• 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 13, 2018

    I sometimes find it very difficult to forgive others when their actions have offended me. How can I work on this block in myself?

    This question uncovers a number of issues related to work on self. Your assumption seems to be that you should be able to forgive. That it is expected of you.

    The common conception of forgiveness is that it is an act of generosity on the part of the one who forgives, that it is a sign of being non-judgmental, that it signals virtue. From the point of view of our work, this is nonsense. The real question is why you were offended in the first place. Can you observe your reactions objectively and, over time, come to see impartially that your being offended is indefensible, unnecessary and even foolish. Without this, your forgiveness is likely imaginary, an affirmation of a positive quality you are expected to have or an ongoing suppression under the cover of “it’s ok, it doesn’t matter.” If it is real, to forgive is to forget.

    The one who seeks forgiveness has an even greater work opportunity. Please understand this. To receive forgiveness I must feel I have earned it. Real forgiveness is a transformative action that encompasses forgiver and forgiven and therefore includes my forgiveness of myself. The one who is forgiven must participate in the action by agreeing to be forgiven. At first, I do not agree, I feel humiliated, unworthy. I who seek the action of forgiveness sense remorse, activating conscience. These are the signs of contrition. The transgression must be confessed, at least to myself, without blaming others or defending myself. I must be willing to make amends and do so if possible.

    To be forgiven is not to forget.

    The one who seeks forgiveness is really in a sacred struggle to preserve conscience and an awakened heart. This struggle is more valuable than the relief that comes with being forgiven.

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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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  • November 30, 2016

    I would like to know what this work has to say about despair. In our inquiries together, we don’t seem to deal with it but I think many of us experience despair.

    I think all of us experience despair at times. Let’s agree on what despair means. (Group member consults telephone internet). Ok, according to the dictionary, it means to be entirely without hope, to have no confidence in the possibility that circumstances can change for the better. Can we begin with this?

    This view says that despair is the result of circumstances…that there is cause and effect. This seems clear. Can we carefully separate them so that we are able to look at them individually? Despair is not in the circumstances, it is a state of mind and body sensation that is a reaction to the circumstances. This distinction opens up the possibility that my reaction can be different. But in despair, I see my state as an inevitable consequence of my circumstances, I justify my despair and that helps to make the situation seem hopeless.

    Is it ever really true that circumstances cannot change? But having invested in the circumstances as a valid explanation of my state, I no longer see the possibility of change. I leave no room for the universe to move in another direction from the one I have identified and adopted. So, to address my despair, I first must see how I have accepted this state, helped to create and sustain it by my thinking, and that it may now support some habitual function in my psyche, perhaps justifying self-pity, inaction, victimization and defeat. Can I see that despair is my state? Can I observe it impartially?

    Please understand that I do not make light of the circumstances that can bring us to despair. There are situations in life that can be absolutely horrific and there is seemingly no way out. But I know from my own experience that, most of the time, it is not nearly as dire as that. The circumstances have turned against what I want for myself or others and my worst imaginings have taken hold of my mind. But that is because my vision is partial and my wants are based on limited understanding.

    Thankfulness is a wonderful antidote for despair if I am capable of it, thankfulness for my life and what I have been given. Spending time with other people doing simple things may be helpful. Doing something no matter how small to improve the situation can also shift my state.

    However, I think there is also a deeper despair than the one provoked by personal circumstances. There is despair at my limitations, the cruel things I have done and the unspeakable cruelty of life on this planet. In any real spiritual work, this despair must arise and it is irrefutable. If this despair remains objective, not supporting psychic habits or identities or political causes, it may invite an experience of redemption in which the beautiful and the sweet, the overwhelming feeling of love, are gifted to you, lifting you out of despair. This kind of despair is a link to the divine. It’s an objective feeling which connects to higher states. Ecstasy and suffering combine and the profusion capsizes reason.

    Isn’t forgiveness the answer when I despair about the things I have done?

    Perhaps for you it is and may it be so. For myself, I have not found an end through forgiveness. My trespasses live on.

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