Grasp the Nettle

There is a saying, “Grasp the nettle”. Aesop, in his fables, asserts that a gentle touch on a nettle will cause a sting whereas a firm grip on a nettle will be painless. The expression may also suggest that if you were falling down a hillside it is a better thing to grasp a nettle for support than to slip and fall to a worse fate.

Sharpen your resolve:

There is a moment we each encounter when there is a difficult thing to be done and we hesitate over it. The moment requires us to do something unenviable. There are easier options and more agreeable tasks but the difficult thing will not go away. Sooner or later it has to be confronted.

Macbeth faced this. Having received the prophecy from the women on the moor, and having resolved to bring about the prophecy by murdering Duncan, Macbeth has to take action. “If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly” Macbeth says in a soliloquy. Faced with the horror of murdering his king, Macbeth resolves to do the difficult thing straight away and not procrastinate. If he wanted the outcome he had to go through the process.


In yoga the resolve and discipline to move forward and tackle the less desirable but necessary tasks of life is called tapas. Tapas denotes a willingness to do that which is difficult but which needs to be done for good reason. It could be a minor thing like needing to gather the rubbish from bins throughout the house, put the rubbish in the council rubbish bin and take it out to the road for collection.

In my case, I leave that job for the evening before rubbish collection day. If, when I come to do it, it is dark outside and cold or raining, I will be reluctant to do the job. If I do not do it the night before I may create a new problem as the collection sometimes occurs early in the morning. I would need to get organised very early to get the bin out on the day of collection. If I miss the collection, I end up with too much rubbish or the rubbish starts to smell bad in the bin. As unenjoyable as it may be to attend to this task, it needs to be done and I must have the tapas to get the job done.

The unenviable task may be a much more serious thing. It may be an employer making a good person redundant due to a change in circumstances. The discussion has to be had but there is no desire to have it. It may be owning up to something that you have done. Having created a problem due to an error of some sort, the problem will not be resolved without acknowledging your part in creating the problem. It has to be done but it will be uncomfortable doing so.

Tapas in yoga philosophy is one of five personal disciplines or practices that help us to be clear-minded and to pave the way for spiritual progress. Tapas calls upon us to have fortitude and courage. It calls upon us to have drive and zeal in the way we bring ourselves to our lives. Be an enthusiast for even the most un-enthusing things in your life. Do not play favourites and attach preference to one thing over another. See all things as deserving of your attention and best effort.

Duty and Responsibility:

Tapas also speaks to duty and responsibility. There are also people who claim rights and freedoms. Those who have been the victims of prejudice, injustice and discrimination may have valid claims for rights. However, to be an effective part of the society, within whose protection we live, we need to be aware of our duties and responsibilities. Self-interest might pull us in one direction but duty requires that we take another line. When our children are unwell we must stay at home to care for them even if that is an inconvenience to other things in our lives. In the interests of public safety, we must obey the speed limits and other rules of the road.

To perform one’s duty is rewarding, even if the doing of it is hard. To avoid responsibility, to shirk duty and to put off that which needs to be done, is simply to look for the path of least resistance. The path of least resistance is one to a dull and unfulfilling existence, devoid of life, light and wellbeing. The path of greater resistance accomplishes that which would otherwise be left undone or left to others. The qualities of zeal and enthusiasm carry us through our days in a powerful way. By our example, we can inspire others.

When I played rugby, it was preferable to have the ball and be running at the opposition than for them to have the ball and for my role being to tackle. Tackling was the harder way. There was a reward and purpose in committing to tackling. A team mate of mine had a saying if the toss at the start of the game had decided that we would be kicking off to the opposition. He would say, “We start with tackling”. It was obvious and simple but it defined the duty upon each of us. Tackle. His statement demanded that we have commitment and will for the defensive side of the game. It declared our duty.

Make it a practice:

When the moment comes, grasp the nettle. Again and again, grasp the nettle until it ceases to occur to you to do otherwise. Acknowledge your duty. Accept your responsibility. Choose the path that may be more difficult but which takes you to the goals and objectives that not only justify but necessitate that path. Do what may be less appealing but which must be done for good reason. Live with zeal and discipline.

Discipline is a trait that is acquired in the exercise of discipline. The less discipline you use, the less disciplined you will be. The more you grasp the nettle the more natural it will feel and the more the choices that produce benefit for you and for others will take the place of selfish choices and choices that lead to idleness and inertia. Tapas becomes a way of being when adhered to and makes you more impactful and fulfilled in your life.