Obstacles to Accepting Yourself
Whether it is a matter of age or a set of circumstances, we often do not feel up to the image we would like to hold of ourselves.
We get the impression that we are falling short.
Societal Norms of Evaluation
When you are below 20 years of age, you are not mature enough, till 30 to 35 years you still have a lot to learn and you lack experience. 35 to 45 years, you are with it and in yo
ur prime, but your ambitions keep you preoccupied so you still have a long way to go before you can stabilize. By 50 to 55 years, you have all the experience but you are under the threat of getting out-dated, technology has overtaken and the younger ones are more with it. Thereafter, you are over the hill. You never feel like you have a complete balance of maturity, experience and dynamism at any age.
Only 1% of the people at a workplace can get to Numero Uno, so the rest must feel seconds, at best. Reporting to people who are great leaders is a nice experience, but few are leaders themselves. If you are satisfied with your job, you are lucky, but most people aspire to climb the ladder. The reasons can be many, but dissatisfaction is a common denominator.
We normally get a lot of negative feedback at a workplace. Either our seniors are not happy with our performance or we are forced to do what the owners want or we are always told that things are not good enough. If we are the seniors, we do not get the productivity we need, things don’t go the way they should, people are not committed enough. We are not satisfied with our operations. One in a few is lucky to have a sense of balance and self-acceptance at the workplace.
One out of ten people are good
looking (no statistical research this), a couple more look fairly good, some average, but half the world is not satisfied with their appearance. The other half would like it to be better. Being the second best-looker in college is still a step down. Physical appearances can give dissatisfactory self-opinions to most. As looks fade, self-opinions wane.
Look at the inner beauty of a person not the exterior skin.
In India social background, caste, community, religion, etc make a difference. If you are not from the upper caste, you are not treated equally. If you come from a simple social background it shows and you feel like the child of a lesser God. If you have an accent, that’s an embarrassment. If you are from a minority community you are not accepted as well. In short, your social background can be an obstacle to having a balanced self-opinion. If you are not highly educated, naturally, you don’t fit in and that is another downslide in the snakes and ladders game of self-evaluation.
Just to take stock of where we are going, I wanted to explore various reasons, why most of us find it difficult to accept ourselves as people who ‘fit the bill’. This is mainly connected to our physical existence alone, so far.
From childhood to old age, we give and get negative feedback about ourselves. Our parents, who have not learned how to become professional parents, are mostly experimenting with parenthood. In their own frustration of how to do their job well, they often reprimand their kids, when they should be counselling them. When kids are suffering from insecurities, parents don’t know how to make them feel insulated. As children suffer from lack of knowledge, confidence is not an easy achievement. Parents need to assure them that things are normal and they should not feel incompetent. They don’t!
Scolding a kid for all that is wrong with him or her, reprimanding the child, threatening them with consequences, does not do much for the child’s self esteem.
The same is the case with most teachers. They keep showing the child where he/she is wrong, rather than what they need to do to improve.
Even friends are eager to give us negative feedback. They do not realise that “a rose for the living, is better than a wreath for the dead”. In short, as we grow up, we have had more than our share of negative feedback, which psyches us into disbelieving in ourselves. It is important for us to realise this process, and learn to discount it. We have been hypnotized into believing we are not all good. Before we take a look at all these obstacles and how to surmount them, we need to examine a couple more issues that are beyond the realm of our physical bodies.
Things Beyond Our Reach
Frustrations and Fate
We will go into details on this subject in the next chapter as it is critical to self-acceptance (in my personal opinion, which is of course, open to debate). For now, it is sufficient to state that fate does not always allow our hopes and aspirations to be fulfilled the way we expect them to be. We are often frustrated with the result of our efforts. The ‘X’ factor kicks in and we cannot control the outcome. Very often, this leads to development of a sense of failure. Even people who are successful in their efforts, aspire to have continued success, if not healthy growth, and when this does not happen, they too feel a sense of falling short. In short, self worth is always taking a hit. Guru Nanak’s famous quote “nanak dukhiya sab sansaar” (The world is always in a state of unhappiness) holds true.
On the other hand, tides of time change and lack of self-confidence can turn into pride. The success shown by time can change remorse into self-confidence. The Midas touch can make a person feel self-assured and self-important. Unfortunately, the tides are never constant and nor is the confidence. It is not, because it is normally based on only one aspect of life – material success.
Our Thoughts, an Impediment
Understanding thought is the first step to understanding feelings. Most of Karma or Deeds done by us are instigated by our feelings, which in turn are a by product of our thoughts. (Vitarkas & Vicharas).
I once had a discussion with Gurudev about the problems I faced dealing with thoughts. I felt the kind of abilities he had honed in his disciples of serving people, healing them and guiding them was undermined by the fact that we were susceptible to negative thoughts (I speak for myself and several of my spiritual associates). It was a fear factor, when we were dealing with the opposite gender, as we did not want negative thoughts to become an obstacle to the interaction. His answer was easy to hear, but hard to understand. He said our thoughts were not our own and they came from external sources. So one should not acknowledge them and feel guilty about them. Just watch them pass like a traffic policeman watches the cars go by (That’s when I realised I would never make a good traffic constable).
Intellectually, I could understand his words, but practically, there were many problems. For example, if one gets sensuous thoughts about the opposite sex, how can that be an external thought? If this was shared by both parties, then was it not farfetched to think that some external source was focusing on giving two people illegitimate thoughts about each other? That too at the same time?
Try and figure this out – for years I couldn’t.
I would keep trying to either agree or disagree with my thoughts – like them or dislike them. Some thoughts would take me on a wild goose chase. Some creative thoughts could captivate me for hours on end. When lucky, certain thoughts were inspiring and made me ponder for extended periods. I enjoyed the negative and the inspiring ones. But more than half of them were related to my fears or other negative emotions. They unnerved me. Both the pleasant and the unpleasant took a spin in my mind and kept me absorbed. They generated opposite emotions. I suffered both.
In spite of his good advice, I didn’t know how to deal with them.
I decided to resign to my fate and succumb to those 30,000 to 40,000 thousand thoughts a day. Was there anything else one could do?
I didn’t think so, until I actually SAW a thought. Yes, there is no misprint. I actually SAW a thought. In those days, I used to meditate for hours at bedtime. During one such meditation, (I was sitting down) my eyes open and I saw a ray come from the far-side wall of my room and hit a point that was approximately two-and-a-half inches above the centre of my forehead. As it hit that point, it dispersed into my head and I could understand the thought. It was a crystal clear experience. There was no ambiguity. I now understood what Gurudev had said. It was time to re-study the subject.
If part of the repertoire of thoughts were external rays received by the mind, then in what way was I responsible for them? A radio that has the capacity to receive several external signals is not responsible for the type of signals it receives. It has no justification to feel either proud or embarrassed about the content of its signals. For me, this has been one of the greatest pearls of wisdom.
One of the reasons we find it difficult to accept ourselves is Guilt. We will refer to guilt in various chapters as it is a significant speed- breaker in our journey towards higher self-esteem.
Because we think thoughts are our own, we take ownership of them. This gets us into an awkward mess. If the thoughts are vulgar or degenerative, we judge ourselves. ‘How could I think like that?’ has been a common expression in my life. After marriage, if I had thoughts of attraction towards other women, I felt I had tendencies of infidelity. If I saw my wife looking at another man, naturally, I would think the same. Out of 30,000 thoughts on an average, at least 20 to 60% of them have to be unworthy (depending on your Guna Mix. A subject we will discuss later) but, does that make me unworthy? For most of my life, I believed-Yes! Today -No. Today, I believe I am only an observer who watches his thoughts go by. Every car that crosses the traffic constable can’t be gleaming new. Some will be old, some damaged and some ugly. It takes all kinds. Why should the constable feel awkward about the passing cars?
But there is a problem. Most times we brew our thoughts, we think and rethink them, making a loop. They churn round and round in our head. They either inspire action or we allow them to take hold of our minds for extended periods. The Indian scriptures believe that what we do in our thoughts is also a deed, our Karma.
(This is based on the concept of Samskaras which get stored in our consciousness.)
When the fructified actions that we perform are viewed by us with an emotion, they are stored as Samskaras and are due for re-fructification at some point in the future. Double Jeopardy! When our destiny is paired with the database, all those Samskaras matching the trend that we are going through, under the auspices of the planets, fructify. So if at a particular time our destiny is meant to provide us with wealth, good looks, luxury and all that, the matching stored Samskaras will fructify. On the other hand, if our destiny is supposed to provide us physical pain, losses in business, etcetera, the Karmas matching this negative period will come to fore (just like in a game of cards where you can only use the cards of the same colour on the table at that time).
So this waft and weft goes on and on. When emotion is added to the mixture and we take ownership of this fructified Karma, the circle is formed. And a thought that was not ours to own, but only to receive and let go, lands up becoming a part of our Karma. A part of the Profit & Loss (P&L) of our lives – to pay for or be paid for in the latter part of this life or in future lives.
Of course, the opposite is also true. This time, it’s not guilt, it’s pride of ownership. If our thoughts, which are not our own, lead to deeds that we perceive as worthy, we become proud of ourselves for having done something wonderful or great. Examples of worthy deeds include helping someone in need, practicing philanthropy or any other Karma which is perceived as good Karma.
And so swings the pendulum. Good, bad, right, wrong, blah, blah, blah. Now we like ourselves and now we don’t. Duality has its day. Delusion rules on!
Another thing to be said about thoughts is that Yes, the original thought might come from outside, but if we do not let it pass, it connects to the coded messages and experiences held in our Karmashaya body (which is attached to the spirit body of a person. It’s like an external hard disk and is the cause for our destiny as it holds the Samskaras that need to be fructified into Karmas) and a chain of thoughts springs thereof. One connects to another and before you know it, you are the producer of a short film.
Thoughts from the Karmashaya
We must also take into consideration the rising of thoughts into our conscious awareness from the Karmashaya (the hard disk of the Kaarna Sharir). The future chapter on Vitarkas & Vicharas will throw more light.
Here is the temptation to branch out into pleasurable thoughts; some acceptable, some not so acceptable. The critical point to be aware of is that we are not responsible for our thoughts. But, if we allow ourselves to dwell on them we will certainly find them turning into feelings or virtual deeds that will get stored in our Kaarna (Causal) body or Karmashaya (The Third Body, lot more is explained about this body in Chapter III).
Once again, we run the risk of these feelings becoming downers of esteem in our own mind’s eye. Though at the level of the intellect, we know how to discriminate, at the level of the mind, we are married to the senses. Our sense of taste, smell, touch, sound and sight brings us down to lower levels of consciousness. The mind misguides us with temptation and attachment.
It is the nature of the mind to lead us to value enjoyment. But please note, enjoyment is expenditure of time and not an investment. ‘We spent a lovely evening today’ normally means we spent our time pleasurably and not productively. Productivity vis-à-vis our inner selves, service to others, other forms of Good Karma. The word ‘spent’ explains itself.
Talking about unacceptable thoughts or dreams, here is an interesting story.
Giri, who met Gurudev along with us in 1982, was a devout follower and spent a lot of time in Gurgaon. He would often drive Gurudev around to Delhi and back. One day he drove Gurudev to the farm and fell asleep soon after. He got a hot dream which unfortunately turned out to be a wet one. Embarrassed, he walked up to Gurudev and complained. Gurudev asked him not to feel awkward about it. He said after some time these things won’t happen. He was empathetic and asked Giri not to feel guilty (refer to Vitarkas in later chapters).
Another follower of Gurudev complained that he used to get wet dreams featuring his own mother. He was emotionally broken by this experience. Gurudev said just don’t think about this anymore. It will never happen again. It probably didn’t.
The point in both these examples is that both the recipients of these dreams felt guilty and had a low opinion of themselves. Gurudev did not want to allow that.
The key here is to realise that such thoughts or dreams or opinions that are embarrassing and self-defeating should not be allowed to become snakes in our snakes and ladder game of life. Acceptance of these negative thoughts without harbouring guilt is the way forward. Very often, we do not know how to deal with our thoughts so we try to douse them with intoxicants or music. We would rather dull the mind than face it, and it is not by any chance an easy proposition to deal with thousands of unnerving thoughts. They take us to a level of judging ourselves poorly and keep us there. We cannot tread where even ‘Angels’ fear to tread. We cannot accept ourselves as part of the Consciousness Supreme. Our limitations (which are self created) do not allow the luxury of self-worship. We can worship the water in the ocean, but not so in a glass of fresh lime soda – though the core of both is the same, the lime and the fizz are only adulterations and limitations. We need to accept ourselves on an as is, where is basis.
YES WE DO!
Besides the nature of thoughts that we have discussed above, there are reflections and reactions in our Citta (the subconscious mind and more) to external stimuli. Like someone tossing an object towards you, can make you duck, with the thought that you might get hit. If somebody is explaining a concept to you, and you ponder on what they are saying that can be dubbed as a reflective thought. Reading out of a magazine or a book and watching a movie also leads to reflective or reactive thoughts which become a part of the citta as a nature of comprehension.
The focus of the paragraphs above was on significant thinking which leads to guilt, pride, inspiration and other such emotions. We have not gone overtly into indexing thoughts as that was not the criteria for our subject.
Aham – Brahmasmi: Expanding Our Egos
Every one of us is God, the Consciousness Supreme, the Father who Art in Heaven. We have in us the same divine energy that Krishna had, that Jesus did.
Unfortunately we have More! We have the existence of our ego consciousness, our adulterations of who we are, our individuality, our limitations, our self impressions. If I am Hingori, then being Hingori brings with it its own baggage. She is my wife, this is my house, my son, my car, my place of work, my religion and finally my body (actually bodies).
This is a case of where being ‘more’ makes us lesser.
The question is how do we shed this ‘more’? Don’t you wish there was a spiritual laundry that we could go to. Where we could cleanse this extra baggage and get rid of it? Wish it was so simple. The tragedy is that our extra baggage includes a few things that we cannot contemplate. Our Samskaras, our desire to live in this life, beyond this life and forever (the Sanskrit name for this force or will to live is ‘Asisa’).
This will to exist in the human form or in the astral form keeps us bound and entangled with our Samskaras. These Samskaras are stored data (in coded form), of the impressions of our various lives. They could in some way be called the memory of our existence.
Even though we can intellectually understand this concept, the process of getting rid of this ‘more’ involves elimination of the Samskaras and our will to exist eternally.
The only compromise formulae that I can think of is that we need to ‘go for it’ in smaller measures. A bit at a time. That is why the process takes so long. So stick with it.