• January 10, 2019

    I have said many times that the real enemy of work on self and the greater Work is self-importance. Perhaps this statement needs further elaboration?

    What is self-importance? Is it the strutting, boastful ego attempting to impose its will on others? Or is it much deeper and more pervasive than that?

    Is self-importance also the ongoing concern about self, anxiety over what happens to me, to my plans, my wants, my accomplishments, my happiness? Can I live without the worry that I could be doing so much better?

    Is an exaggerated sense of guilt about what I have done or not done also evidence of self-importance? Yes, I need to make efforts to keep my word and to respect the needs of others, not only for the sake of others but also for the sake of my own conscience. When my conscience is clear, my capacity for work is much greater. But despite my best efforts, I will fail to meet my own standards and I will certainly fail to satisfy the wants of others. Do I become excessively concerned about, and bound to, the judgments I make about myself? Do I assume that my life and the lives of others rotate around my shortcomings? Is holding onto my guilt also evidence of my self-importance?

    When do I accept my imperfections, when do I accept forgiveness, when do I agree to feel compassion for myself and for all the other sentient beings who are doing the best they can in a world that does not favour or support our best intentions? Does my ongoing judgment of myself stem from a sense of self-importance?

    If I am not important, if I am not precious to myself and others, perhaps there can be room for the importance of relating to a universal being. Perhaps by realizing my unimportance, I am more able to find and express the gesture that is right for this moment. Can I then trust the work to guide me?

    Of course, if you take this view as a blank cheque to do what you want without guilt, you have missed the point…which is that what I do from a sense of self-importance takes me away from the work.

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  • October 4, 2018

    What are we to do with our memories of past mistakes and failures? Many times every day, I am suddenly reminded of the embarrassing things I have done or failed to do.

    This is one of the great burdens of being human. There is no easy answer. Do you think about the positive things you have done or the good things that were done to you?

    Very rarely.

    Do you also remember the negative things done to you?

    No. I never think about them. I’m obsessed with my own faults.

    Perhaps we can agree that we humans like to place blame for the fact that our life is full of difficulties. Some blame others and some blame themselves.

    Do you actually remember accurately? Often, I do not. My memory is selective. I tend to remember the worst of my actions and not the efforts I made to undo them or correct them. When you take a walk down memory lane, begin the journey with a little humility…all that you remember is partial and prone to error. I say this not to give you an easy pass but rather to acknowledge that frailty is in all things, including the ability to remember and bring myself to account.

    Recite the Compassion Prayer. Every one of us is caught in a cycle of insufficiency…guilt by limitation. To quote from a musical, we’re depraved on account of we’re deprived. If we were conscious, we would do better but we are asleep. For this, which is the ordinary state of things, we should feel compassion, for ourselves, for others, for all sentient beings and for the One Who made us all.

    Clearly, it is best if you can undo the wrong you have done but often this is not possible. However, serious transgressions can be re-entered. Allow the memory to arise. Allow the sensations of remorse, guilt and shame. Do not turn away; avoidance enables these reactions to persist. Acknowledge your failing. Ask for forgiveness. Pledge to do better. This is a process that can bring relief and perhaps even correct the past.

    The memories that disturb us are electrical anomalies held in the nervous system and the muscles. That’s where the unpleasant sensations of remorse, guilt and shame remain. Voluntarily bringing them to consciousness, facing them and asking forgiveness for self and others…this is a wonderful practice within the Christian tradition…contrition, confession and penance. What penance, you ask? This process itself is penance.

    Attention and the higher emotions of compassion and forgiveness can ‘digest’ the anomaly, the one in myself and perhaps also the anomaly in the person I may have injured. Our experience is shared, so why not also its resolution? I have seen this work. Undoing the knot in myself, the other also finds freedom from the past.

    As always, sincerity is the key.

    Compassion Prayer

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  • February 27, 2018

    I find that compassion makes it easier to accept the world as it is.

    Perhaps I could suggest that you need to go deeper? There is nothing comfortable about compassion. The suffering in compassion has no limit and no corrective. This is why it is so powerful. There is no avoidance of the facts, no effort to change or improve the situation. Compassion is a deep penetration of the precise nature of the situation with all of its pain and hopelessness. And then it flowers in an exquisite play of love and sorrow.

    Isn’t compassion similar to forgiveness?

    Forgiveness is part of another stream, another remarkable avenue of human consciousness. Forgiveness does not stand alone. First there is the sensation of guilt or remorse, then confession, then contrition, then forgiveness, perhaps followed by expiation.

    Forgiveness is most often embedded in a process of correction. It is earned by agreeing to make a change, offering a sacrifice or recompense. It is focused on self…my misstep or yours. It offers the chance to begin again, anew. This is an extraordinary process of transformation. The challenge is not to become isolated in the self, its guilt and its need to unburden itself.

    I can see how the process of forgiveness unfolds. I do not see how compassion is possible.

    When self-importance and self-isolation are temporarily suspended, compassion enters naturally. Probably for most of us, it first arises from a deep connection to the suffering of another. In time, it becomes compassion for self. For some, it is a gift that flows from genuine prayer. There is no rejection in compassion, nothing to be changed. It is the deepest embrace of the way things are.

    You seem to suggest that there is no such thing as compassionate action.

    When compassion moves towards action, it becomes mercy. These are two different states, two different qualities. It is easier to be merciful. Mercy only requires pity in which I do not suffer with you. In zikr, the invocation begins: Bismillah ir-Rachman ir-Rahim. We begin in the name of the most Compassionate and Merciful.  He is Compassionate as well as Merciful. It is very sobering to realize that He also suffers.

    Compassion Prayer

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  • September 10, 2017

    Our work together in this group has focused on observation of self, attention and presence. Perhaps we have learned from this and the sharp edges of our personalities have been softened somewhat, making another stage of work possible.

    I wish for you to consider the following prayer. Does it resonate in you? Could it be your prayer? If your answer is yes, I would ask you to write to me stating your agreement to repeat this prayer every day.


    May I have compassion for myself
    Compassion for my ignorance
    For the pain I have given others
    And the pain they have given me

    May I have compassion for those nearest me
    Compassion for their suffering
    For their disappointments
    For their loneliness and fear

    May I have compassion for all sentient beings
    Compassion for their limitations
    For the cruelty they suffer
    For the despair of life in this world

    May I have compassion for the Universal Being
    Who suffers His own Creation
    Who sleeps among us and seeks to awaken
    Whose compassion for me is reflected
    As my compassion for Him

    This is my prayer.
    May I have compassion.
    Hear my prayer.

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  • August 19, 2016

    I have begun to notice how important the concept of fairness is to me.

    Good. And what impact does your concern for fairness have on your capacity to work on self?

    I would say it’s pretty deadly. It gets me into all sorts of reactions and judgments which I don’t observe because I’m so identified.

    Yes. From a work point of view, attachment to fairness is usually a deadly waste of energy that inhibits other possible states. It is also a wonderful source of friction, provoking body states that can trigger observation of self.

    The concept of fairness is pervasive in our culture. In its simplest form, it means to get the same or to be treated the same. If you do the same work, you should get the same pay. How is this equivalency measured? And who decides what is fair? This implies some sort of authority or set of rules which are bound to be inflexible.

    Is the same treatment really the right treatment given all the differences that exist among people and circumstances? Aren’t these differences the source of much of what is good and beautiful in human endeavour? What would sameness do to these differences?  Fairness is our modern Procrustean bed designed to produce uniformity by arbitrary means. Procrustes, the bandit from Greek mythology, stretched or amputated the limbs of travelers to make them conform to the length of his bed.

    In connection with oneself, fairness can be a great mask for envy and jealousy. Perhaps you want what others have and your justification is that it would be fair. Of course this is very superficial and subjective. You do not know what others have, not entirely. You only see partially. You think what you want is what you need; very likely this isn’t so. Someone else having what you do not have may be exactly what each of you needs to work with.

    Can you be thankful for what you do have? Can you appreciate the blessings others receive? By asking these questions, I am not suggesting what your response should be. I am asking you to observe and discover something about yourself. I am asking you to see what your response actually is. Does my motive to be just and fair in my dealings with others come from the concept of fairness or something deeper?

    Could we say that fairness is the enemy of thankfulness? It can support the thinking that you deserve what you have. It can support resentment and bitterness. But in work terms, you could be thankful for the concept of fairness because it is very fruitful ground for work.

    Does dedication to fairness give rise to compassion or are they also antagonists? Compassion is a response of the heart, a sharing of the suffering that is the lot of every sentient being. Fairness is most often a mental measuring that seeks equality of means and treatment. Can they co-exist? Can an attachment to social justice co-exist with love? Fairness often seems to disagree with what is. Thankfulness, compassion and love flow from agreement, do they not?

    I have only so much time and attention. Do I have enough to change myself and change the world? Attachment to fairness takes me out into the world to change what is. This costs me the attention I need to work. The other side of the question must also be asked. Is work on self just an excuse for self-preoccupation and a lack of concern for others? I do not mean to suggest that either choice is a bad one but I do not think they are compatible aims.

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  • July 3, 2015

    After our inquiry into remorse, I have lost the distinction you made between remorse and guilt. They still seem pretty much the same to me.

    They are closely associated but the mechanism of each is different. Guilt is a sensation that is meant to inform us of wrong action, kind of like a warning on the dash board of your car. Guilt says stop and consider what you are doing. There is no benefit to dwelling on guilt. The correct process for dealing with guilt is recognizing and confessing the wrong, expiation for the transgression and forgiveness if possible, whether of oneself or another. No priest or church is required for this…it is a matter of clearing the slate and starting again. The key is simple sincerity.

    Remorse is also a sensation and it also advises us of being in the wrong. The difference is that remorse contains regret concerning something that cannot be undone. The word comes from the Latin ‘remord’, meaning to bite again. Remorse arises from offenses against my own conscience that are permanent. I have been tried and found wanting. Remorse goes to the very nature of being human, which is to be lacking, unreliable and selfish. Remorse is born of shame and leads to inexpressible sorrow.

    Remorse is for the transgressions that cannot be forgiven but can be understood and taken to heart. Remorse is the burden imposed by my forgetfulness, my heedlessness. Understanding does not lessen the burden but it does begin the process of real self-knowledge. Guilt is for forgiveness. Remorse is for understanding.

    The Sufi prayer ‘istaferallah’ is an expression of remorse. It recognizes that I have betrayed my origin, I have forgotten my lord. Having forgotten, I fail in the deepest sense and my thoughts and actions reflect this.

    Conscience is the mirror that awakens the sensation of remorse. Conscience sees and discerns. Conscience is an action of the heart and has nothing to do with rules. The sensation of remorse reprograms the body and mind in an indelible manner. Its gift is to diminish self-importance and open the way to compassion. Its further gift is to make us more reliable. Learn what you can from remorse. You can have no better teacher.

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