• 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

    Tags: , , , , , , , ,

  • May 21, 2016

    I am haunted by the past, by some of the things I have done. Is there anything I can do about this?

    This is very common. What is valuable is to understand the past and make use of it in your work.

    First, you need to know that what you remember of the past is probably mostly wrong. Memory is very selective and over time we unconsciously change it to reflect our stories about ourselves.

    Consider this as a task. Choose an emotional family event many years in the past. Ask other members of the family who were there what they remember. Be prepared for monumental disagreement. Now, consider that you may have constructed large parts of your past to support your self-imagery and related identities.

    A second step is to review how much of your recollection of the past is fixated on “should, could and would”. You “should” have done things differently. If you “could” have, things “would” have gone differently. Consider that probably all of this is made-up.

    Of course we make mistakes and it is appropriate to regret them. But in looking back at yourself in the mechanical throws of the sleep state, you have no idea if you could have done things differently and you especially have no clue if things would have worked out differently. You are leaving out all kinds of unremembered factors—sensations, impressions, bodily states—had you eaten, were you in a hurry?—that may have played a vital role in what happened.

    Perhaps you will also notice that the “shoulds” change over time, as you learn more about yourself and experience more of life on this planet. We change our past by growing up and changing our perspective on it. Some of our mistakes begin to look like divine interventions.

    Third, what happened in the past likely involved other people. Do you know what their roles were and what impact past events had on them? Really? We place far too much importance on our role and what the implications were for us, what the events meant to us. We put too much emphasis on what we think the results were when we actually know almost nothing. What happened may have been the consequence of factors that had nothing to do with you.

    From a work point of view, the value of the past is that it reveals oneself. Looking impartially, not obsessing about what should have happened and leaving aside what may or may not have been the result, can you see what your inner condition was? You sense remorse. For what do you sense remorse? Was there dishonesty, cowardice, arrogance, greed?

    Looking back at some event which is accompanied by remorse, entering into the sensations of remembering, what do you see in yourself NOW, in the present? Looking without judgment, not concerned with what you cannot know, can you impartially observe the sensations proceeding in you?

    Our greatest offence against our own conscience is that we sleep. Ultimately, this is the source of remorse. Observed impartially, the sensations of remorse provide the raw fuel for awakening. Remorse is a doorway, if not indulged, if not explained or judged. It is our sleep that wakes us.

    Until you no longer need remorse to awaken, be glad that you have it.

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • July 18, 2015

    It is clear to me that the real challenge in this work is to persist. It is easy to forget to work. It is easy to be distracted by life in the world. I have all kinds of good intentions but almost no follow through. What can be done to persist?

    Yes, this is the key issue. The most important requirement for work on self is simply to show up on a consistent basis. The problem is that work on self does not serve or meet my personal aims, it does not satisfy any of my hungers, it is not reinforced or supported by my habits and it is not valued in the ordinary world. This work is abstract, hard to grasp. From the viewpoint of ordinary life, work on self is an unnecessary and impractical ‘luxury’ which offers no rewards.

    If work on self does meet personal needs, if it is supported by my habits, you can be sure that it is not real work. Therefore, it is very difficult to remember to work, to make efforts. To make efforts consistently, I need the right motive and this does not fall out of the sky. My very nature supplies wrong motives with the greatest of ease. Do not pretend you can decide to adopt the ‘right’ motive.

    Can I begin to observe myself? My behavior? My gestures? In the beginning, there will be some sort of self-serving motive, likely some sort of vague notion about self-improvement or getting the approval of others. Over time, with a certain amount of observing, the attention of observation naturally transforms the original motive into something more objective and far more useful, which could perhaps bless you with a whiff of self-disgust. Remorse enters and takes up residence. Contrition makes an appearance. Not because I am adopting someone else’s catechism but because I see what is going on in me.

    It is very important not to indulge in sensations such as remorse but to see them as helpful guides, reliable and trustworthy advisors, neither scourges for self-flagellation nor badges of honour. There is nothing special about these developments, nothing special about me. I am a product of this world and I am constructed like the rest of my specie. This realization makes possible a right motive to work which supports persistent effort.

    Lack of persistence is rich and fruitful ground for observation. What are the distractions which rob me of my ability to make consistent efforts? What resistances do I have to work efforts, resistances I can actually observe in the body? Finding, observing and releasing resistance to work on self is a profoundly useful form of work on self. The rationalizations for resistance can be very amusing. Can you be endlessly curious? Do not be satisfied by the first insight, the easy explanation. Find the contractions and sensations that sustain resistance to work. How would you describe their accompanying psychological state? Is it arrogance, defensiveness, fear of failure?

    Persistence in our work can also benefit from a correct understanding of obligation. This is a vast and subtle subject but we can at least open the door on it to see what is there. As one of my teachers once said to me, ‘if you want to think about someone, oblige yourself to him’. To obligate is to promise, to bind yourself. Life imposes many obligations…to parents, children, your employer. If you want a dog, you are obligated to walk it. There is value, always, in meeting your obligations in life because failing to do so weakens you, weakens your access to will. As a general rule, promise little and always do what you say.

    But a work obligation is different; it has no benefit to others or to you. When you are obliged to do something for others, you are likely borrowing the will to meet that obligation from them. You may not wish to disappoint them or earn their disapproval. When you obligate yourself to do a work task, you borrow the will to accomplish it from the work, provided the task does not serve anything else. If the task is interesting to you, or promises some sort of benefit, it will probably not serve as a work task. Taking on a work obligation begins to give you a relationship to work.

    Let us say that you have no interest in meditation and you feel that you are not very good at it. You could obligate yourself to come every day to group meditation, without fail, just to do it, for its own sake. Learn to exercise the will to work by choosing small, inconspicuous tasks, not worth the notice of others. And then fulfill them without fail, going whole hog including the postage, as Gurdjieff said.

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • 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.

    Tags: , , , , , , ,