Guilt & Conscience


Pop Quiz:

Who wrote/said this?

1. When Abbot Antonio was asked if the road of sacrifice led to Heaven, he replied:

‘There are two such roads. The first is that of the man who mortifies his flesh and does penance because he believes that we are all damned. This man feels guilty and unworthy to live a happy life. He will never get anywhere because God does not inhabit guilt.

‘The second road is that of the man who knows that the world is not as perfect as we would all like it to be, but who nevertheless puts time and effort into improving the world around him.

‘In this case, the Divine Presence helps him all the time, and he will find Heaven.’

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

2. “Each human being has the right to seek out joy, joy being understood as something which makes one content—not necessarily that which makes others content. Each human being must keep alight within him the sacred flame of madness;—and must behave like a normal person. The only faults considered grave are the following: not respecting the rights of one’s neighbor, letting oneself be paralyzed by fear, feeling guilty, thinking one does not deserve the good and bad which occurs in life, and being a coward. We shall love our adversaries, but not make alliances with them. They are placed in our way to test our sword, and deserve the respect of our fight. We shall choose our adversaries, not the other way around. We hereby declare the end to the wall dividing the sacred from the profane: from now on, all is sacred.”

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

3. “I don’t feel guilty for anything! I feel less guilty now than I’ve felt in any time in my life. About anything. And it’s not that I’ve forgotten anything, or else closed down part of my mind, or compartmentalized. I compartmentalize less now than I ever have. It’s just done! . . . Guilt . . . is this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism—and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. It doesn’t solve anything, necessarily. It’s just a very gross technique we impose upon ourselves to control the people, groups of people. I guess I am in the enviable position of not having to deal with guilt. . . . I feel sorry for people who feel guilt. . . . But I don’t feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t feel guilty because the guilt doesn’t solve anything, really. It hurts you. You don’t need to feel badly. You don’t need to regret.”

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

I’ll admit it: I have very little patience for new age blather. And the above selections from Paulo Coehlo (selections no. 1 and 2; selection no. 3 was from Ted Bundy but seems like it might as well have been something Coehlo may have written and that many of his readers would agree with) represent some of very worst in terms of the type of reprehensible soft-minded bullshit that a person in a position of influence and power is trying to spoon-fed to his flock—as well as anyone who is interested in becoming a new age psychopath. Coehlo’s new agey “love and light” soft-minded namby-pamby bullshit is bereft of anything resembling critical thinking or solid thinking. It’s emotional and immature and speaks equally to what’s worst and what’s best in us.

And that’s the problem.

When I look around—when I “stick my finger into existence,” in this case meaning when I browse books and the Internet, I don’t see people suffering from too much guilt or too much inappropriate guilt. What I see too often is people lacking guilt and lacking a conscience, and those around them (if not the person lacking guilt and a conscience as well) suffering because of it. Too often I see conscience being rationalized away and dismissed as a “societal control mechanism” (or some other counterculture gibberish) or as some sort of small-minded berating internalized voice of God or a parent, and people doing very selfish and exploitive—if not downright wrong, and even evil—things to others. All in the name of what? Immediate gratification? Giving into temptation? Their bucket list? Living life passionately and fully and never missing out on an experience or saying No to life? Not having to more closely examine themselves and their own peculiar unique psychopathology—“Each human being must keep alight within him the sacred flame of madness and must behave like a normal person”—Uhm, I believe that’s what Ted Bundy and most psychopaths try to do—try to behave like normal people and blend in.

No, when I look around, I don’t see people suffocating from too much guilt; I see people suffering because of too little guilt and too little conscience—too little goodness and too little honest self-examination and solid critical thinking. Too often I am coming across thoughts on guilt and conscience along the lines of Paulo Coehlo’s and Ted Bundy’s—the product of sloppy soft-minded thinking. Rarely am I coming across a book or an article or a web page where someone has done some solid non-“all or nothing” thinking about guilt, remorse, conscience.

Too often what I come across are all or nothing extremist type quotes and excerpts like this:

“The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally, without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes onto oneself.

This produces a tremendous energy, which is usually locked up in the process of mental evasion and generally running away from life experiences.” ~ Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche

As if the cute little “ ~ ” makes the quote seem cozier and happier and less malignant. Read the quote; I mean really read it and scrutinize it and think on it. Anywhere in there is there anything actually useful and solid that can be used for making a practical decision? Does the quote offer anything more than emotional masturbation, a quick “this meshes with the other Buddhist/Yoga stuff I’m reading so now I can feel edified and good about myself” pick me up? A conscienceless psychopath is coming at me with a knife, according to the above quote I should apparently experience the psychopath’s knife totally and without reservations and mental blockages—without any notions of self-preservation or that what this crazy fucker with a knife is about to do to me and my body might actually be WRONG and that perhaps I should not try to resist and defend myself and kick him as hard as I can in the balls and then disarm him because these might be the products of my mental reservations and blockages. Perhaps by accepting everything totally and not running away from the experience of a malignant psychopath coming at me with a knife I will amass such tremendous inner energy that my assailant’s knife will vibrate right through me as I bliss out and off into a higher astral plane.

Come on. Really?!

I mean where’s the discernment? Where’s the less extreme, less all or nothing, less black and white—and hence more truly wise—version of the above quote? . . .

“The everyday practice is to heroically develop a greater acceptance and openness to the many situations that life presents us with and a greater tolerance for the emotions that arise within us when we are in these situations, allowing us to experience ourselves and the situation more fully and completely, without as many mental reservations and blockages, so that one withdraws or centralizes less into oneself and one’s ego and instead becomes more available to the situation and to responding more creatively and appropriately and wisely. Now this produces a tremendous clarity and energy, a clarity and energy which are usually lost and or blocked up in the process of mental evasion and generally running away from many intense and unprecedented experiences in life, many of which would operate for our benefit if we didn’t close down and run away or go through them asleep, rote, unfocused, numb, unaware, oblivious, on autopilot.”

Some people—far too many people in my opinion—have an insipid “all or nothing” “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” approach to dealing with guilt. Guilt is such a painful emotion, such a downer, such a white-hot emotion, that makes them feel so bad about themselves, devastated even, and they simply refuse to feel that way about themselves—inferior, inadequate, less than, not-OK, as if there’s something wrong with them or as if they’ve done something wrong and or bad and so now they’re not perfect because their fragile weak egos can’t handle feeling guilty.  And so they do what a weak orgnism does naturally—avoid evade annihilate deny that which seems too painful, too threatening to them, to their fragile ego, to their perfectionistic and unrealistic and fantasy and whitewashed version of themselves.  And so they treat guilt like a four-letter word, like something to be eradicated, as if guilt were a useless emotion, and they try to inoculate themselves to ever feeling guilty, to ever having to feel or deal with the pangs of their own conscience.

Guilt is anything but useless. Guilt can be the first step toward accepting responsibility for some error or wrongdoing, even evil, that we committed. It can be the first step toward contrition. It can be the first step towards getting outside of ourselves and really deciding if what we had done unto another is something we would have wished done unto us had the situation been reversed and we in their shows and they in ours.  Appropriate guilt is a blessing, not a curse; it’s the still small voice of our conscience—of what’s best in us—reaching up through the muck and trying to get our attention—“hey, you missed something; you’re better than this; you did something wrong, now face it, own up to it, take responsibility for it, clean up your mess, make your amends, set things right, repair the damage you’ve done, and don’t what you did wrong again.” Guilt, when it’s like this, is good; very good. it’s anything but a useless emotion. Rather it’s an emotion we need to learn how to not run from, but to listen to and deal with maturely and squarely and honestly.

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2 thoughts on “Guilt & Conscience

  1. I imagine it is safe to assume that Coelho is not referring to madness in the same ways as Gurdjieff, since Coelho is advising us to keep the sacred flame of madness alive within us, but to behave like a “normal” person.

    “If a man throughout the whole of his life were to feel all the contradictions that are within him he could not live and act as calmly as he lives and acts now. He would have constant friction, constant unrest. We fail to see how contradictory and hostile the different I’s of our personality are to one another. If a man were to feel all these contradictions he would feel what he really is. He would feel that he is mad. It is not pleasant to anyone to feel that he is mad.”

    (In Search of the Miraculous, pp. 159)

    because behaving like a “normal” person would require him/her to construct buffers which are the very obstacle he/she would need to overcome in order to achieve any sort of real inner development necessary to lead him/herself out of the state of life they are in and waken up ….

    and as TS Elliott once said the ‘man cannot face too much reality.’

    We can discern from Coleho’s first quote though, that he is still of the mindset that one should put “time and effort into improving the world around him” …. whereas a more mature perspective would argue perhaps that the “time and effort into improving oneself” would be time more wisely spent.

  2. Pingback: Positive Thinking, Positive Attitude, Anywhere It Works | Motivational Thoughts

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