By Suma Varughese
Once we accept every aspect of ourselves no matter how dark or terrible, we will surely expand
What you want to change you must first accept. Condemnation does not liberate; it oppresses.
Carl Jung’s statement is absolutely the abc of spiritual wisdom. What you resist persists is one of the fundamental spiritual laws of the universe.
Yet knowing this does not make it any easier to practise it. How difficult it is to go beyond resistance and condemnation.
We do it to ourselves all the time, of course. Along the course of life, we pick up merciless judgments and imperatives that we use to flay ourselves with relentlessly. The harshness and cruelty with which we treat ourselves is so extreme that had it been meted to another, we might well face criminal charges. But in the privacy of our own minds who’s to know the kind of abuse we heap on ourselves?
But as reprehensible, I am beginning to discover, is the thoughtless condemnation and criticism that we subject our dear ones to. Okay, so your daughter never remembers to flush the toilet after she has used it. But is that reason enough to nag her constantly? Your son has the insensitive habit of playing loud music while you nap in the afternoon. Need you blow your top at that? Should you go ballistic because your wife has splurged some money? Need you get mad with the office peon because he has spilt some tea on your table? Do you have to snap at the driver in the next car because he came a little too close to yours?
You get the point. Most of us simply blow our fuses the minute we encounter something in our environment that we disapprove of or that affects us adversely. Unfortunately, the more we yell and scream at the person concerned, the more entrenched the habit. Condemnation oppresses, resistance creates persistence.
All behavioral scientists will tell you that if you want someone to change a certain habit or way of doing things the thing to do is to appreciate them when they behave in the required way and to ignore the times when they do not. Each time your daughter flushes the toilet or your son allows you to nap uninterruptedly, bring to their notice with much appreciation. When they lapse into habitual mode, IGNORE! The logic is that whatever behaviour we bring attention to gets reinforced, therefore it makes sense to bring attention to what we want to encourage and not what we do not.
How many of us are capable of exercising this relatively small but crucial discipline upon which the welfare of our loved ones and ultimately, our own, depends? I confess I am not. Try though I do, I cannot help but snap when my mother forgets to close the fridge door or criticises me for the number of things I forget to do!
Why are we so perverse? Well, for one thing, it is because we cannot accept the other person’s right to behave in a way that we disapprove of. This lack of acceptance usually stems from our inability to accept certain aspects of our own behaviour. The more comfortable we are with our own imperfection, the more comfortable we will be with the imperfection of others.
It is also often hard to cope with the consequences of actions that we cannot accept. The more irresponsible the behaviour of those around us, the more responsible we are forced to be. And if we fear our ability to cope with this heightened responsibility then we tend to rant relentlessly at the offender, heedless to the effect it has on them! Habitual drug addicts or alcoholics, for instance, are usually treated with contempt or anger by their spouses, and one of the main causes of this is because the consequences of their behaviour are so hard to cope with. It follows then that the more confident and sure we are of our coping skills, the less pressure we impose on others to shape up.
But the main reason why we criticise other people’s behaviour is because it makes us feel so good to do so! Each time we shine the light on other people’s faults, our own seems less reprehensible. Each time we dwell on the mistakes of others our irrepressible ego gets a boost. The more we can blame others for our life situation, the less the onus on us to change ourselves and others. Habitual criticisers are usually the least self-aware.
It follows then that the level of criticism or condemnation within us is intimately connected to the level of our self-growth and self-awareness.
Therefore, if we want to move out of the vicious cycle of condemnation, we need to work on ourselves. We need to learn to accept our judgementalism, the fears and issues that other people’s behaviour brings up in us. And patiently and lovingly, we need to accept this aspect of ourselves.
When it becomes possible for us to accept every aspect of ourselves no matter how dark or terrible, we will expand. No longer will our self feel cramped and constricted, confined to rigid and habitual behavioural patterns. It will have the space to bloom and flower, to respond creatively to the moment. In time our coping skills too will catch up now that we do not whip ourselves frenziedly each time we slip up. It will follow naturally that this expansiveness will also be reflected in the behaviour of those around us. Now that we are relaxed and do not condemn them so easily, they, in turn, will no longer be defensive about themselves. They will have the space to evaluate their behaviour and effect a change.
The best thing we can do to the world, therefore, is to hurry up and change!
Former editor of Society, Suma is Managing Editor of Life Positive and incharge of the Mumbai branch.
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