Be Gentle With Yourself
by Ken Russell
On the spiritual path awareness is the prime mover, the major route towards growth. But, initially and sometimes well into the process, we often run into a major obstacle to the emergence of awareness. That obstacle is self judgment, especially if that judgment is harsh and critical. While judgment will frequently masquerade as an attempt to help you improve, it is the very antithesis of awareness, it cannot help you. Nothing chokes off awareness the way judgment can.
In order to become free of your conditioning you must see it clearly. You don’t have to approve of it or like it, but you just watch it operate, much like a scientist studying some phenomenon. The facts are simply noted without passing any kind of judgment of good or bad, desirable or repugnant. You must be able to see yourself clearly without any emotional or other reaction.
If every time you become aware of a flaw with yourself – let’s say you get angry or resentful or jealous or act too passively – and as a result of this awareness you come down on yourself and make yourself feel bad or guilty, then you will become unwilling to want to continue looking at yourself. This is simple negative reinforcement. This does not allow awareness to work because self-discovery becomes linked to trashing ourselves for not living up to some image we have of ourselves, or others have of us. The fact is that we have all had less than optimum childhoods and as a consequence developed personality traits and habits that we judge unacceptable.
But the absolute bedrock fact is; we are as we are. That is perfectly fine. We just need to become aware of our conditioning – what has been added to our true nature since birth – and that very awareness will begin to burn away this conditioning. If we begin to accept with neutral “eyes” what we think, feel and do – which is but the surface covering our true nature – that very acceptance allows for change, moving us in the direction of health, or, conversely stated, less dis-ease. If we fight or condemn parts of our conditioning then we are simply struggling against ourselves and cannot win. We have all struggled to avoid seeing or to rationalize behaviors we don’t like and have attempted to create patterns that appeal to our self-image. We know this approach doesn’t work from many years of experience. No matter how hard you come down on yourself, change remains elusive.
So, instead, try being gentle and kind with yourself. Your conditioning was formed before you could exercise conscious choice; it is not your fault. Just witness it and if it is harmful to your well-being then trust that your awareness will burn it away. It really works. By accepting ourselves we allow change; by fighting we stay in the same old unhappy patterns. So, be very gentle with yourself. If you make mistakes or act inappropriately, as we all do, then just accept that, look dispassionately at what happened and move on. Our actions and behaviors create enough problems for us. We do not have to add any self criticism or condemnation.
Being gentle with yourself does work. Give it a try.