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A Guide to Handling Guilt and Self Punishment

Published March 7, 2012 by matchsoul

Guilt is the source of much sorrow; the driving force behind a constant mental whipping, a constant stinging. And from whom? Who holds the whip?

What is one to do? Is one helpless?

This series is not to say one should abandon all guidelines for behaviour, or that we should not follow our conscience. Reparations, the power to change and improve – these are all actions that are done best without the torment of self-imposed shame, and that is what the series aims to promote.

The First Step

The first step is to recognise our feelings of guilt. For many, this section might seem stupid, superfluous, but it isn’t. Guilt is insidious, stealthy and cunning. Guilt is a thief in the night, one that has taken up residence in your home, so skilfully that sometimes you can’t recognise it.

I remember the first time I encountered a racist; my age was barely in the double digits and my self esteem was fragile. I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when a man walked up to me and began spitting, swearing, wildly gesturing. I was too stunned to respond; I stood there in silence until he finished and walked off.

The event weighed heavily on my mind for many years. I didn’t know what I was feeling; it was just a constant replaying of the event in my head. I felt inferior; I felt angry; I felt scared. And one day, I suddenly realised that I was blaming myself for the attack. I hated myself for not being strong enough to stand up to him, and worst of all, I felt I was somehow at fault; somehow I had deserved what had happened to me.

How preposterous, one might think! But it is not uncommon; a friend who works as a psychologist has told me many survivors of childhood abuse blamed themselves. To a young child, their parents are almighty. How can a perfect being be wrong? If their parents were abusing them, they must have been at fault, not the abuser.

And that realisation dropped me into a more subtle trap – I began to feel guilty about feeling guilty.

Take a Moment

Close your eyes, become still, and welcome any thoughts and sensations into your awareness. Is there anything that you have not forgiven yourself for? Bring to mind a person or an event that still carries an emotional charge. Then follow it back to the root. You might be surprised at what you find, for you might be feeling guilty without even knowing what it is.

How does one change what they don’t even recognise, what they don’t even know exists?

We Were Helpless

The second step is to realise that we were helpless. There was nothing we could do; we were not in our own hands, merely dragged along by the force of our past.

This recognition could be enough to drop the self-flagellation. If it doesn’t, at the very least it gives us permission to heal, to take the next step and let go of the pain.

Welcome the pain, feel the sorrow completely without necessarily acting on it. Relax into your sorrow; find compassion for yourself; and let the shame go. Emotions are the wind; we are the flute. Unblock the passage; let the shame be there, and you’ll find that it will leave you soon enough. That is all it takes. And yet we fight it, deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist – and that keeps us blocked, weighs us down.

Penetrating the Memories

There is a quiet meditation I have developed on my own; I’ve found it tremendously helpful for four things.

The first is to find the root of the problem. The second is to see for yourself the strength of the forces that were pulling you at the time. The third is to dissolve the emotion of guilt. The last, and perhaps the most important, is to prepare for the future, to make it easier to catch your pattern the next time it threatens to overwhelm you.

We’ve discussed this meditation in the first part of this series – it is simply to relive and recreate the original situation in your mind.

Take a few minutes for this. Find somewhere quiet and penetrate your memories. Relive the event as vividly as you can. Visualise it – what was happening then? Recreate the external situation, down to the finest detail. What was happening? What triggered it, what led up to it, what did you do in response?

And this is perhaps the most important step: turn your attention to your inner space. What were you feeling, what were you thinking? What triggered your actions? What contributed to it? We’ve discussed this in the first part of the series: your beliefs, your knowledge, your mental-emotional state – even external conditions like the heat and humidity have their part to play in deciding what you did.

Watch, analyse, feel. Go deeply into your unconscious. A journal will also be helpful.

Finding the Root

Use your guilt as a tool to penetrate yourself, to find the origin of your behaviour.

You give your opinion on a minor topic, and someone disagrees politely and respectfully. And yet you fly into a rage. Why? Is your opinion that important? Or is it something else?

I used to know someone like that; she told me she was invisible as a child. No one cared about her opinion; in her own words, “no one gave a damn about what she wanted.” Her entire childhood was spent as a shadow, and the shame had taken over her adult life.

Follow your behaviour to the root, and heal that wound. It will mean the end of your unskilful behaviour.

The Strength of the Unconscious

The second benefit: During the contemplation, you’ve gone some way towards recapturing the force of your emotions, your patterns, and the circumstances that led up to it. Combine that with this truth: No mental image can come close to recreating the pull that you felt at that time.

The truth is reinforced in your mind, and there will be an even greater relief: given what you knew, you could have done no better.

Releasing the emotions

The third benefit: We’ve discussed how feeling the emotions completely are the key to letting them go. This meditation helps tremendously in releasing the emotions you were feeling then; not merely the guilt you felt about it afterwards. This weakens the very patterns themselves, which prepares us for the next step.

Intimacy with your conditioning

The most important benefit: Psychologists and spiritual teachers alike state the key to changing our conditioning is to become aware of it as it arises.

How do we stop something we don’t recognise? First become intimate with your patterns, know what triggers them, analyse how they feel, remember the thoughts and emotions that lead up to your actions.

Delve into it and watch it, feel it from every angle. The more you do this, the easier it is to catch your unconsciousness when it is next triggered.

Mindfulness: The Key to Transformation

Emotional Intelligence is defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

The Buddhist practice of mindfulness has been tremendously helpful in my life. Constantly check inside yourself – ask yourself this question: What is going inside me? What am I thinking, what am I feeling?

When you first begin this practice, you might be shocked. So much tension in your muscles, ragged breathing, an unruly and obsessive mind, a background feeling of sadness or anger…

As Daniel Goleman said in Emotional Intelligence: The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character.

Awareness is the key to transformation and control. For most people, this change might be slow. Old patterns might still arise, for emotional intelligence does not come overnight. But the moment you have become aware of it, the change has begun.

Overcoming your self-defeating behaviours

Someone makes a snide comment; immediately you feel your anger take over. You leap to your feet, you pound the table with all your might, and you begin to scream in rage. Awareness might only come afterwards, a dawning realisation – “Oh no, I’ve done it again.”

But as you practice, awareness begins to arise sooner, interrupting your patterns at earlier points. You might catch yourself with your fist in the air, and stop it before it hits the table. The next time it happens, you might catch yourself just as you jump to your feet, and stop before you go any further. Soon you might catch the anger as it begins, even before it has taken over your actions.

It is important to note that one shouldn’t fall back into self-blame. Buddhist teachers call your past actions and thoughts unskilful; as distinct from wrong. Skill comes with experience; unskilfulness is therefore a result of inexperience and a lack of proper learning. Wrongness is twisted; a lie that we are somehow fundamentally flawed, somehow evil.

When you catch the past, simply breathe. Pause, and breathe. It is also helpful to have prepared an alternative. A simple example would be someone who wants to give up smoking – every time she feels the urge to smoke; she pauses, calms her feelings with a few deep breaths, and reaches for a pack of gum instead.

Out of the hundreds of books on this topic, I would recommend two: Self-Defeating Behaviors, a purely psychological tome with information on the deepest and most common patterns. The second is Emotional Alchemy, a mixture of Buddhist and modern psychology, with a slightly different approach and categorisation.

Combine this with some emotional work, and burn up the pattern before it has the chance to arise.

Making Reparations

Being free of guilt does not mean that suffering and pain was not caused. Very often, some form of reparation is needed. You might have hurt someone; do your very best to fix things and make amends.

Byron Katie told a story once; I forget the exact details. A man had stolen from a retail shop in his past, but he was never caught. How was he to make amends? He tried going back and simply paying for the items he had stolen, but they said the accounting system would show an error for such a strange action. And so he came up with a brilliant solution – he returned to the store, and made several purchases. But after he made payment, he placed the items back on the shelves, walking out empty handed.

True courage is living your change completely.

Change your thoughts and change your life – The Art of Cognitive Reframing

Published February 16, 2012 by matchsoul

We never, ever, see the world as it is. Our awareness – our beliefs, past conditionings, upbringing, the list goes on – these distort everything we see. They creep into every interpretation and misinterpretation.

This is obvious; you must have seen it for yourself. The same person can elicit very different reactions, wildly varying feelings in a crowd of onlookers. One man looks at a beautiful woman; he feels a sense of yearning. Another sees a potential new friend, and yet another shies away – he will never be good enough for her.

One of the most painful misinterpretations lies in self-perception. How do you see yourself? Realistic self concepts are rare, but a negatively distorted perception ruins lives. Weaknesses are magnified, assets and strengths are ignored. We have a tendency to compare; this leads to low self-esteem; a strong feeling of inadequacy and constant unhappiness.

A low self-esteem is the proverbial ball and chain; it drags you down in almost every area of your life – from your romances and your relationships to your work, your ability to achieve your goals.

This is a mixture of techniques that has worked tremendously well – it is based on cognitive psychology, with a touch of Zen.

Self-Concept Inventory

Bring to mind an issue, something that is holding you back or causing you fear and sorrow. Perhaps it is your physical appearance; perhaps it is the way you relate to others. It could be something in the way other people see you, a part of your sexuality. It could even be your performance in your school or work.

Find a journal, and begin writing. Write down the positives and the negatives in as much detail as you can. Be honest, be deep, and don’t censor yourself. Let it all pour out unto the paper.

An example: you might be feeling insecure about your physical appearance. So write down everything about it – your style of dress, your facial features, specific body parts, skin, height and weight.

The next step is to begin to organise it. On a fresh sheet of paper, dig out each description and write them on a new line. Mark each description appropriately: a + sign for the positive, a – for the negative.

Some Examples

Here are a few random personal examples, taken from a wide area of possible topics:

[-] Physical: Too tall, potential dates feel intimidated.
[+] How I relate to others: Good listener.
[-] Work: Very bad with accounting and record-keeping.
[-] Personality Traits: Too sensitive, emotionally weak and easily hurt.
Examining our weaknesses

The first thing we have to realise is that there is no such thing as perfection. Everyone has flaws, imagined or real. The problem lies not in having flaws, but in using them to attack ourselves, in giving them more power and attention than they deserve.

Our self-inventory are unlikely to be accurate; examination is vital – seeing facts for what they are is refreshing, empowering. Find a fresh sheet of paper, and begin to revise your weaknesses with these rules, taken from Self-Esteem:

Remove all negative labelling. A friend was condemning himself, calling himself a loser because his business wasn’t making him much money. Such descriptions are painful; cut all such words from your description.
Replace negative labels with accurate language. What are the facts? They are all you need – not the labels, not the insults. For instance, his business made a thousand dollars profit the last year. That is all he needs.
Be as specific as you can. We often take one situation and generalise the effects across a wide spectrum. He had generalised a perceived failure in business, seeing as a reflection of his totality, his entire value. He had ignored everything else in condemning himself – his family, his friends, his personal growth – that makes up his life.
Find exceptions. Sometimes we generalise in a different direction – deeper instead of wider. A failure in one business might be taken to mean a guaranteed failure in all future ventures, causing him never to try again.
Find corresponding strengths. Very often, there is something positive to be found in an event or personality trait, one that we have ignored by focusing on the negative. What is it?
Reframing Sensitivity

It might be helpful to see an example; so let’s have a look at a personality trait: Too sensitive, emotionally weak and easily hurt.

The first step was to remove the negative label – emotionally weak. It was a label, a criticism, and not a statement of facts. It served no real purpose. The other two were closer to descriptions of reality, so they stayed.

Too sensitive, easily hurt.

Next, I rewrote it to be as accurate as possible. I investigated – why did I start calling myself easily hurt? I realised I was quite sensitive to criticism; one comment could stay in my head for days and weeks.

Too sensitive to criticism, easily hurt by it.

Next was specificity. Was I sensitive to every negative remark? No, I handle constructive criticism very well. In fact I welcome it. Abuse by someone who had done it in the heat of the moment doesn’t affect me very much either – I understand how wild emotions could lead to words one doesn’t mean. Calculated attacks cut me the most.

Sensitive and easily hurt by calculated attacks.

Last, and most important, was to find exceptions and strengths. I had taken many attacks to heart and brooded over them for days; but there were also times I didn’t.

I also found corresponding strengths. I had considered being sensitive a weakness, but it carried many benefits – in social situations, it put me at a distinct advantage. Some have said it helps me in my writing; others have said it is a blessing once I achieve my career goal of being a counsellor.

Sensitive and easily hurt by some calculated attacks. But it helps in social situations, writing, and my future career.

In addition to this, I wrote down the specific instances and memories of exceptions and blessings.

Additional Examples

A reader might struggle to see how this applies to some of the other traits; it might be helpful to examine briefly another trait.

Before: Too tall, ladies feel intimidated.

After: I am 6 foot 4. One or two women in a crowd have been intimidated. There will be a few more in the future. But most have no problem with it; in fact, many will like the sense of security a tall man gives. There are also other benefits – in certain social situations, in leadership, and in many sports.

What a difference it makes! The effects of an unexamined label can be drastic. In my teens, I was so insecure about my height that it crippled me socially. One or two girls had been intimidated by my height; I took it to heart, and without examination, let the memories grow into a crippling label.

Understanding

Sometimes, a reframing and examination is not enough. Understanding will be helpful for the more painful labels.

A close friend was upset because he wasn’t doing very well after a few years of business; he was barely paying the rent. When I talked to him, I reminded him of what he had gone through in the past few years. He had gone through a nasty divorce; it had triggered severe depression and several bouts of anxiety. He had spent most of his income, energy, and time on mental health professionals, and was only recently well enough to dedicate more time to his business.

I walked him through the various steps, asking him to see his situation objectively. His competitors had begun their ventures the same time he had, but they were driving fancy cars, and that upset him. But he was still making a small profit; he was still paying the bills. It was therefore inaccurate for him to call himself a “failure”.

In fact, how could he blame himself? He should have been proud of having the courage to go through what he had gone through. It had been a tough few years, and he did extremely well considering the circumstances. Understanding is vital for deep sorrows; I have described it in more detail here. You might also like to read the guilt series – The Importance of Overcoming Guilt, and A Guide to Handling Guilt and Self-Punishment.

I also asked him what benefits he got out of it. He paused for a few minutes, and began nodding. “I’m far stronger emotionally now. I can handle things I could not handle before. I’m more compassionate, I connect better with people.”

“Can you see how this would make a positive difference in your future life and business?” I asked. He nodded silently, a slight smile on his face.

The emotional charge

This next step is one that regular readers will be familiar with, for I sing its praises all the time. But don’t let that put you off – loving and neutralising the emotional charge that accompanies your weaknesses is one of the most powerful steps you can take.

Your emotions underlie your thoughts; they are intimately connected. We’ve worked on the level of thoughts up to this point, to boost the speed of your internal change, work on the emotions as well.

This has been covered in detail in the emotional mastery series, but here is a quick summary.

Welcome the emotion, feel it completely without necessarily acting on it. Emotions are there to be felt. If we don’t feel them, instead trying to avoid them, run away from them, they just go deeper in our systems, showing up in other ways – aches and pains, addictions, influencing our behaviour. Just relax into it – the body might tighten up, so just keep relaxing. Feel it through the body, without thinking about it. Explore how it feels. Ride it out, and it will release its hold on you.

The first option is to heal the negative label directly; think of the weakness and heal how it makes you feel. The second is to go back in time. Find the first date that stood you up, the first time someone laughed at you for being overweight, and heal that pain.

Your New Description

The next step is to simply write up your new description of the situation or yourself. Many flaws and setbacks might still be there, but this new description is rooted in reality and not clouded by judgement, emotions or time.

This description, then, is something to be obsessed over. Read it constantly; think about it every chance you get. You might even carry it around in your wallet or purse. You could also leave it in prominent areas of your bedroom, your office – anywhere you spend a lot of time. Let this practice remove the misinterpretations that has been hurting you all this time.

Any time you are feeling down, turn to this new description. Heal and release the emotions your old description brings up.

Remembering the Exceptions and Strengths

The final step is to analyse the exceptions and the strengths. You’ve remembered the exceptions to your perceived weakness, their corresponding strengths. More importantly, we should focus on specific situations.

Take your time here, and dig up compliments, awards, and everything else you can think of. Write them all down, big or small. The reason for this is simple: many brains are wired to remember the negative and forget the positive. Our self-image, our very happiness – they are then created around our negative distortions.

For instance, I have always thought of my teenage self as shy and awkward around the opposite sex. Certain painful memories reinforced that image – I had latched onto the negative and distorted them so that they seemed to represent my entire past. Upon investigation, I began to recall many positive experiences with the ladies – in fact, they numbered more than the negative.

There might be discomfort at this step; many of us will have been raised to be humble. People tend to respond negatively to those we see as boastful or proud. But it is perfectly fine to blow your own trumpet in private – it is healing to your self-esteem.

Contemplating the Exceptions and Strengths

Meditate on this – close your eyes and repeat the benefits and strengths; relive these instances. Feel them.

Write down these instances in the same way you’ve written down your realistic view of your weaknesses. Read them, obsess over them. There is no major difference in the way we’re handling these and the way we handle our weaknesses; we’re giving them extra attention.

These forms of affirmation and contemplation are different from wishful thinking, building castles in the air. We are not imagining a false reality – we are basing them on reality, specific memories and instances.

Try it for yourself, and see if it doesn’t make a change in your life.

Link Love

Isabella Mori runs a unique blog, Change Therapy, on issues like mental health, addictions, psychotherapy, social issues, and Buddhism. The blog itself is highly recommended, but she was also interested in social media and how other bloggers participated.

Isabella is asking for some of my thoughts on the social media site named Twitter. I have an account there; I signed up many months ago, used it for a few minutes, and never returned. Sadly, that’s all I can contribute. I’ve never been interested in social sites like MySpace, Facebook and the like. I have accounts but only because everyone was sending me emails to sign up.

As a nice coincidence, Wellsphere is a social site that recently contacted me. It seems to be worth a look. Like most others it is free, and while I haven’t explored it properly, it is focused on health (mostly physical), personal development, and also promises goal-tracking services, networking, and other such goodies.

Failure is an Integral Part of Success

Published February 16, 2012 by matchsoul

For many of us, success is something that we are constantly striving towards. Some of us are consumed by the idea of achieving success in whatever we put our minds to. It drives us forward onwards to bigger and better things. There are some people who take this too far and try to be successful at everything resulting in arrogance and a lack of respect for others. Unfortunately everyone seems to forget that failure is part of achieving success and that failure is integral to not only achieving success but also to appreciating it.

When you look at some of the successful people in the world, you will see that at times they have experienced failure and learnt from it, which has helped them become more successful.

Richard Branson, for example, failed exams at school, had business ventures fail, failed in attempts to go round the world in a hot air balloon, and got into debt. But all of these failures, whether large or small, have helped him to be more successful. Why? Because successful people learn from their mistakes and failures and use what they have learned to radically change the future for themselves. Without failure success is harder to achieve. By learning from your failures, from what has caused them, from what you contributed to the failure, and from what you can change, you can become more successful too.

Practical Ideas

Here are some practical ideas for dealing with failure:

Don’t see it as the end. This failure is just an obstacle to get round on the route to your ultimate goal. This might be the first stumble on your road to success, it might even be the hundredth but what is important to remember is that getting through it will only bring you closer to your goal. It is important that you view the failure as a problem to be solved rather than the end of the world.
Think things through. If you run head long into any problem you bound to either make the same mistake again or create new problems. You need to be able to think correctly under pressure (T.C.U.P) in order to solve this problem and get over this failure and that comes from not rushing in but instead thinking it through.
Try to work out what has caused the failure. Was it something you or someone else did? Was your attempt at success just at the wrong time in the wrong place? Were there circumstances out of your control?
What options do you now have? Can you try the same thing again or do you need to try to approach the problem from a different angle? Do you need extra help and resources?
Don’t be afraid. It is important that you don’t fear to try again, if you do you are likely to not put your full self into your effort, making it harder to get to your ultimate success.
Plan for failure. I’m a big believer in the Law of Attraction. The idea that thinking and doing positive things brings about positive things in your life, while negative thoughts and actions only bring about negativity in your life seems to really fit with me personally. I also think it is crucial, though, that you plan for failure and in a way expect it along your journey to success. Now I’m not saying that thoughts of failure should fill your mind rather that you should reflect positively upon it and see it as an inevitable learning experience. Having a backup plan for when things go wrong is not a bad thing, it is just sensible.
Finally, learn from it. Successful people are always learning and so should you. People tend to only learn for what goes well in their lives, dwelling only on the positive, but really you should try to learn something from every eventuality whether good or bad. If you do this you not only get closer to achieving your success but also expanding your comfort zones. You will also find it easier to handle future failures.
A Simple Illustration

A simple illustration of how failure is vital on any journey for success can be seen in the notion of finding a light switch in the dark given in Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. When you are in a dark room and you are searching for the light switch you start groping around to find it. To start with, maybe you are looking at the wrong part of the wall so you readjust because you have learnt the light switch isn’t where you thought it was. Next, you find that you are groping around too low, so again you readjust. You are now narrowing your focus (in the dark) to allow you to reach your goal.

So you start to use the sensory information you got and begin piecing it together to give you a better idea of where the light switch is. This time you find something that feels like a light switch, but doesn’t seem to switch the light on; maybe it’s the switch for the AC or a power point. You know you are close because the two switches are next to each other. You try again and this time you find the light switch and on comes the light!!!

In all your attempts to find the light switch, apart from the last one, you fail but instead of simply giving up and living in the dark you quickly learn from what happened and try again. So why – when trying to achieve something amazing in your life – do you give up so quickly? Are not all attempts at success no matter how big or how small the same?

The Sense of Achievement

Failure also heightens the sense of achievement when you experience success. If you have felt what it is like to fail, you will more grateful and respectful of the success you achieve because you will know what it took for you to succeed. Only by truly experiencing failure will you know what it means to truly succeed.

Too many people these days give up when they fail and turn away from what they want to succeed in, deciding maybe to try something else. If you choose to do the same when you fail then you never achieve the things you want in your life. And when you are sitting in your chair in the latter years of your life, you will regret the fact that you gave up too easily. Achieving success isn’t easy but everyone should strive for some kind of success whether large or small and not give up when the going gets tough.

6 Billion Worlds in One – A Process For Inner Freedom

Published January 28, 2012 by matchsoul

We are all living on one planet, in one physical reality. But there is one common mistake many of us make – we think we are living in the same world.

Allow me to explain. How is that a mistake? We all see the world differently, through the filters of our individual past experiences, biases, and beliefs. One man can look at a car and simply see a way of getting around. Another man can look at the same car and see a status symbol. One physical reality, two perceptions.

Even though we live in the same physical planet, our world is different. We walk into a room, and we are treated according to our looks, our bearing, and what we are wearing. One woman is treated like royalty, another is treated coldly in the same room. One physical reality, two experiences.

Or would it be more accurate to say that one physical reality, 6 billion worlds?

A One-Person Culture

I had a female friend visit me from overseas recently, and we went out for dinner with some of my local friends. At the end of the night, when we were saying our goodbyes, the guys leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She told me afterwards that she was quite uncomfortable with such physical contact from someone she didn’t really know. Were they taking advantage of her? I assured her it was quite normal in Australia, and she nodded in relief.

With that one simple understanding – the guys were doing what was natural to them – she brushed off her discomfort immediately.

What if, instead of having one culture per country, we see things in a slightly different way? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say there is one culture per person? Every single person – even siblings from the same household – lives in their unique world, has their own unique upbringing, their one-person culture.

Our Hold on the Truth

In The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner puts into words what most of us refuse to: we secretly like to think that we have a hold on the Truth.

“This is the way the world should be.”
“This is the way she should be.”
“He shouldn’t be like that.”
“My way is the only way.”
“The world would be better if they were all like me!”

The height of narcissism, you might think. And you’re right. We’re all at the greatest peaks of our own little mountains!

The next time you think of someone you dislike or an argument you might have, see if these statements are underneath the more superficial thoughts. For example, if I think of someone who owes me money and refuses to return it, I might judge him as a man of low character. It sounds like a normal and reasonable thought to have. But underneath that thought is something else – if he was like me he would be a better man!

What if we don’t have a hold on the Truth? What if there are as many truths as there are people? What if, in his one-man culture, he has good reasons for not returning the money? He might have done me some favour and thought that was the debt repaid. He might have been raised to think that such behaviour meant he was smart with money. He might think that is simply the way of the world – rip him off before he rips me off.

Possible Misunderstandings

Now this can be tricky and prone to misunderstandings – I hesitated to write this post many times. Please remember that I am talking strictly about our internal experience. This is not to say we don’t take right and ethical action, or that we don’t protect ourselves. This is not about that. Neither is this about criminal acts such as assault or rape – I have no experience with that. For this article I mostly have in mind disagreements between family, workmates, lovers, and so on.

I am not saying anything about right or wrong, either. I am not saying it is right (or wrong) to steal, or yell, or whatever. I don’t know about that. All I do know, however, is that belief hurts me.

And the more I hurt inside, the more likely I am to hurt others.

A Freeing Practice

Note:This practice is best used in conjunction with your favourite emotional or spiritual tool. It will likely bring up many uncomfortable feelings that need to be processed, but the end result is tremendously freeing. My favourites are simply welcoming the emotion, or letting go of it.

The first reaction one might have to this is – isn’t this so basic? Isn’t this in every child’s storybook? We’ve all heard of the saying, walk a mile in his shoes. But how many of us actually practice it? It wasn’t until recently that I even saw this as feasible and practical, instead of just a fancy ideal unsuitable in the real world. I’ve put together a practical application from my own recent explorations. It builds on my favourite techniques, taking them to new places for more freedom.

We can start out with someone we don’t really know, someone who disturbs your peace slightly – perhaps a rude stranger or someone you see on the evening news. First, judge them as you normally do – they are weak, pathetic, angry, or whatever – and see how you feel. Can you see that you are the one you are hurting?

1. Non-Judgement

Next, just look at her again, this time without the judgement. Pretend you can’t think that judgemental thought, and look at them without it. This can give you an entirely different perspective. Someone you thought was cold and stand-offish might actually just be shy.

2. Their Individual Culture

If you have trouble with it, if your negative judgement is too strong, try to see how they are just doing the best they can with what they knew and what they had. They are just doing the best they can to survive. Someone who was loud and rude might be, in his one-man culture, trying to be a man. Someone who doesn’t listen to you when you need a shoulder to cry on might have been raised to be strong and handle their own pain, and might think they are doing you a favour by toughening you up.

3. Walking In Their Shoes

If this is still too hard, try this: put yourself in the other person’s shoes. A few weeks ago I was having a very long and stressful day, and that evening when I was driving home, I realised I had forgotten to do something minor. But that was enough for me to let loose a long stream of loud and colourful expletives. And all I had was a bad day. The next time I saw on TV a report of a murderer, I thought to myself – how would I have behaved if I had his life? Perhaps he had been abused every day of his life as a child. What if that was me? Wouldn’t my anger – and the way I exploded – be a thousand times worse?

However, even this can be hard, because some of our internal beliefs have been there for so long that they’ve become our laws – it can take a lot of work to shake the thought “A business partner should always be fair and honest”, “my family should always be my shoulder to cry on”, or whatever it is you have been brought up to believe.

Again, I am not saying it is okay to do something hurtful. Remember that this is an internal experience; it does not mean you don’t protect yourself if you have to, or abandon right action.

From the Head to the Heart

The next important step here is to let it sink in. Whatever emotions arise, use your favourite tools – perhaps sitting with it for a while, or releasing it. For instance, not judging someone as arrogant might feel surprisingly good, so let it drop from your head to your heart. This is even more important when it is uncomfortable, however. Keeping it at an intellectual level doesn’t change anything.

Repeat this process until you are more or less empty of negative judgements. Check in to see how you feel inside periodically. You will find your judgements becoming kinder, and your own pain has diminished.

Self-Forgiveness, the Greatest Gift

Again, this can take a while – but don’t give up. Why? If you are doing this on someone who screamed at you and called you names, for instance, you are also indirectly processing everyone who has done the same in the past. You are also taking steps to ensure that the next time it happens, you will still be in your power, unhurt. And most importantly, you are also forgiving yourself for the times you lost control and yelled at someone else.

This is important, for this self-blame is often hidden. We are not aware of it, have forgotten about it, or most likely, we have denied that we have even done it in the first place. This can be hard to swallow, so please read that last part again. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all been – to varying degrees – dishonest, spiteful, hurtful, and all the rest of it. And unless you are a sociopath, you will invariably carry guilt and shame, even if you are not aware of it!

When I saw it was their confusion, their own overwhelming pain, that caused them to behave the way they did – that they are human beings who made some unwise choices, I found it easier to see my own human frailties in the same way. This does not mean I suddenly found it OK to verbally abuse someone – in fact, with reduced amounts of inner pain, I was freer and more in control.

Self-forgiveness is one of the most freeing presents we can give ourselves.

Any Judgement Is Not Freedom

An even more powerful step, beyond this, is to repeat the process and remove the new judgement as well, even if it is positive and caring!

For example, if I removed an “arrogant” judgement, what arises might be – She is just trying in her own way to be cool. That feels kinder and might be good enough for many, but if you look closely, still carries a hint of condescension and pity.

This can take a tremendous amount of time, so you might want to stop once you reached a positive place. But trust me on this one – the most wonderful feeling you can have is not having any judgements at all. It can feel positively blissful.

Becoming Even Sadder

In some cases, especially with people who were more emotionally charged, this process can make you feel worse. In many arguments, we initially think we are all right and they are all wrong. However, things are not always so clearly defined. Sometimes we see that we are also at fault too, and that can be uncomfortable. Perhaps we see their innocence for the first time, and then fall into self-loathing for having been so petty or having been angry in the first place. Other times, we have been stuck in the victim story for so long that it has become a part of us, and losing it is threatening to our self-identity.

And yet – from the perspective of freedom – this is a good thing. Being able to admit we are wrong, and releasing our pain from that, being able to let go of the victim identity, and being able to see the innocence in others (not their actions), are some of the hardest things to do in finding peace.

Concluding Thoughts

There are many reasons we hurt. Not all incidents can be brushed off as easily as the culturally unexpected kiss on the cheek. This practice removes only one of the reasons for suffering – but in my experience, one of the deepest and most “hidden”.

As such, if you don’t feel ready to try this, or if you get no result from it, then emotions from other causes might still be overwhelming you. If that is the case, please take care of yourself, and process those before you try to feel understanding or compassion towards others. Otherwise, you might just be pushing your pain down.

Apologies for the long post – I tried to keep it short but I can’t cut it down any more without leaving out vital information. This post represents most of the stuff I have been working on in recent times – places that my normal methods don’t normally reach, and so I have to give a good level of detail.

I hope this process has helped someone!

Unconditional Acceptance for Our Totality, Part 2

Published January 28, 2012 by matchsoul

If we are alert enough, we’ll notice that we are always on guard. We watch our words; we watch our actions; we don’t express our beliefs. We can’t admit to ourselves that we are afraid, that we are angry, or hurt. We deny our desires and fantasies. We try to forget our past, pretend that it never happened.

And so, even when we are alone, we cut off and deny entire portions of our inner life – every waking moment of our lives. This has become so natural to us that we are not even aware of it.

Releasing Who They Are

But have we ever stopped to see what we are really doing? Our thoughts and beliefs are as much a part of us as our bodies are – if not more so! When we deny and repress them, what are we doing? We’re cutting, trimming, and breaking ourselves, just so we can fit into a metal box, just so we can feel safer, more acceptable. As Nathaniel Branden puts it – we spend our entire lives alienated from ourselves.

So there is a gift we can give to our loved ones – our total, unconditional, acceptance. Try it. Just listen; just watch, while holding non-judgemental compassion in your hearts. Give them the space and acceptance to be who they are, let them express everything they’ve held back. Let them show their vulnerability, sadness, anger, and spitefulness. Let them state their beliefs, even those that make us uncomfortable, those that go against everything we stand for – even our religious and political beliefs.

And slowly, you will see them let their guards down. They begin to climb out of their prison, uncramping themselves, healing themselves. Slowly, over the weeks and months, they feel safe enough to get in touch with themselves – they become truly human. How can there be true love otherwise? All other affection is plastic, fake – wasted on the prison they are hiding in.

Stunted Emotions

The most prominent constraint would be the one we construct around our feelings. Take sadness as an example; many people cannot show a natural range. My entire life, I have forced my grief down. Others have judged me too many times – silently or overtly – as somehow broken or useless for the simple act of being sad. Gradually, I began to judge myself the same way, even when I was by myself – I hated any sign of weakness, any sign that I was less than a rock. And so it began to pile up until one day I collapsed from the strain of it, becoming an empty shell, a parody of who I used to be.

The long depression began to lift when I simply let myself be sad. That was all I needed for change to begin. I let myself do things I had never allowed myself to do. I curled up on the floor and cried. I admitted to myself how hurt I really was, that I felt rejected, cast aside, humiliated, and spat on. I dropped my pretence, even if it was just for me.

Out of Invisibility

How many people can simply let a grieving friend grieve? How many have told them to put their chin up, to face the world with a smile? Others might have been blunter – stop being such a wimp, they might say. Stop whining. Certainly, some may have the best intentions. But they are unaware that they are devaluing a vital, core, part of the very person they are trying to help.

I remember, a long time ago, a personal discussion with a friend. She had been put through events that were many times worse than anything I had experienced. When she asked me why I had been depressed, I felt almost ashamed in telling her – I thought my reasons were petty and insignificant, and many others had implied the same.

But her reply was new to me. She told me she would never trivialise my pain, that it must have been horrible for me, and that it was just as valid a reason as hers. I remember how those few words made me feel. That was the moment I understood why Nathaniel Branden calls visibility one of the most important ingredients in self-esteem and happiness. How can we be truly human, if nobody accepts such a basic part of who we are?

The Rest Of Our Inner Life

What about the rest of one’s inner life – thoughts and beliefs, desires and fantasies, even likes and dislikes? Just like our feelings, we might have been attacked, humiliated, or made to feel wrong for them.

And once again, we have internalised these critics, and cut off an entire part of ourselves. These can be major – religious beliefs, for example – but not always. I remember when I was about twelve, and I saved up enough to buy a new CD for myself. I was excited, and showed it to an adult I looked up to. He took a glance and said, “What kind of idiot listens to that?” And for a long time afterwards, I always felt somehow stupid simply because I liked a genre of music he didn’t.

Can we let our loved ones express themselves healthily and safely? Can we let them express their beliefs, even if it clashes with our own? Can we allow them completely to be as they are?

Give your loved one the gift of visibility. It is simple, but not always easy – just acknowledge who they are, what they are going through, with empathy and respect.

Safety and Respect for All Involved

To close off this article, and in preparation for Part 3, please remember we are discussing unconditional acceptance and respect for all involved. This includes you, and never means we abandon self-protection, self-respect, or ethical action. We can accept someone’s anger and still restrain them if they get violent. We can accept someone’s depression and still restrain them if they attempt to hurt themselves.

Acceptance and Attention – The Basis of Unconditional Love and Nurturing

Published January 28, 2012 by matchsoul

The next time we are with our lover or our child, there is a question we can ask ourselves – how do we truly love them?

The next time we look at ourselves, our past, we can ask – how do I truly heal, how do I truly grow and move on?

What strange questions! The foundations of loving, healing and nurturing are simple: gentle attention and non-judgemental acceptance. Yet how many of us can give them; how many of us know how it feels to receive them? Without exaggeration – not many. It was only recently that I experienced it for the very first time.

What is Unconditional Acceptance?

Unconditional acceptance isn’t a technique but a mindful, giving, state of being. Our focus is gently and lovingly on the other, giving them the gift of simply letting them be who they are. And for the first time in perhaps their entire lives, they are finally in an environment free of all burdens and judgements. No more hiding. No more chopping and pruning their emotions, beliefs, and past. No more fear and shame.

The psychologist David Richo has stated that such attention is the main ingredient in a mature, loving, romance. Nathaniel Branden, the father of the self-esteem movement, believes it is vital in raising mature and emotionally healthy children. Please do not discount this – try it for yourself, and see how your most important relationships change. You might be just as surprised as I was.

Best of all – this is the first, and sometimes only, requirement in deep emotional healing. The psychotherapist William DeFoore gives a beautiful example. He describes a client who had suffered tremendously for years. Methods and techniques all failed, for she could not get in touch with her emotions – until one day she finally found stillness in the presence of unconditional love. For the first time she felt safe enough to simply be herself, and out poured the hurt and pain she had reined in and denied for years.

Recently, I’ve discovered the same thing – so many wounds had gone unhealed inside me, stuck beyond a certain point, simply because I could not find true unconditional acceptance anywhere. When I learnt to give it to myself, things shifted very quickly, in one of the most powerful forms of self-work I’ve found – sub-personalities, the shadow, and the inner child (yes, the inner child! ). This work will be detailed in an upcoming series, and this is to prepare for that.

How Do We Give It?

How exactly do we give unconditional acceptance? In my experience, it involves the following elements:

Really listening to what they have to say, even if it is uncomfortable.
Showing respect.
Total and unconditional acceptance for every single part of their person.
Not giving advice until the right time.
Not trying to change or manipulate them.
Not judging them.
Allowing them their experience.
Please don’t trivialise these points. They might seem common-sense, but except for some gifted therapists, I have not seen many who can actually do them all. Let’s analyse them in more detail.

Really Listening

Really listening to someone means giving them your full, gentle, focus. A father might say he cares for his children, but when his child is speaking to him, he might be watching the television out of the corner of his eye. He might tell his little girl to come back when he is done polishing his car.

And no matter how sweetly and gently he says to her afterwards – What is the matter, honey? – the real message is clear. She is invisible; she does not matter. This is one of the most painful emotional wounds one can sustain.

True listening is hardest when what they have to say is painful. Imagine if your close friend said you are always inconsiderate and selfish. How many of us can listen to this without getting defensive, firing back in anger, or immediately discounting it?

Naturally, if the person is being abusive, protect yourself. But in other cases, can we stay open and listen? A good thing to do is to see that they have a right to their opinion – and they might have a good reason for thinking of us this way. Those closest to us see our denied and disowned parts very clearly.

That is their gift to us, for they are helping us reclaim these denied parts, helping us become whole again. Could we look honestly at our actions and see how they could have formed this opinion? Remember that each criticism that hurts us reveals to us a wound that is calling out for our love and attention.

Respect

It is a strange fact of life that we often talk to strangers more politely than we do those we are close to. Nathaniel Branden gives a strikingly true example: if we had a guest in our house, and he spills a drink on the carpet, how would we react?

Even if we got upset, we would still hide it and do our best to be polite. Now, what if someone in the family did the same thing? Many of us won’t bother to hide our irritation. We might call them clumsy or stupid, or even punish them. Again, this need not be obvious. I often see parents talking about a young child as if he was not there. This can be very damaging to a fragile mind.

Could we see that those closest to us, that we claim to love, deserve the most respect – and that we don’t always give it to them?

Please be honest, for this is a painful thing to see in ourselves. We have all used ridicule, emotional or even physical violence to control and manipulate those we claim to love. Perhaps it is time to show respect for his or her dignity as a human being.

What’s Next

To stop this article from being too long, I’ll leave the rest of the points for the next article – they are all related.

The Confusion about Ego

Published January 28, 2012 by matchsoul

The ego is perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts in spiritual and psychological circles. This has often led to attacks on the spiritual definition and practice (since most seek to bypass or dissolve the ego) or even to spiritual seekers hating and vilifying the ego in themselves – and it’s just a concept!

This article is an attempt to clear up one of the common misunderstandings – based on the difference between the spiritual and psychological definitions. Yes, they are different, and most of the criticisms I see come from the mix-up between the two.

Before I begin, please understand that this is based on my experiences and research. There might be subtle misunderstandings, although I’ve taken every effort to make them as accurate as possible. I used to love writing about the ego but I’ve stopped simply because of these possible misunderstandings (which only an enlightened person can write without, I guess).

Freud’s Ego

In psychology, when someone discusses the ego, most people immediately think of Freud’s theories. Freud’s ego is part of a structure that includes the id and the super-ego. What follows is an extremely simplified introduction (so please don’t base your essays on this ).

The id is often seen as a new-born baby. It is based on instinct, impulse, and the pleasure-pain principle. This means it will simply do what feels good and avoid what is painful, very often without caring about morals or other people. It is possible that when we do “something in the heat of the moment”, the id has overcome our inhibitions. What if some criminals, like certain megalomaniacs and serial killers, are highly id-driven people with very weak limitations – babies with adult resources?

And what are these limitations? They come as the ego and the super-ego. The ego restricts the id based on physical reality and physical survival. The super-ego, also restricts the id, but from a sense of right and wrong, and of concern for what others will think of us (social survival).

For example, imagine me walking down the street. I suddenly feel hungry and the first thing I see is another man eating a burger. Pure id would be to grab the food and eat it. But my ego would stop me based on reality and physical safety. What if that man attacks me? What if he has diseases in his saliva?

The super-ego would also step in, although for different reasons. It is wrong to take something without asking, or giving something in return. I might hurt the man’s feelings. Or he might think I am an asshole, and I can’t have that now, can I?

The ego mediates between the basic drive and all the different limitations, and ultimately makes me go and buy a burger of my own.

The End of The Psychological Ego

Most criticisms against spiritual work are based on the wrong definition. Most spiritual seekers will define ego work as undoing the ego, bypassing it, removing it, not believing in it anymore, or something similar. That is fine if we are discussing the spiritual definition, but critics think they are talking about the psychological definition.

Understandably, they then think we would all become giant babies, completely at the mercy of the id. Spiritual work, to them, is a cleverly disguised form of destruction and retardation.

(Strangely, I have not come across a critic who thinks we will turn into rule-bound machines, driven only by the super-ego. Maybe that’s not as scary?)

Ego as Self-Esteem

Another interpretation of the word “ego” is our self-image, or sometimes a set of survival and protection skills. This might actually be closer to the spiritual definition. Saying someone has a weak ego can mean that they have low self-esteem, and therefore cannot stand up for themselves, or have not learnt how to. The other end of this spectrum is the arrogant, selfish individual, who is also known as having a “big ego”.

This is another common criticism. Many people already suffer from a lack of boundaries. They cannot take care of themselves, or they cannot tell an abusive person to back off, for example. This stems from a poor self-image and a lack of ‘grit’. Are you telling these people they have to remove the ego even more?

Well, rest assured because spiritual seekers are talking about something different.

The Spiritual Ego

So what is the spiritual definition of the ego? To be honest, I don’t know. All I can give is my current understanding (other seekers will have other definitions, and I invite you to share in the comments). To me, the spiritual ego is a collection of thoughts, beliefs, and stories. These thoughts are given special significance because they are seen as “mine”. Without this attachment, thoughts are just thoughts, and they don’t have much power over our lives.

‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson, a student of Nisargadatta Maharaj, describes it beautifully – Thinking about fire doesn’t burn your brain, saying the word fire doesn’t burn your tongue. The word ‘fire’ is not fire. The thought ‘fire’ is not fire.

What does that mean? If someone was to walk up to me and tell me “Albert, you are a complete loser and a piece of s%!^.” Why do I get angry? What has been insulted? The thought, “Albert”? The word, “Albert”? They are not me, just like the thinking and talking about fire doesn’t burn you.

What is the mystical quality I have given this thought, that it hurts me so? This thought is believed to represent “me”, and is now worth being angry and upset over. Everything that is now imbued with this quality of “me” or “mine” now has the same power.

Someone questions “my” social status, “my” character, “my” religious beliefs, the quality of “my” work, “my” car, “my” lover, or whatever, and I hurt. I suffer. I cry. I seek revenge.

Is this not true? If we look closely at much of our suffering – not physical illness or injury, of course – this basic attachment and (mis)identification is the root cause. Think about the last time you were angry or sad, and trace it down to your thoughts. What was your last argument about?

Was it really because the dishes were left unwashed, for instance, or was it because “your” wishes were not obeyed? Was it really because you lost half an hour of sleep, or was it because he didn’t respect “your” right for a quiet night?

Even thoughts and stories that are inherently painful are clung to. The stories of “how she did me wrong”, or “how he betrayed me”, even though you haven’t seen that person for years, still goes strong in most of us. The mental position of “victim” or “martyr” can be amongst the hardest to drop, as we once discussed in Why Do We Cling To Unhappiness?

In my experience, this is the benefit of spiritual work. By recognising when we have been caught up in a false collection of thoughts and mental positions, and choosing to gently let go of our attachment, we begin to experience more and more inner freedom.

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