose completely their ability to function in the world. The question of identity is important here. If I am able to identify with different roles, then there are fewer chances of losing control and becoming a non-functional addict. The less fixed my identity is the more I am able to balance weaknesses and strengths.

I remember a student who became a drug addict in her mid-twenties. She told me how frightened she was when she became aware that she was on her own in the world. She was so overwhelmed by the worldly everyday responsibilities and so afraid of failure that she gave up and ran away into drugs and destruction. This intelligent artistic young woman could not see herself in any other role, her total identity was that of a grown up (and what she thought a grown up should be like). She could not see herself as the artist, the well-educated person with a social and/or professional career, the woman, the friend and potential mother, the teacher and student, or the many roles she could play in life. Maybe having a fixed identity and a single self-image is one of the characteristics of a non-functional addict. Expectation is one big difference between tenacity and addiction. Tenacity only works without expectation while addiction is totally based on having expectation.

Swamiji has said that we have to replace negative addictions with positive and creative addictions. We have to replace a negative self-image with a positive one, replace one role with many roles, and replace the prison of identity with the freedom of being one with all.

The best tool and way I know is the SWAN. I see my strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs change every day. There is no limit to the possibilities of my being. The strength of today can be the need or ambition of tomorrow. I am aware that there is no fixed and rigid 'I', but a constantly flowing and changing SWAN. Tenacity keeps on giving a direction to this flow.

* The 18 ITIES of Swami Sivananda are Serenity, Regularity, Absence of Vanity, Sincerity, Simplicity, Veracity, Equanimity, Fixity, Non-irritability, Adaptability, Humility, Tenacity, Integrity, Nobility, Magnanimity, Charity, Generosity and Purity. For previous articles in this series see September (2001), November (2001) and May (2002) issues.