At dinner last week, the conversation got onto the books that impacted ones thinking or philosophy. Fountainhead by Ayn Rand was a book that I read at the age of 15; it has stayed with me ever since. I was surprised (because it is a heavy read) that one of the other guests had a similar experience.

The philosophy of Fountainhead is individualism. It says: think for yourself, draw your own conclusions, choose your own values and live by your own standards. It celebrates the heroism of the “men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.”

The novel suggests that the few who lead truly “first-hand” lives of independent judgment are the source (the fountainhead) of all creative achievement. The primary example of this is the novel’s hero Howard Roark, who does not seek popularity or prestige, but does his work in architecture according to his own standards and style — he thinks for himself, judges for himself and makes decisions based solely on his own thinking and judgment.

Independent judgement does not mean one does not work with or learn from others. Roark takes from the architect he most admires and some of his teachers at school; but not by passively accepting their ideas on authority.

Rather than lead a “first hand life”, the novel suggests that most people live “second-hand lives.” These “second-handers” all exhibit a basic dependence on others, whether in the form of seeking social approval as the measure of their own worth, or of following the opinions of others as authoritative, or of trying to dominate others in a quest for power.

In the novel, Peter Keating is the primary example of this: he pursues architecture, even though he loves painting, because his mother thinks it would be more socially acceptable; and he abandons the woman he truly loves in order to marry one who is more widely admired by society and who would increase his standing in the world.

In the end, we see that Roark is the one who is truly happy with his life and his accomplishments, whereas Keating, who abandoned everything he loved to conform to society, is miserable. Sadly, this is a common phenomenon in real life!

There have been many criticisms of Individualism as being selfish. Perhaps because I read this at an age when I was starting to explore or find my place in the world, I didn’t see it that way. To me it is about being authentic; it is about thinking for yourself; it is about doing the right thing even when forces are against you and it is about pursuing one’s dreams.

One final thought; Individualism, the pursuit of one’s dream cannot come at the expense of others. The following quote is relevant:

“He who, in pursuit of his own happiness, hurts others that are also seeking happiness, will not find it, either in this world or the next.” –Buddha

So, at the ripe old age of 15, Fountainhead had a major impact on my views and outlook and it has stayed with me ever since.

On the mat…
How does one apply this to their yoga practise?

Yoga takes place in a class setting with the potential to socialise before and after, and even be part of a community. At the same time, one must remember that the practice is your own: although it may be a challenge, you are not obliged to do anything you’re not comfortable with – you are specifically encouraged NOT to compare yourself with your classmates.

A simple example is to recognise that each of us is unique and different; my body’s interpretation and execution of a triangle pose will not be the same as someone else’s. Does that mean I should not pursue my own perfection? I think the answer is clear, everyone’s journey is personal and yoga encourages us to find our own truth by developing self-awareness beyond the physical, through self-study.

In this regard the nyama (virtuous observance) of Svadhyaya (self study) comes to mind. Happiness is our nature and it is not wrong to desire it; what is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside. To tap into the well spring of happiness that lies within each of us, try dedicating yourself to Svadhyaya, the art of self study, of looking within and asking the eternal question: Who am I?

See you on the mat.


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