The release of self-forgiveness

Followers of the Jain religion believe the universe is shaped like a human body. Likewise, Taoists think society at large functions the same as a single person. Thus, when you understand yourself, you can supposedly understand the workings of the entire universe.

Similarly, I’ve noticed I reflect my inner state of mind onto the outside world. If I love and accept who I am, other people tend to pick up on my positive, carefree vibes and treat me more benevolently than if I despise myself. Like most others, I go through periods where I am less than happy with who I am. But I’ve realized this isn’t healthy for me or for anyone I come into contact with. Thus, personal growth is no selfish act. When you shine with joy, you contagiously spread beams of radiance while negativity simply dissipates into the air.

Once I worked with someone who made my blood boil a little. Although he was just a server in an average restaurant, he sauntered around the place reeking of arrogance. He wouldn’t do anybody a favor unless it made him look good. I hardly could have a conversation with him without consciously restraining myself because his stories of womanizing offended my feminist sensibilities.

On the flip side, I know my attitude toward him was just as immature as his cockiness. Seething about the guy only made me look down on him, just like he probably looked down on me.

Someone once told me that hate only hurts yourself. So true. When hatred – or any negative emotion – invades, it swiftly immerses me in a little bubble of red-hot fury. I become irrational. My nemesis appears subhuman in my eyes, and I stop treating him with dignity and respect. Anger never solves a thing. Hating him never made him a more compassionate person – it only transformed me into an immature little kid filled with an exaggerated sense of pride and entitlement. This uncontrollable anger always gripped me when I talked to him. A critical, judgmental coldness overtook any natural sense of goodwill.

Intuitively, my conscience says I should stop looking down on him. Countless religious and spiritual seekers have proven that happiness isn’t becoming superior to everyone – it’s letting go of your big, cumbersome ego and embracing a sense of humility.

Truly strong people don’t spend all their time sabotaging others or thinking about how much other people suck because they don’t need such petty compensation for their insecurities. Strength is kindness in the face of cruelty, not domination and superiority. The Dalai Lama said, “If the love within your mind is lost, and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue.” Any guru or priest probably will tell you the emotional and spiritual benefits of humility and love hugely outweigh the small and selfish satisfactions of hatred. I’ve noticed that when I am filled with love, I physically feel expanded. I am more connected and receptive to other people, and people sense and reflect my positive energy. Suddenly, the little things don’t seem so irritating. I am a lot happier when that screaming little ego isn’t getting in my way.

I’d love to claim that I am one of those untouchably positive souls who emits beams of radiance and loves everyone. But alas, I have a lot of work to do. And I can’t just tell myself, “Start unconditionally loving humanity, dang it!” You can’t just force yourself to love, like you make yourself get out of bed to get to class in the morning. Your efforts at compassion will seem just as groggy and reluctant as your weary face. Love is a strenuous and nearly impossible task when you feel about as compassionate as a block of concrete – when you’re locked in the haze of frustration, fear or defense. We’ve spent our entire lives programmed to look out for No. 1 and that won’t change overnight. The only thing that works for me is simply watching myself without judgment. When I’m angry and critical I watch my responses. Amazingly enough, when I simply observe my actions without constant critique, my flaws don’t seem to bother me as much. Then, these flaws are no longer despicable parts of myself – they are something separate from me that I detachedly observe from a distance, like watching a lion in a zoo cage.

You see, my co-worker embodies such an enormous threat to me only because I deeply fear becoming like him: arrogant, selfish and uninteresting. This guy probably makes me mad because he represents something I dread and repress within myself. Otherwise, he wouldn’t challenge me so much. Sometimes I feel selfish, which makes me so ashamed that I have spent my entire life running in the polar opposite direction, dabbling in spirituality, activism and volunteer work the entire way. Meanwhile, he shamelessly flaunts the very things I’ve spent my life running from. No wonder I can’t stand him. But here’s the irony: When I see him as a selfish bundle of pettiness, don’t I begin to engage in that very same pettiness?

Thus, when I unconditionally accept myself, flaws and all, I suddenly can tolerate my co-worker. Once I am in touch with my darker motives, they instantly loosen their iron grip on my actions. So what if he’s arrogant and rude? It doesn’t have to make my life any worse. And after all, he has good points I overlook when I’m seething mad. He makes conversation with me when I’m bored. He can be funny. He apologizes when he knows he has offended me.

So don’t waste your good intentions by suppressing your darker side. Accept yourself simply and fully because you can’t magically become someone you’re not. Only when we stop giving so much power to our darkest nature can it truly disappear.

Honest Love: how to put yourself aside

Compassion

Love is not what you feel. Love is who you are when you strip everything away.

Why is love important?

Growing up, I remember reading in my first spiritual text, the Bible: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.”

Since I read this, I have consciously and unconsciously sought to fulfill this universal ideal of unconditional love. I probably always will be. Giving of oneself is psychologically healthy and oddly enough, incredibly joyful. However, selflessness is probably one of the hardest tasks we’ll ever face as humans. After all, we are biologically programmed to look after ourselves first. But the rewards of putting oneself aside are abundant. Don’t believe me? Try a random act of kindness and enjoy the happy buzz afterward.

Your endless needs and desires disappear when faced with pure love, and you enter a state of abundant,  selfless giving. There’s a reason why every major religion commands this practice!

If love were easy…

Practicing love seemed nearly impossible during my first attempts. People were irritating. Selfish. Cocky. If I didn’t like someone, I ignored them or talked down to them. I yelled at my siblings. I wanted the last cookie. Though my conscience was strong and my intentions were pure, I could only rarely bring myself to give when I didn’t feel like it, or to love someone I despised. Afterward, I felt racked with frustration and guilt.

Little did I know that those feelings of frustration and guilt were part of the problem itself. You can’t act compassionately toward others until you show compassion for yourself first. Here’s a quote (that I have shamelessly stolen from someone’s Facebook profile page). “Your task is not to seek love, but to seek out the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi

These barriers are our defenses. Every time we act selfishly, we are only trying to protect ourselves.

Hate is a symptom that something is not right within oneself. Thus, I cannot rightfully condemn myself nor anyone else for selfish acts. Hatred must be treated with compassion, not more negativity.

Know thyself.

How, then, do we change direction? Compassionately, from within. I cannot stress the importance of being compassionate and nonjudgmental toward yourself. Watch yourself, observe your actions. When you notice patterns of selfish habits, explore them. Ask yourself, why did I do this? I notice that when I’m pushing someone away, I’m usually afraid of letting them in. Maybe this person’s irritating tendency to be clingy or obnoxious is a trait I suppress within myself. Maybe I’m afraid of letting them in because I don’t want to seem vulnerable and weak. Fear, in some form, is at the root, and learning to let go of that fear will bring you closer to natural kindness. Practicing meditation to help you let go of these fears.

Honestly, you will probably screw up. But wallowing in guilt and anger will only add more negativity to the mix.  Go easy on yourself. You have woven these intricate patterns of fear throughout your entire lifetime. They’re not going to disappear overnight.

Eventually, we will cease to automatically think of ourselves when faced with making a sacrifice. We will accept everyone without hesitation, regardless of the way they treat us. Without expecting anything in return (not to serve our own needs). I believe this signifies the ideal state.

Personal growth toward this goal, then, is not selfish. Ultimately, growth is an act of compassion toward everyone in your life. As Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Here’s a beautiful blog entry on Love & Liberation I’d highly recommend.