Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Golden Rule and Self-Knowledge

This week, our Thursday night group is discussing having compassion for yourself.  This is the third step in the “12 Steps To A Compassionate Life” by Karen Armstrong, and the step that most of us will spend the majority of our time on as we work our way through the book.  We’ve all heard the biblical commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself”, and most of us concentrate on the love your neighbor part rather than loving yourself.    I often speculate that this may be the problem underlying all the chaos in our world today.  If you can’t love yourself – really love yourself, and acknowledge and accept all that you are – it is unlikely that you can really love other people either.

We as humans have a need to be cared for, and to care for others.  We crave love and human companionship and, for the most part, we enjoy caring for others.  My observation, however, is that our culture has trained us to rebuke ourselves for our shortcomings, and for not reaching the pinnacle of our perceived capability.   This training has led to a nation full of highly stressed people who suffer from a confusion of self-hatred, anxiety, fear, feelings of failure, incompetence, vulnerability and a deep yearning for control.

Ms. Armstrong says that “the Golden Rule requires self-knowledge; it asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others”.  The irony of that is if we treat ourselves harshly, we are likely to treat others in the same manner.  Can we actively seek and create this deep, inner knowing of who we are?  Here are my thoughts:

You Are Worthy

  • Know your strengths. These are the talents and gifts that make you unique, and successful.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate your successes, no matter how small you might think they are.  Most of us acknowledge the completion of one task, and move on to the next without recognition of a job well done.  Stop, celebrate for much more than just a minute, and then go on to the next task or goal.
  • Take time to think about all the good you have done, not only for yourself, but for others.  Even if no one else has noticed, for those are very often the most impactful.

You Are Human

  • Recognize and accept your faults and failures.  Learn from them, and turn them into successes in the future.  There is good that comes from your shadow side, as long as you recognize the shadow and make use of it responsibly and in a positive fashion.
  • When you are feeling angry, jealous, or contemptuous, quietly but firmly refuse to identify with them.  Buddha is often quoted as saying, “This not mine; this is not what I really am; this is not myself.”  Look for the value you hold that is being stepped on, and recognize the constructive aspect of these feelings.  This helps you mindfully remove yourself from the feelings, and recognize the value that needs to be honored.
  • Rather than despise yourself for your fears, have compassion for yourself and remember that fear is a human characteristic.  When you can do this, you are less likely to ridicule the fears of others, and dismiss them as unfounded.
  • We are often the authors of our own misery.  We are so concerned with self that we often create worry where it is not required, fear over losing something we may not have received, and a sense of loss when we compare ourselves to others.  Karen Armstrong states “we not only make ourselves suffer, but we also cause pain to other people”.

Allow Yourself and Others To Grieve

  • Weeping together creates a bond between human beings.  Forgo the relentless insistence that you or others must maintain a positive attitude.  Recognizing the need for empathy connects you with the people.
  • Recognize that there is something unsatisfactory in every situation in life.  This is the Yin and Yang of the Universe.  When you are awarded a promotion, there are many others that are disappointed.  When you are told yes, someone else is told no.  Awareness of these discomforts in life is critical to the development of compassion for yourself and for others.

Just before we entered the third millennium, the Dalai Lama called for a spiritual revolution, one that did not embrace a particular religious creed.  He based it on a “radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self.”  All of the major faiths wrap themselves around the concept that compassion is the most reliable way of stepping away from our self-centeredness, and opening ourselves to others.  This takes a huge amount of courage, and the act itself gives it all back to us in joy.  It is only through self-knowledge that you are able to take this step; by giving yourself compassion for being who you are, every day, you are able to look outside your own world and reach your hand out to others in love, empathy and compassion.
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