Vanity is a bizarre and powerful force. Like gravity, it’s always present in some way, exerting its influence in ways unseen and mysterious. Humans can be vain without even realizing it, conceited without trying, and narcissistic by just looking at a mirror. We are all caught up in our own little worlds to some extent, believing that even if we fail at a few things, we’re still the best at so much else.
As much as this is a problem for basic social interaction, I struggle with it in the most innocuous of places: the gym. Being healthy and a Hindu shouldn’t be a problem for me, but there is a line that I feel dangerously close to crossing when I’m working out. When I am on the treadmill, I am pushing my body to its limit, forcing myself to finish the mile in under ten minutes. If I succeed, immediately there is a rush of pride, a feeling of self-worth; that maybe I’m not out of shape, maybe I’m a pretty physically OK guy. Running an eight-minute mile is as good as some people with better bodies than me, and they spend an enormous amount of time at the gym. I fall prey to my own accomplishment and feel dangerously limitless.
Another trouble when working out is weight lifting. I don’t do much of it, since I’m not after bulking up or bench-pressing, but there is a certain male fascination in ripping off your limbs in the process of building muscle. Even when I’m on a machine for my hip adductors or abductors, just trying to increase flexibility, I can feel the passion of the sweat on my forehead, the strength pumping through my legs. I’m a big guy, and I’m expected to put out a lot of force in almost everything I do. I fill my backpack with all the books I think I’ll need for a hard day at school. I take the stairs two at a time. And when I’m at the gym, I hit the weights with energy, even if I’m only lifting fifteen pounds.
The issue I have is drawing the line between just working out and feeling proud of myself for being an active young male. On the path of Sanatan Dharm, devotees try to develop modesty, and experience humility before Guru and God. The gym isn’t exactly the best place to foster that, but it plays an important role in what a modern healthy lifestyle consists of. I want to be healthy so I can better serve the JKP, to be there to help Radha Madhav Dham however I can. It’s just maddening that my own self-infatuation threatens to get in the way of that. I understand that pride is not easily removed, and cannot always be in check, but I don’t understand why it has to come up with my maintenance of my body. I like to think of myself as a positive person, and a healthy one at that, but when I see myself in the mirror, I am afraid of being proud of the person who is staring back at me.