Like most other people, there are aspects of my own experience of myself that I do not like. These particular personal tendencies are cloaked in feelings of shame or distaste. Most of these tendencies have been with me since I was very young and I have struggled with them with great intensity over the years.
When I was younger, the war that I waged against my own weaknesses fueled much suffering and strife. I was constantly searching for new solutions that would allow me to divorce myself from these tendencies once and for all. My own feeling of self-esteem was almost wholly dependent on just how successfully I was able to forcefully control my own negative habits and tendencies.
Interestingly enough, the more that I fought with my own self, the stronger and more deeply embedded these tendencies became.
More recently, I have taken on a more reflective approach to these particular and perceived qualities in myself.
First, I have begun to realize more and more that all the suffering that I have endured in my life has had a primary role in my own spiritual evolution. It does not matter if that suffering is physical, mental, emotional or deeply psychic. Each time I have suffered in any significant way, the result has almost always been a greater level of awareness of my self. Each time I have suffered, the hunger for my own spiritual awakening has always deepened.
In that way, I no longer have a solely negative view of suffering in general. I now have quite a profound appreciation for suffering. Suffering is not just a problem to get rid of. Suffering actually serves a powerful function in this human life of ours. In more situations than not, suffering actually triggers the deeper opening of one's own consciousness.
After so many years of fighting forcefully with these perceived negative parts of myself and having little to no actual success of making any lasting changes, I began to seek to understand more deeply exactly what was going on with me.
I began to ask certain questions such as, "What exactly is it that I am fighting against?" and "What gives these perceived parts of myself their power and reality?"
Through this particular reflective process, I began to understand more about the nature of mind and ego. I began to understand more about the nature of identity and personality.
So much about who we think we are is shaped by our own ideas and opinions about the world and ourselves. This experience of our selves is not as a result of direct experience, but more often is a function of certain thoughts and tendencies that we have inherited from our parents or cultural surroundings. In other words, there is a difference between who we think we are and who we actually are.
Most of us when we try to find out who we are look first to our own thoughts and beliefs about what we think we are. Since many of us do not have the capacity for deep self-reflection, which is caused by over activity of the mind, we confuse our thoughts about life for life itself. We confuse our ideas about ourselves for the true nature of our own selves.
Who I actually am is more more expansive and complex than just my own thoughts about myself. And yet, I have spent most of life really believing that I am what I think about myself. I have spent most of my life judging myself based on what I thought about myself and about life itself. When I intensely identified with what I thought about myself, I simply became more entangled in those very thoughts. The more I waged war on my own perceived bad qualities, the more persistent and tenacious those particular perceived qualities became.
What I realized is that the more I obsessed about my own thoughts and judgments about myself, the more limited and helpless I felt. By identifying so strongly I with my own beliefs and opinions about myself, I actually was constructing the structure through which my own limited experience of myself gathered strength.
This limited experience of myself; I began to realize was what I now know as the phenomenon known as the ego. When we try to find ourselves by looking towards our own thoughts and judgments, we create a very short sighted and limited experience of own entire selves. When you are not able to see beliefs as beliefs or thoughts as thoughts, but as reality itself, you quite literally blind yourself to the spiritual dimension of life.
When we are blinded spiritually, we no longer have the capacity to access all those qualities that lead to genuine awareness, healing and freedom.
Real change does not occur through force or through judgment. The only real change that happens in this human life of ours happens through the agency of deep and radical acceptance and presence. Only when we can see ourselves clearly and with deep awareness can we move beyond all those elements of this life that limits us. When we obsess about own thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, we cannot see clearly and with any kind of deep awareness, as we are always looking through the filter of our own thoughts.
So now, I no longer try to change myself in any forceful manner. I am much more cognizant of the difference between the thoughts and judgments about myself and the actual present and direct experience of myself as I actually am.
The main thrust of my attention is much more directed at understanding myself at a deeper level and of gaining direct experience of myself as I am and not just of what I think I am. I am aware now, more than ever, that real change is never effected by force or criticism. I now know that if I can accept myself as I am and see myself with a kind of lucid clarity then real change will happen naturally and spontaneously.
Do I still have negative thoughts about myself? Yes, I do. The difference now is, is that I no longer automatically believe that those thoughts about myself is an accurate depiction of the way things really are. I no longer feel that I have to fight against myself to try to change what I perceive of as negative in myself.
Instead, there is a kind of deep curiosity that arises. I take the time to begin to look behind the thoughts that I have about myself. I seek to feel more deeply about the exact nature of my own experience of myself. I no longer believe that who I am is the entire result of what I think about myself. Who I am is much more about the deeper intelligence and awareness that experiences all that I am.
As a result, I live day-to-day with a deepened sense of peace and order. The artificial sense of self that I carried with me for so many years that was almost a complete fabrication of my own mind and ego, no longer has any great power or place in my life. When I looked primarily to my own mind and ego for my sense of self, that form of self seemed always to be tense and tortured with very specific limits and a very strong sense of form. Now that I have more awareness and clarity that who I am is not inextricably linked to my thoughts and beliefs and that who I am in much deeper than the mind and ego, there is less an experience of being solid and limited. There naturally is a kind of spaciousness and lightness to each moment of the day. The anxiety and worry that seemed to fill so much of my time is rarely a preoccupation of mine.
It is funny how the suffering that I fought against so vociferously in the past has now gained such an honored place in my life and heart. Of course, I don't want to suffer in my life and do not want any other person to suffer in their life. At the same time, I am acutely aware of the great value of suffering to human spiritual life.
So, the next time you find yourself obsessing over your own perceived faults and darker elements, do not just blindly judge yourself and try to force yourself to change. This particular approach will, as you all will discover over time, does not lead to anything that is truly positive and good. Only through the agency of deep self-acceptance and love can you come to a place of real understanding and awareness.
If you are a serious spiritual seeker, there is no other way.