Fallor ergo sum. I err, therefore I am.
1200 years before Descartes put forth his philosophical proposition to prove one’s existence, “I think, therefore I am”, St. Augustine uttered these wise words – Fallor ergo sum – “I err, therefore I am.” In other words, even more fundamentally than our ability to think, what defines our humanity is our ability to err, to stumble, to fall.
Ravana has long been a fascinating figure in Indian mythology. The main antagonist in the epic Ramayana, he kidnaps Sita, the wife of Lord Ram, in retaliation for Ram’s brother Lakshman cutting off the nose of Ravana’s sister, Shurpanakha. For that he has been relegated in the scriptures as a Rakshasa, a demon. Though, things are not as black and white as popular folklore would have us believe. For one, Ravana was an ardent devotee of Shiva, the destroyer, as a result of which he was bestowed with many powers, arguably all hard earned and well deserved, and was regarded as one of the greatest scholars and kings of his time.
Ravana is often depicted as having ten heads. Each of the heads represents common human emotions or traits – lust, anger, pride, delusion, greed, envy, happiness, ambition, fear and intellect. The first nine of these emotions have been condemned as negative by many a spiritual guru. Only the last of these – intellect – is deemed worthy and useful in one’s spiritual ascendance.
Here’s what I find fascinating. According to one tale, the great King Mahabali had advised Ravana to shun the nine so-called base emotions and nurture only his intellect. But, Ravana refused. To him, it was important that he embrace all ten emotions, the good and the bad, for that is what made him a complete man, and he took great pride in seeing himself as a complete human being.
Most of us, however, put a great amount of pressure on ourselves to be perfect. Each one of us has ten heads as well, but unlike Ravana, we don’t carry them with pride, but with shame. It’s extra baggage that weighs us down and we wish we didn’t have to carry. I know, I for one, am not immune to any of the emotions of lesser mortals, be it fear, anger or jealousy. I experience them often, and each time I do, there is a double whammy of feeling a negative mention, and then feeling terribly guilty for harboring a negative emotion, in other words, feeling bad for feeling bad. Before you know it, you become a punching bag for your inner critic, who demonizes you for being so far from perfect, and your mind goes into a seemingly endless downward spiral, leaving you feeling horribly inadequate, insecure and simply, not enough.
I am not holding up Ravana as a role model, far from it. But there’s something to be said for accepting ourselves completely, the good and the bad. That is not to say that we pat ourselves on the back each time we lash out at a loved one or get jealous of someone who we think is smarter or more successful. But, that we simply acknowledge, as St. Augustine did, that our tendency to err is core to our humanity, and if we are to overcome the darkness, we must first embrace it with loving kindness. And then, and only then, can we own the light of our being.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown