Guilt & Shame: Something to Think About


“The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.” – George Bernard Shaw

Shame and guilt are are tough and touchy subjects to write about.  Unpopular subjects to talk and think about for many.  Guilt and shame make us feel bad, and we are by nature pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding creatures.  So who wants to voluntarily feel bad or ashamed about the choices they’ve made and the things they’ve done?

But what if guilt and shame–feeling these feelings and acknowledging them, and even examining them, instead of trying to avoid feeling them and burying them–might be a good thing? Especially in the long run.  What if?

One of the problems with guilt and shame is that so often when we feel guilty and ashamed it’s really not because of ourselves–it’s because we have a push-button recording going off in our heads–an unexamined automatic recording or voice telling us that we’re no good, or that we’re a failure or that we’re worthless, et cetera.  Maybe what we did was indeed wrong or heinous or bad, and maybe we should get tough with ourselves about it.  But it should be we who get tough with ourselves, not some archaic remnant voice of our parents or father- or mother-figure mercilessly ripping us a new one. That archaic voice is part of the unexamined life and needs to be examined, deconstructed, brought to light.  That voice is not nearly as important or relevant as what you really think about what you did and why you think that way.  The real question is ought you feel guilty or ashamed of what you have or have not done?  In the presence of your heroes or those you aspire to be like or to become, or even in the presence of God, ought you feel ashamed or guilty?  Have you let what’s best in you down?  Are you better than what you’re showing?

To me, that’s the essence of Shaw’s quote and the best possible reading or interpretation of it.  That’s the essence of beneficial guilt and “healthy shame.”

What do you think?

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Masks and the Game of Hide & Seek We Play with Ourselves


Masks. There are women who have no inner life wherever one looks for it, being nothing but masks. That man is to be pitied who lets himself in with such ghostly, necessarily unsatisfying creatures; but just these women are able to stimulate man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their souls–and searches on and on.
– Nietzsche

And this is how I read/interpret this:

Masks. There are women (and perhaps this may hold true for men as well. What do you think?) who have no real identity or core self wherever one looks for it and so ultimately are nothing but masks. And it’s thought that perhaps a man ought to be pitied who lets himself caught up with and beguiled by such a ghostly and inconsistent creature, such a chameleon. Yet perhaps he ought not be pitied; because it is just this type of woman who is able to stimulate a poetic and philosophic man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their soul–and he does so on and on and on. Such a woman is perhaps the ultimate form of stimulation for some men who are by nature philosophic, poetic, in other words, psychologists.

The excerpt from Nietzsche also reminded me of something I had read many years ago in “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck—

The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. The evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness, continually sweeping the evidence of their badness under the rug of their own consciousness. The problem is not a defect of conscience but the effort to deny the conscience its due.

We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves.

Evil originates not in the absence of guilt and shame but in the effort to escape from these. Evil may be recognized by its very disguise. The lie can be perceived ahead of the misdeed that it is designed to hide—the cover-up that is being created before the fact. We see the false smile that covers over the hatred and anger, the smooth and oily manner and the false laughter that masks the hidden fury or resentment, the velvet glove that covers the fist. The disguise is often impenetrable. But what we can catch are glimpses of that “uncanny game of hide-and-seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.” (Martin Buber, Good and Evil).

The words “image,” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of evil. While those who are evil or morally bad seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. But their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. Which is why they are the “people of the lie.”

What are some of the characteristics of those who are evil, or who are on the way to becoming evil?

– Consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior (blaming others) and abdication of personal responsibility, which may often be quite subtle.

– Excessive, albeit usually quite covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

– Pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability.

– Intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like or dissociative disturbance of thinking at times of stress.

People are more willing to change their circumstances rather than change themselves, because they are so attached to their self. Yet this is the ultimate attachment that we must overcome in order to truly grow and heal—the attachment to the self, to our persona, self-image, our masks, our false or pseudo-selves.

Marianne Williamson on “Facing Oneself”—Real Warriorship 101


As anyone who has ever been in serious psychotherapy is well aware, the process of personal growth isn’t always easy. We must face our own ugliness. . . . You end up seeing things about yourself that maybe you’d rather not see.  We have a lot of armor that has accumulated in front of our hearts—a lot of fear self-righteously masquerading as something else. . . . [And usually] [w]e . . . must become painfully aware of the unworkability of a pattern before we’re willing to give it up. It often seems, in fact, that our lives get worse rather than better when we begin to work deeply on ourselves. [But] life doesn’t actually get worse; it’s just that we feel our own transgressions more because we’re no longer anesthetized by unconsciousness. We’re no longer distanced through denial or dissociation from our own experience. We’re starting to see the truth about the games we play.

This process can be so painful that we are tempted to go backwards. It takes courage. This is often called the path of the spiritual warrior—to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.

Marianne Williamson, “A Return to Love,” pp. 132-133

Guilt, Anger, Apologies: A True Warrior’s Perspective


This is a poem I found on another blog

No Apologieswritten by Miro

Sorry is a word that we
Should try our best to lose
It’s a concept warriors
Should rarely ever use

We say it with no thought of how
The word’s truly defined
So let me take a moment to
Look it up and remind:

Regrettable, deplorable
Sorrowful, grieved or sad
Wretched, poor and pitiful
Without use to be had

Warriors are never sorry
For a single thing
They understand the consequences
Of the words they fling

They put thought into what they say
And also what they do
And when some feelings get hurt they
Still hold fast and stay true

To what they do believe in
Even if feathers are ruffled
They don’t make up excuses and
Let their voices be muffled

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say
All “I’m sorry” serves to do
Is shows that you will stray

“I’m sorry” is a “too late” phrase
It doesn’t change the past
Resolve to make the next time that
You say it be your last

Resolve to not do anything
That you will soon regret
Do nothing deplorable
That will leave you in debt

Save yourself from the sorrow
From being sad and grieved
If you said or did something
It’s because you believed

Be not wretched, pitiful
You’re much better than that
Differing opinions don’t
Have to end in combat

Agree to disagree and let
Each side have their own views
Never let another’s ego
Make you sing the blues

By saying that you’re sorry and
Indulging “sensitives”
Tip-toeing on eggshells is
Not how a warrior lives

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise

Because it’s in that moment where
The ego shows its face
Showing no regret is how
We put it in its place

It’s a nice poem, and certainly there are some positive ideas expressed in this poem. But there are also several negative or troubling ones as well.

And so I wrote a response to this poem delineating what I saw to be the weak points in what he (Miro) had put out there—

You do have a point, and there are many admirable things you say in your poem, but . . . In my opinion sorry certainly still has a place in social interactions. . . . Regret, remorse, redress . . . these can all be very important things. They are part and parcel of having a working conscience. If our conscience is barely working, then we say sorry, but we don’t change our ways. But steps 4 through 10 or so of “The Twelve Steps” address this—don’t just say you’re sorry, but make your actual amends for the bad things you’ve done. Fact of the matter is, there are plenty of people in the world who OUGHT to be sorry and who NEED to be sorry. Of course, they’re probably not warrior poets . . . BUT . . . they may stray across this blog and use your words (or similar words and ideas) to justify continuing their lack of conscience.

As a fellow warrior poet, I know that I still make mistakes, misread situations and other people. Sometimes I misfire, say the wrong thing, overshoot, et cetera. And apologizing in those situations is not superiority bowing down to mediocrity or the like. It’s a simple admission of the facts: I don’t know everything; I’m fallible, human; I am not inside the other person’s head; I’m not God; I’m not omniscient; I don’t know the whole of what it’s like to be the other person and to have experienced what he or she has experienced. And so all of that seems to dictate some level of humility, it seems to automatically require that I temper whatever wisdom and insight I may think I have with a little bit of “but I could be wrong.”

My question is why are you or anyone else so afraid of saying sorry when (or if?) you muck something up? You’re not perfect. No one is. You make mistakes. We all do. So deal with it. Deal with the fact that you make mistakes. And deal with it by having the guts or the conscience to offer a sincere apology.

My sense is that there’s this new age warrior movement afoot (probably started by Castenada) where people are equating being enlightened or awake or mature with never having to say they’re sorry. And that’s cow poop. My thought is not feeling guilty, not saying you’re sorry when you eff up doesn’t make you enlightened or a warrior poet, it makes you a sociopath.

Society doesn’t need more people who can’t or won’t say they’re sorry, what it needs is more people who are in touch with their own fallibility, and who say they’re sorry and then mean it—i.e. try their darndest to not make the same mistake again, learn from the past, and become a better person for having made their honest amends. There’s something very dignified and noble and truly warrior-like about actually taking a searching and fearless moral inventory, and then making one’s amends, and continuing to refine and develop one’s conscience in a healthy and ennobling way.

These are two posts I’ve written recently that touch on this—

https://theplacesthatscareyou.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/when-pop-psych-advice-goes-amuck/

http://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/the-two-preliminaries-necessary-to-train-in-in-order-to-awaken-and-truly-change-grow/

Personally I’d much prefer to live in a society where when people make a mistake or do wrong, or when they snap at each other because they get stressed out, they apologize sincerely for it, and try to take actual steps to lessen the likelihood of overheating and snapping or doing wrong again, than one where people hide out behind “deal with it” and never really doubt their own fallibility.

Kindest regards, and I look forward to reading more of your poems!

John

But Miro elected not to approve and post my comment. Perhaps he didn’t want to let it mar the love- & validation-fest he has going on at his blog, because apparently only praise and happy comments are acceptable.  But criticism is not accepted.  And something that challenges the warrior-poet’s prevailing “wisdom” is not permitted.  Miro only seems to want yes-men and yes-women commenting on his poems.  Miro-Miro on the wall, who’s the fairest Miro of them all . . .

A Little Background: Some More Considerations

I will be very up front and admit that I have very little tolerance for that variety of soft-minded new age pabulum where misguided wannabe-sages and errant advice-givers like Wayne Dyer and Paulo Coehlo are trying to convince people to give up guilt and anger.

This is an ongoing problem with the new-thought / new-age movement in general (and in my opinion it is due in part to a really bad misapplication of Buddhism). In new age and new thought and meditation and yoga and stress-reduction circles anger, guilt, and thinking all tend to be seen as the enemy—they are all under attack, so much so that the image or ideal that is being put forth is that an enlightened or evolved person doesn’t get angry, doesn’t feel guilt, and doesn’t think.

Which is all bullshit.

An enlightened person thinks, but thinks in a way that is markedly differently from how most people think. An enlightened person thinks in a more objective and less egocentric way. An enlightened (or evolved) person thinks in a more sincere and focused and deliberate way, not a discursive and distracted or monkey-minded way. An evolved person has learned how to think well—how to think very clearly, very insightfully, and how to cancel out his or her own biases or “ego”—in other words, how to examine oneself and one’s own deeper motivations.

An enlightened or evolved person hasn’t thrown the baby out with the bath water when it comes to thinking. An enlightened person has just changed the bath water—i.e. learned how to think more truthfully and less fallaciously and less egocentrically.

The same goes for anger and guilt.

Anger & Guilt

Anger is what we feel when someone may have violated our boundaries or done something wrong or unacceptable to us. Just because we feel anger doesn’t actually mean that someone has done something wrong to us or that our boundaries actually have been violated. But it does indicate that something HAS HAPPENED and that we need to look into it and get to the bottom of it.

The problem is that most people refuse to do the work of anger and to actually investigate why they are angry. Anger is a powerful emotion. And we are right to be afraid of it. Because most people when they are angry simply act out on that emotion. And sometimes people acting out on anger do horrible hideous things to others—road rage, go postal, say nasty hurtful things, et cetera.

And so Wayne Dyer and Paulo Coehlo and other new age wannabe gurus see this and they (admirably) want to help people stop themselves from hurting others when they’re in a fit of rage or anger. So clearly anger has to go. As if that’s the problem. When really the problem is something more involved—a lack of self-control, a lack of thinking, or a lot of sloppy thinking, etc. But instead of tackling these more difficult and complex issues, they give the people what they want—an all or nothing throw the baby out with the bath water solution. Anger is bad, stop being angry, and chastise those who get angry around you; become part of the new and higher consciousness that is on the verge of being born and get rid of such an antiquated and low-brow way of living; become pure and radiant and anger-free like me . . .

No one wants to be told to think more and that getting rid of anger is only to make a mistake in the opposite direction. That type of advice doesn’t sell many books to the lowest common denominator or to what’s worst in us.

And, as for guilt, guilt is what we (ought to) feel when we have done something wrong or unacceptable to another—when we have done something to another that we wouldn’t want done to us—that we would get angry about if it was done to us. Guilt is what we’re supposed to feel when we have treated another in a way that would make us angry if someone else treated us or our child that way.

But this isn’t what new age false prophets feed their lemmings. Instead they advise them to get rid of guilt altogether. Guilt is bad. Forgive yourself and move on. They don’t tell their fold, hey, if you’re feeling guilty, start examining that feeling; have you done to another something that you wouldn’t want done to yourself or that you would tolerate another person doing to your child? Or are you feeling guilty because you were mis-raised by an overbearing berating parent who didn’t love you or show you any warmth or tenderness, but who always seemed to criticize you for everything you did, and so you walk around as an adult with this dark “I’m not good enough” cloud hanging over your head that you interpret as “guilt”? These soft-minded false-gurus don’t offer much real insight or much real wisdom, they just dispense their all-or-nothing nonsense; get rid of guilt, stop feeling guilty and you’ll feel better. So what if you did wrong? So what if you cheated on your spouse because you were ungrateful, so what if you broke up the family and moved 2,000 miles away because you were unhappy and bored and wanted to start over and be true to you? So what? Stop feeling guilty about it; you’re doing the best you know how.

No, you’re not. You’re not doing your best. You have no real standards for yourself, you’ve lost your sense of right and wrong; but you’ve also lost your enthusiasm and passion (and so you’ve just been going through the motions), and so you are rightfully desperate to feel alive. But you don’t seem to care if you have to do wrong (or something you ought to feel guilty about) in order to feel more alive. But the problem is: the means matter! The journey matters just as much as the destination, if not more so. Because it’s in the means that we either really earn our worth (by really earning what we want in a legitimate way) or do grave injury to ourselves (by not living up to our values and what’s best in us).

So anger, guilt, thinking: these are all hot button topics for me. I see the current, I see what’s being dispensed, what’s being offered out there psychologically and spiritually on the open market—in books and blogs, et cetera—and it’s frightening! It’s Cheetos for the brain, Twinkies for the soul; it’s really bad and sloppy advice that’s being proffered.

And when you get down to the bottom of it—when you think about it—it’s also the same sort of stuff you find in a good portion of Miro’s “No Apologies” poem.

I will explain my thought processes and reactions in detail as I go—

No Apologies

Sorry is a word that we
Should try our best to lose
It’s a concept warriors
Should rarely ever use

I agree with this verse. A warrior should be leading a very conscious and deliberate life.

BUT, even a warrior is fallible, SO even a warrior may miss the mark occasionally and may need to apologize for doing so

We say it with no thought of how
The word’s truly defined
So let me take a moment to
Look it up and remind:

Regrettable, deplorable
Sorrowful, grieved or sad
Wretched, poor and pitiful
Without use to be had

“We” is a very tough word to use. Who is this “we” you are speaking of? I guarantee it doesn’t apply to me, because I am very thoughtful about how words are defined and used. The proof?—just read on, my friend . . .

Warriors are never sorry
For a single thing
They understand the consequences
Of the words they fling

This stanza is partly true, but also contains much that is false. For example, the use of the categorical “never’ is fallacious. I am a warrior, and I will say “sorry” when I muck something up.

And in this situation I lack a complete understanding of the words I fling (or post). And that was my point to Miro in my original comment on my thread that he refused (three times!) to post.

No one here is God; no one is omniscient or all-knowing; we’re all more or less in the dark; some more than others, some a bit less than others. But we’re all in the dark, living in the shadowlands. And that consideration alone ought to temper our arrogance and instead be a source of humility and openness and inquisitiveness for us.

But for some people it isn’t. Perhaps it frightens them and makes them even more desperate to pretend that they’re God and all-knowing. Perhaps their own shadow-side gets the better of them and makes them want to overcompensate for how lost and in the dark they feel. Perhaps they are so lacking in self-esteem that they simply can’t take the hit to the ego that admitting they’re wrong and offering a sincere apology entails.

I don’t know Miro. I only recently came across his blog. So I have no idea how the words I fling will affect him. I don’t know him well enough to know what his particular ego is like and how his particular defenses are arrayed.

I do, however, know the facts: that I read his “No Apologies” post, I saw how it could easily be misread, and I wrote a comment detailing that. He did not approve my comment. So I re-submitted it two days later. Again, he did not permit it to be posted. And so I tried once more. Again, he refused to post it.

So what does that tell me about Miro?—he signs his comments “peace & grace.” Based on the avoidant tendencies he’s displayed in regards to my (likely) very perceptive and valid and constructive criticisms, I’d say for Miro “peace” means the absence of conflict, not the ability to deal with conflict squarely and maturely.

This is the tagline to his blog:

Peace+strength+grace+intensity+resolve+patience+fortitude+selflessness+focus+balance+courage+love=wisdom

I’m not sure I see the courage or the strength or the wisdom or the selflessness is his approach here. I think he sacrificed his own vision and values by not posting my comments. How hard would it have been for him to have posted my comment and have written something along the lines of, “Interesting perspective, John; I didn’t notice the cracks in my own formulations; what I had in mind was . . . ”

But instead he chose to be avoidant; he chose the uncourageous path. He let what was weakest in him chart his course.

Whitman wrote:

There are those who teach only
the sweet lessons of peace and safety;
But I teach lessons of war and death to those I love,
That they readily meet invasions, when they come.

Those are the lessons I teach as well. And to myself most of all. Don’t just stand for something, John, stand for what is good AND right. Stand not just for what is true, but stand for real compassion and understanding as well; stand not just for kindness, but for clarity and wisdom as well.

It’s a difficult balance to attain.

Rumi wrote: “Unkindness from the wise is better than kindness from the ignorant.”

Criticism from someone wise is to be preferred over praise from someone lost and unwise.

If you truly want to grow and learn in life, then these ARE important considerations.

But if you just want to live a comfortable life and never really deal with your own ego, then simply avoid people who challenge you, avoid people who have a different point of view than you, and hide out immediately behind “live and let live” and “let’s agree to disagree” and some vague and self-serving (ego-serving) (mis-)definition of “respect.”

They put thought into what they say
And also what they do

I agree wholeheartedly. And I am exhibiting all of that thinkiness in this post.

And when some feelings get hurt they
Still hold fast and stay true

I don’t agree. It’s just not that simple. Sometimes the correct response is to hold fast and stay true; other times it is to apologize and say you’re sorry and learn from your mistakes. We’re all fallible; even warriors.

To what they do believe in
Even if feathers are ruffled
They don’t make up excuses and
Let their voices be muffled

And considering that you didn’t post my comments, I can only assume that your feelings were hurt. So what are you, Miro, holding fast and staying true to? You are running from a contrary opinion, you are running from a challenge, you are hiding from criticism.

So what ought I do? Not apologize? Stay true and hold fast? You’re feelings have clearly been hurt, Miro, what would you have me do? You voice seems to have been muffled (other than the one passive-aggressive bard you left in your comment to one of your worshippers); and you seem more than willing to try and muffle my voice, Miro, especially since I “deserve” it since I ruffled the feathers of the little man hiding behind his curtain . . .

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say

I disagree: the goal is to be truthful, not confident. The ego wants to play its little game of confidence; the soul wants truth. And the truth is we are all fallible; none of us is omniscient. And that should lead to some real humility, some real openness, not arrogance and faux-confidence. The goal is NOT to be confident in all that you do in say; the goal is to be MINDFUL, to be as AWARE as possible, and to be OPEN to admitting when you’re wrong when you are indeed wrong.

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say

If you’re truly confident in what you say and do, Miro, then surely a confident person like yourself, Miro, should have the confidence to post an opposing point of view.  When you refuse to post a well-thought out and perhaps very valid opposing point of view, it suggests, Miro, that you are not very confident.

All “I’m sorry” serves to do
Is shows that you will stray

“All”? More all-or-nothing categorical thinking. All just doesn’t apply here. It’s sloppy thinking and a sloppy word choice; and it makes what Miro is trying to say fallacious or false.

“I’m sorry” is a “too late” phrase
It doesn’t change the past
Resolve to make the next time that
You say it be your last

Cute; it rhymes. But is it true? Is what he’s saying in this stanza psychologically healthy and spiritually “evolved”? Is it what a real warrior would do or say?

Resolve to not do anything
That you will soon regret
Do nothing deplorable
That will leave you in debt

Great advice! This is what we all ought to aspire to! Think of what a lovely social world we would live in if more people thought like this BEFORE they acted. It would be a wonderful thing.

Save yourself from the sorrow
From being sad and grieved
If you said or did something
It’s because you believed

Be not wretched, pitiful
You’re much better than that
Differing opinions don’t
Have to end in combat

No, not at all, just silence and avoidance, right? That’s your example, Miro: the high road of avoidance, which is really the lowest road there be. You refused to post an opposing point of view and you tried to illegitimately sweep it under the carpet. How many other voices have you tried to muffle, you warrior poet, you? Run and hide is not a very effective or warrior-like strategy, Miro.

Agree to disagree and let
Each side have their own views

Just not on your site, right Miro?

Never let another’s ego
Make you sing the blues

And what about the truth? Would it be okay to let the truth make us sing the blues?

And agree to disagree? In my experience, that’s what the ego loves to put out there, because for the ego there really is no such thing as Truth, only lots and lots of “what’s true for me.” But for people who are really trying to “get over themselves” and truly be psychological and spiritual warriors, they have a different maxim that they live by: It’s not who is right but what’s right. It’s not all about this ego versus ego cage match. There’s truth, and there are points of view that are either more or less true, more or less in tune with the truth. Each side can have its views, but sometimes one or both sides’ views are wrong or false or fallacious.

By saying that you’re sorry and
Indulging “sensitivities”
Tip-toeing on eggshells is
Not how a warrior lives

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise.

Okay, so this rhymes. So what? The more important matter is: is it true? Is this psychologically healthy? Just because it rhymes doesn’t make it true. These are Miro’s words; these are the phrases he chose: “deal with it,” “get over yourself.” —Who honestly wants to live in a society where well-meaning people say that to each other and where this is the type of all-or-nothing advice that people live by? You don’t like what I have to say? Deal with it! You don’t like my poem? Get over yourself! How very Dalai Lama-like!

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise.

This stanza just seems kinda childish, kind of like someone’s ego wrote it. Maybe Miro needs to get over himself first and lead by example? Just a thought. . . . Put up my response, Miro, and deal with it!

Because it’s in that moment where
The ego shows its face
Showing no regret is how
We put it in its place

We put another’s ego in its place by not showing any regret? I don’t know, Miro. I’m not sure how much Miro knows about the ego. What I’ve learned is that what the ego most seems to hate is scrutiny, challenge, truth, light, exposure, criticism of ANY SORT.

What the ego wants is comfort and control and the comfort of surrounding itself with a bunch of mirrors who only reflect back to it what it wants to see of itself.

The ego doesn’t want to see itself as it is; what the ego wants is to see itself as it wants to be seen and as it dreams of being.

And so it banishes (or doesn’t post the comments of) anyone who doesn’t flatter it, who doesn’t fawn over its rhymes or sing its praises.

A real warrior is focused on truth and wisdom, not praise and positive feedback. The ego is not interested in truth and wisdom for their own sake, but only in relation to getting the ego more of what it craves—praise, flattery, positive mirroring, being told how awesome it is.

The ego doesn’t want reality, it wants distortion; the ego doesn’t want to be seen as it is and for what it is, it wants to be seen in a distorted and flattering way.

A false warrior is not open to challenge and is not open to criticism and contrary opinions and differing points of view.

But a true warrior is: he is open to challenge; he is open to criticism. A real warrior puts himself out there and offers the world a standing invitation to disprove his point of view, because a real warrior is dedicated to the truth and to reality at all costs, and not just the costs that his ego is willing to pony up.

And a real warrior does all of this because a real warrior knows it’s not about who’s right but what’s right.

A false warrior is an inwardly insecure and weak person who is pretending to be strong, a false self trying to prop itself up on positive feedback and by receiving positive blog comments. Sometimes it takes much more strength to say “I’m sorry, I was acting like an avoidant coward; I wasn’t living from what’s best in me” than it does to say “Deal with it.”

When Pop-Psych Advice Goes Amuck . . .


Dr. Wayne W. Dyer posted this little gem of pop-psych gone amuck advice yesterday on his Facebook page, and it has tallied up over 11,100 “Likes,” 500 comments, and 3,600 plus “Shares”!

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, then move on.

Like Unlike · Comment · Share · 11,191 Likes; 500 Comments; 3,610 Shares · 11 hours ago

 

And so I posted this (little gem) in response:

Garbage . . . such blithe all-or-nothing throw the baby out with bath-water advice. . . .

Pop quiz: who said/wrote the following:

“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. Wayne Dyer
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

The answer, of course, is E.

Lament and guilt are actually completely normal and appropriate responses when we have erred and done wrong and or “missed the mark.” And the correct next step after we have felt guilt or lament is to make our amends, take corrective restorative actions, and then to never do the bad or errant behavior again.

The solution isn’t to blithely “forgive ourselves” and get rid of that shred of sanity within us (our conscience) that is nagging us and reminding us that we could have done better.

And the soulution isn’t to write assinine and vague little blog posts advising people to glibly forgive themselves and move on.

Seriously, what were you thinking, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer?!?

Can you imagine a nation of people focused just on forgiving themselves (how self-centered! Where is the actual concern or compassion for the other person–the person who was wronged or hurt??) and just moving on??? You’ve forgotten the most important piece of advice!–To advise people to take corrective action and make their amends; and then NEVER do that wrong or errant thing again. And then guess what?–they’ll never have to feel guilty for doing that bad or errant thing again for the simple fact that they will have stopped doing that errant or wrong thing!

So how about instead of:

You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, then move on.

Perhaps something more psychologically sound and mature like:

You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, seek the other person’s forgiveness, take corrective restorative action and make your amends, and then move on and never do what it is you’re feeling guilty about ever again.

What Does it Mean to Be “Asleep” in Life?


What does it mean to be “asleep” in life?

Simply put, being “asleep” means being blind to ourselves, being blind to who we are, why we are the way we are, and what it’s like to be on the opposite end of an interaction with us.  It means being ignorant of or unconcerned with all of this and why we do what we do. 

Why do we—or some of us, or the vast majority of people—do this?—sleepwalk through life?  Why do we—so many of us—live like this?  Why are so many of us content to live like this?

What’s the payoff? 

A supposedly easier life?  A supposedly less painful and stressful and anxious life?

Aside from the obvious answer that “everyone else” is doing it and living the same way (asleep), maybe it’s because we’re too full of pride to be willing to look at ourselves honestly (especially if our life is not something shiny and lustrous to behold).  Or maybe it’s because we’re too ignorant and unintelligent and so we lack the cognitive capacities to look at ourselves (which is not likely for most people, especially “educated” people).  Or maybe it’s because we’re uncourageous because we suspect that we might be too weak to stomach emotionally looking at ourselves and our mess squarely, and so because we intuitively sense/imagine how stressful and painful doing so will (likely) be, we protect ourselves (self-protect) and refuse to face ourselves in an objective and fair and honest way.   We remain cloudy and asleep rather than clear and awake and piercingly honest.

When we’re asleep in life we’re not self-aware, we’re not self-conscious.  Thus we’re certainly not metacognizing—thinking about our own thinking or examining our own programming and paradigm and looking at our own behaviors.  And it’s highly likely that our conscience isn’t very active either—honesty likely isn’t a big concern, nor is doing our best or being our best or growing toward (in the direction of) becoming our best or constantly learning and improving and maturing as a person throughout life. 

In short, being asleep means leading an unexamined life.  A life where we’re ignorant of our own biases and double standards and hypocrisies and conditioning and underlying psychodramas. 

If the unexamined life truly is not worth living, then every moment spent dishonestly or deceptively with ourselves, or ignorant and unaware of our own real motivations and deeper needs and potentials, is life wasted.  And conversely every moment where we are contemplatively aware of ourselves or where we are correcting our biases, hypocrisies, self-deception and self-deceit is a moment of life worth living.

When we’re asleep, we’re on auto-pilot and living in ego-mode, we’re lost in our projections and transferences and daydreams and biases and double standards, we’re lost and asleep living a me first “looking out for number one” life where others aren’t “real” and where we’re running around constantly empty and unhappy and lost and trying reactively to get our wants and needs (love, validation, safety, security) met and inner-emptiness filled, trying to feel good, living impulsively, and taking the path of least resistant as often as possible, which means as much immediate gratification (damn the future consequences) as possible.

When we’re asleep we’re certainly not engaged in a 24/7 process of constant and never-ending self-surveillancing of ourselves and our own thoughts and behaviors and the underlying reasons for doing what we do and saying what we say.

Blissful  ignorance is the goal when we’re asleep.  Not knowing is the goal.  Not being disturbed or perturbed or awakened is the goal.  Undisturbed and uninterrupted sleep and self-numbing is the goal.  Living for the moment, living for fun, living for the next satisfaction or good feeling or psychological high or thrill is the goal.

But not constant self-surveillance.  Not truth.  Not looking at ourselves, examining ourselves, examining our own thinking, really scrutinizing it, really asking why, really being as honest and courageous and straightforward as possible.  These are not the goal.

Why? 

Probably because they’re painful and disquieting and uncomfortable and not “fun.”  They’re not gratifying.  They don’t relieve or lessen tension—at least not in the short-term!  In fact, if anything, they cause/create more tension, more unease, more anxiety, more depression, more distress, more stress, more confusion.  Truth doesn’t make us feel good.  Seeing ourselves as we are, with no softeners or buffers, doesn’t make us feel good, especially if we’re a bit of a hot mess or if we’ve made a hot mess of our lives.  So why do it?  Why look at honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter nasty-tasting medicine?

Most of us are still very simple creatures—seek pleasure, avoid pain; seek comfort and security, avoid danger and duress.  We run on very simple programming: what tastes or feels good must be good for us, what tastes or feels bad must be bad for us.  Many people, many of us, live in many areas of our life on the autopilot of these sorts of basic, unconscious (unaware) assumptions and patterns.

But waking up means waking up from the sleep that such a way of life engenders.  It means waking up from the sleep of avoiding pain and seeking only pleasure, automatically avoiding challenge and difficulty and adversity and seeking comfort and security and familiarity.  It means waking up from the sleep of living and reacting automatically. 

Waking up means asking why.  Waking up means examining ourselves constantly morning noon and night, and starting to spot our discrepencies and inconsistencies and underlying patterns and notice these.  It means learning to ask, in relation to what we do, what we say, what we like, what we prefer, what we avoid, the question “why,” and to do so almost constantly—why am I doing this?—what do I really want from this?—why do I really want this?—what will the long-term effect of doing this or getting this or eating this be for myself? et cetera. . . .

Waking up also means ceasing to be hypocritical—ceasing to ask others to do for us what we’re not willing to do for them, making them do the dirty jobs or go first instead of us.  Waking up means putting an end to our me-first I’m-the-center-of-the-world looking-out-for-number-one narcissistic ways.  It means, instead, putting ourselves on the same level as everyone else—“Love means learning to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things, for you are only one thing among many.  And whoever sees that way heals his heart, without knowing it, from various ills” (Czeslaw Milosz)—i.e. various ills such as narcissism, antisocial tendencies, borderline tendencies, depression, a myriad of anxieties, et cetera.

When we’re asleep we can’t see the wisdom in these words of Emerson—“ Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment” (“Self-Reliance”).  When we’re asleep, we (mistakenly) think that what we’re trying to teach—what we intend to teach—is what we actually teach.  But as we awaken, we begin realize—the horror, the horror!—that this is not the case—that instead what we are teaches far more than what we say or what we intend or will or pretend to be but not yet are.  And so as we awaken we get to work on our character—our level of being, our level of differentiation, our conscience, our capacity for virtue, our work ethic, our level of true psychological and spiritual health and courage, our capacity to love and be loved, and the forces of entropy and laziness and fear that keep us stuck and small—because this is the part of us that we carry around with us everywhere and that we cannot escape or avoid or outrun or disown—“For only as we ourselves, as adults, actually move and have our being in the state of love, can we be appropriate models and guides for our children. What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become” (Joseph Chilton Pearce).

The clock is ticking.  At every moment, we’re either awake or asleep, and either waking more up or going more to sleep, and so we’re either unconsciously communicating (teaching) wakefulness or sleep to those around us as well as ourselves. 

At every moment we’re either communicating wakefulness or sleep, virtue or pathology. —The opposite of virtue isn’t vice, it’s pathology, sickness.  Vice is a symptom or expression of pathology.  And evil is the most pathological form of pathology.  Truly healthy people are virtuous people.  The vast majority of people (us) because they (we) are asleep, unaware, unconscious are neither healthy or unhealthy but are a mixed bag—a somewhat disorderly random amalgamation of virtue and vice, areas of relative integration and coherence and areas of mental unwellness, compartmentalization, distortions, projection, unreality, bias, hypocrisy, denial, avoidance, cowardice, pathology.  And the less healthy a person is, the less virtuous and the more full of bad habits, vice, dis-intigration, self-deception, avoidance, emotional reactiveness, the person will be.  

So why try and wake up from our slumber?  Why burden ourselves with seeing ourselves (and what neurosis and psychopathology and dysfunction there is in us) as we are?  Why look clearly and honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter and nasty-tasting medicine?

Because, in all likelihood, it’s the only way out, it’s the only way to truly grow up and mature as a person and become what was intended.  If we’re not willing to have the difficult conversations with ourselves, if we’re not willing to look honestly and starkly at ourselves and start putting ourselves under 24/7 around the clock surveillance and really start scrutinizing ourselves and putting ourselves and our actions under the microscope, if we’re not willing to start seeing ourselves for what we are and start calling ourselves out on our own bullshite, then we’re just marking time, wasting our lives, and we really don’t want to wake up.  Because, bottom line, waking up means intimacy—being raw and open and heroically real and honest with ourselves—and doing so constantly—and then doing so with others and owning our psychopathology and neuroticism and weak parts and getting to work on overcoming and outgrowing them.  This is the stuff—the day in and day out frontline grunt work—of the “examined life.”  And without doing this, our lives are just a blind decent into the grass, a useless march into oblivion.

(This is a slightly edited and updated version of an essay I posted on another of my blogshttp://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/what-does-it-mean-to-be-%e2%80%9casleep%e2%80%9d-in-life/)

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.

Criticism & How to Deal with It


Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” – Franklin P. Jones

Criticism stings.

A lot of what is true in life stings as well.

Death stings. Loss stings. Failure stings. Rejection stings. All of these stab at and wound our pride, our vanity, our ego.

If we can’t handle being told off or not getting what we want, how will we be able to handle death when that comes?” – Pema Chödrön

And if we can’t handle criticism, constructive or otherwise, and metabolize it maturely, then how will we be able to deal with the rest of what contributes to the full intensity of life? We’ll always be shrinking from life, retreating, afraid of life and afraid most of all of ourselves and our own reactions and the heat iand ntensity of our own emotions.

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.” – James Thurber

This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.” – Rilke

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.” – Karlfried Graf Durchheim, “The Way of Transformation,” pg. 108

We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can;” Rilke counsels us, “everything, even the unprecedented“—which means even that which we find immense and overwhelming and unpleasant and unsettling and discomforting—”must be possible within it.” We must learn to take on life and become big and strong and mature and sane enough to live and love on life’s terms, not our terms, and overcome our natural tendency to be “timid before any new and inconceivable experience with which we feel ourselves ill-equipped to cope.” We must overcome our natural timidity and our innate tendency toward flight—to retreat, avoid, shrink, ball up, wall up, play it safe, take the path of least resistance, take the path of least stress and least emotional intensity. “That something is difficult“—and unsettling, for that matter—”is all the more reason for us to do it. Most people have turned their solutions and their approach to life toward what is easy, and toward the easiest side of the easy; but . . . if only we would arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then that which now appears to us as most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” (From “Letters to a Young Poet,” letters no. seven & eight)

The primary reason we shy away from criticism is that it’s difficult. It’s difficult to deal with. It’s difficult to metabolise. It’s difficult to stay calm and centered and rational when we’re hearing something we don’t want to hear or something that challenges us or dis-validates us.

Criticism triggers us, shows us our weak spots, makes us feel bad or inferior or inadequate, makes us feel like we’re under attack, brings up all sorts of unpleasant and difficult and white-hot negative emotions (our fight or flight responses)—intense, flooding emotions with which we feel ill-equipped to cope. In other words, criticism makes us feel inferior; it makes us feel bad about ourselves; it makes us feel invalidated, rejected, not good enough, wrong; and no one likes to feel inferior or not good enough, no one likes to feel attacked or rejected. These are all unpleasant emotions that are difficult to deal with and metabolise.

And so one of the primary things to learn that will help us better and more peaceably deal with criticism and not flood emotionally when someone is criticizing us, is lessening our dependency on “reflected sense of self”— on other people’s approval and acceptance and validation. The less we rely on others’ acceptance and approval and validation for our sense of self and for our emotional stability, the less likely we will flood emotionally when criticized, and the less likely we will view criticism as such a intense personal attack—or form dis-validation or rejection—and the less likely we will be to spin out and flood emotionally. The less we need other people’s acceptance of us, then the less we will mind their rejection of us as well, and thus the more skilled we will become at maintaining our equilibrium emotionally, thus freeing us to deal with criticism rationally—in a calm, cool, collected, thoughtful, inquisitive, grounded, rational, discerning, lucid, sane way.

Like it or not, each of us is at the helm of something that was built much more for pleasure and for playing it safe than for tolerating pain and the unknown; something that is much more emotional and egocentric than spiritual and egoless.

We are emotional and reactive beings first, before we are sane and rational and less reactive beings. The latter is something we must learn to grow into; and it is something very difficult and painful to grow into.

Yet, like it or not, through concerted effort, we can become much less emotional and reactive and avoidant and egoful; we can come to learn or teach ourselves to do the unnatural—to endure pain and discomfort for the sake of growth and self-improvement and self-transcendence, to not automatically run or shrink or wall up or flood or spin out.

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” – Robert Frost

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.” – Thomas Huxley

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith, Economics, Peace and Laughter (1971), p. 50.

From “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, pp. 52-53—

A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.

The only way we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers.

Otherwise we live in a closed system—within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy—rebreathing only our own fetid air, and more and more subject to delusion.

Yet because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality (read: dealing with criticism; which is essentially what most criticism is: a challenge to our map of reality), we mostly seek to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity. . . .

The tendency to avoid challenges is so omnipresent in human beings that it can properly be considered a characteristic of human nature.

But calling it natural or a characteristic of human nature does not mean it is essential or beneficial or unchangeable behavior.

It is also natural for us to defecate in our pants and never brush our teeth.

Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural until it becomes natural, until it becomes second nature. Indeed, all self-discipline might be defined as teaching ourselves to do the unnatural.

Because another characteristic of human nature—perhaps the one that makes us most human—is our capacity to do the unnatural, to transcend and hence transform our own nature and conditioning.

From the motion picture “African Queen”—

Charlie Allnut: “A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it’s only human nature.”
Rose Sayer: “Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Every person (okay, almost every person) on the planet has this capacity—the capacity to learn how to do the unnatural, the capacity to learn how to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth, the capacity to rise above the baser parts of their (which is to say “our”) nature.

And yet very few will take up the task or the challenge.

Why?

Again, it all boils down to the difficulty and unpleasantness factor. Meaning, mastering ourselves emotionally and becoming less reactive is difficult work—it’s difficult and it’s work; meaning it’s often not pleasurable; it’s often painful, difficult, daunting, overwhelming, unsettling, stress-inducing, anxiety-provoking.

And most people want things easy, light, simple, fun; most people don’t want to work, least of all on themselves; most people would rather be (most people long to be) accepted for who they are and as they are, than work on themselves and work on overcoming or rising above the baser or less noble or more reactive parts of their nature.

Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” – Jim Rohn

Again, it comes down to difficulty versus the path of least resistance. It’s easier to avoid criticism and just react to it emotionally rather than responding to it rationally and by thinking critically and honestly and staying calm, for the latter requires mastering ourselves emotionally, it requires the difficulty of overcoming our nature—our tendency to react emotionally, to flood, to self-protect, to go into fight or flight mode instead of think, observe, remain open and inquisitive. For most of us, emotionality or emotional-reactivity is our first responder, not calm cool and collected and orderly critical thinking and detached unbiased objective fair-minded inquiry.

And for most of us the desire to feel good or comfortable or adequate or accepted is more important than the desire to see ourselves and life as it is. We are more dedicated to the little picture (the ego) than the big picture (reality, true psychological and spiritual growth).

“Truth is reality. That which is false is unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world and with the demands of adult life.

“The less clearly we see the reality of the world—the more our minds are polluted and befuddled by falsehoods, misperceptions, illusions, distortions, dishonesty—the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise choices.

“True mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

“What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean?

“It means, first of all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination and self-awareness. We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world (and thus to know what is true and real), we must not only examine the world, but simultaneously examine the examiner and our own assumptions, motivations, and paradigms/schemas—the lenses we use to look out upon and make sense of the world.

“Truth or reality (or even our own self) is avoided when it is painful (or too humbling or shameful to examine or become truly aware of). Yet we can only grow when we have the discipline to overcome that pain (and overwhelming sense of shame or powerlessness).

“To have such discipline we must be totally dedicated to truth.

“That is to say that we must always hold the truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our own self-interest, than our comfort.

“Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth and growth.” (Abridged and adapted from M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 44, 50-51; parentheticals mine)

Reality is not for everyone. The real world is not for everyone. Truth is not for everyone. The vast majority of human beings still prefer some variety of soft food intellectually, psychologically and spiritually. When it comes to truth and living in reality, many people are still hooked on the soft sugary make-me-feel-good stuff—you know, the emotional Gerbery stuff. Many people, which is to say, many of us, haven’t gotten to the point where we can take the real stuff. We haven’t evolved that much or differentiated that much. We can drink red wine—most of which is honestly quite nasty—arguably much nastier than criticism—or we can drink scotch or whisky straight up—but we still can’t similarly take the emotional hit of criticism.

We can’t take our criticism straight up. We can’t “man up” and take the emotional “hit” of criticism like an adult.

What does that say about us as human beings and our level of emotional fitness?

And what does that say about our values and priorities and what we hold to be near and dear to us?

Sure, we tolerate red wine, even whisky or bourbon or scotch on the rocks, because we know the payoff that’s coming—some variant of pleasure—a bit of relaxation, self-escape, inebriation, lessened inhibitions, lessened sensitivity to stress and worry, a precious bit of self-forgetfulness . . . ahhhh.

But criticism offers no such payoff. Once we take the hit emotionally, there’s no intoxication coming our way. Quite the opposite: we end up actually having to sober up—that’s likely one of the reasons we don’t like and value criticism—because we don’t really like and or value sobriety, i.e., reality, knowing who and what we really are and what we’re really like.

Not to mention the idea that knowledge creates obligation; unless our interior life is in complete shambles, we tend to automatically act in alignment with what we know or most strongly believe to be true. So that means we must do some actual work and make a real tangible change.

So who in their right mind would want to have to deal with this—with having their nose shoved in their own dodo? Who wants to have to remember even more clearly what they’re trying to forget? And then who wants to have to actually put in the work and clean up their own mess? If we’re basically frightened, a bit overly sensitive, a bit lazy, a bit comfort-first and path-of-least-resistance oriented, then criticism is not going to appeal to us.

Nor is it going to appeal to us either if our self-image or sense of self is shaky. We won’t be able to tolerate the hit.

If most people are basically dissipating their lives trying to forget or eschew the painful aspects of reality, then criticism will hold no appeal to them.

Most people like to live in their heads and in their own little dream worlds of what they think they’re like. They—which is to say, the vast majority of us—don’t want to know what we’re really actually objectively like. We don’t want to hear the sound of our own voice on an answering machine; we don’t want to watch a hidden camera account of a day in our life. A thousand times a day in a myriad of little and not so little ways we avoid reality, we evade the (painful) truth of ourselves and our condition; we choose what’s in our heads and our ideas of who and what we think we’re like instead of the truth, instead of reality, instead of something more objective.

Why?

Because what’s in our heads is like a drug that we like to dope ourselves up on.

And thus criticism threatens to be a total bummer of buzz kill and sober us up from our self-delusion and self-deception. It’s like your parents coming home when you were a teen and having a party. The ultimate killjoy. That’s criticism.

I wonder how difficult criticism would be to take if we had just had some sort of massive near-death experience, or if we had just gone skydiving or faced down one of our biggest fears?

Would criticism still sting and bother us to the same extent if something else in life had just sobered us up?

If we’re leading a truly examined life, then criticism has to be an integral part of that. We only have the inside scoop on ourselves; we don’t have the outside or external scoop on ourselves. We don’t see ourselves as God or as an objective narrator would see us.

But criticism helps bridge that gap.

For me, so much of our aversion to criticism—and the tough to look at and think about stuff in life in general—is about our load capacity for stress. So it’s all very contextual, very relative, meaning, for many people, dealing with criticism is one of the biggest negatives that they will have to go through in the course of a day.

But what if our lives were filled with great heroic overcomings of our fears and anxieties—what if we were climbing mountains, kayaking, skydiving, speaking publicly, doing yoga, practicing meditation, taking up a martial art, going to the top of tall buildings, and or if we were reading the likes Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, M. Scott Peck, C. S. Lewis, Murray Bowen, Thoreau, Simone Weil, Martin Luther King Jr.—people who were movers and shakers when it came to dispensing truth straight up and without any softeners—what if we were daily trying to build our courage and mental toughness in these or similar ways? . . . Maybe then we might toughen up a bit and not be quite as emotionally thin-skinned or underdeveloped. . . . Maybe then we wouldn’t need so much emotional sugar and so many softeners to make the medicine (criticism) go down—or at least get us to listen to it fairly and honestly. . . .

The Man Watching” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

A lot of it comes down to being aware, to mindfulness, to really examining ourselves and our underlying motivations, and the future consequences and costs to ourselves and others. I see the difficulty in dealing with and metabolizing criticism as symptomatic of something larger going on. Why do we read what we read? Is it for the sake of really learning and growing and for the sake of what’s true and actual? Or is it for escape, to feel good, to improve our mood, to steady and stabilize ourselves, or to distract ourselves? “Enjoyments pass, consequences remain,” wrote Hadrat Ali. How much of our day is spent deliberating practicing and developing our courage? What was the last truly courageous thing you did where you deliberately overcame one of your fears or anxieties—where you really overcame something within you that was really holding you back and that kept you sabotaging yourself (and others perhaps as well)?

Courage is a muscle. It needs to be practiced and worked out. Either we use it or lose it. And most of us by the time we reach adulthood fall into a rut of going for comfort and security and convenience first. And so we inadvertently end up letting our courage dwindle and atrophy. There’s a price to be paid for leading a life of too little stress or of always fighting with little things and not wrestling honestly with the bigger questions and bigger issues and anxieties.

If we really knew ourselves, if we were really leading a highly mindful and self-aware and honest and examined life—if we were really interested in leading a life of total dedication to the truth and to reality (see M. Scott Peck’s, “The Road Less Traveled”), then there’s not much that another could say to us that would surprise us. We would have likely already thought it or encountered it (especially in our reading and self-reflection). Not only that, honest criticism and honest feedback would be something we’d welcome! It would only help us—especially since we all have our blind spots!

Thus for me, one of the biggies in learning to deal with criticism is learning for ourselves how to think honestly and critically. To the extent that we are critical thinkers, criticism becomes easier to deal with and more manageable emotionally, because instead of only having our emotions and our psychological defenses at our disposal for us to use in defusing criticism, we have another tool—and a very powerful tool at that—the capacity for rigorous and discerning critical thought.

Murray Bowen, M.D, one of the founders of the field of Family Therapy, theorized that people differed from one another in terms of their level of “differentiation.” On the one end of the scale are those whose level of differentiation is fairly low—they are fused to their environment, they tend to be very reactive, prone to impulsivity and impulsive decision-making and being stressed out, their moods fluctuate with so much that is external to them—the weather, the social weather, a kind or harsh word. They have a high degree of fusion between the intellectual and emotional systems. They tend not to have a lot of well-defined and deeply internalized principles that they live by; instead they tend to make decisions based on feelings and moods and impulse and what “feels” right. They tend to need a lot of support (“borrowed functioning”). (Roberta Gilbert has written several books on Bowen Theory that provide a good overview of Bowen’s ideas; i.e. “Extraordinary Relationships” and “The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory”)

Well differentiated people, on the other hand, are more proactive, lead a more principled-center and conscientious lifestyle, can better delay gratification, have more perspective, borrow less functioning—and when and where they do, they tend to borrow it more mindfully and graciously. They exhibit less fusion in their relationships and with the outside world and between their intellectual and emotional systems.

In other words, learning to more meaningfully endure the emotional hit or pain of criticism and metabolizing it critically and legitimately and honestly is a wonderfully difficult but differentiation enhancing thing to do! It not only requires all the emotional courage and stability and perspective we can muster, it helps to create these! Ditto for out critical thinking skills—it helps to both create and to reinforce these capacities and neural pathways.

So why avoid criticism? Because we’re weak; because we have limited self-capacities; because we don’t think very well for ourselves; because our own sense of self is shaky; because we overheat emotionally and stress out very easily and we want to spare subjecting ourselves to those painful and difficult to deal with emotions; because we’re still depdendent on other people’s validation and approval for our sense of self and emotional stability; because we prefer to live a life dedicated to comfort and feeling good, not to truth and growth; because we want to not have to sober up but instead we want to stay doped up on and anesthetized by our own delusive discursive thinking.