Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "There is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful."
We cannot transcend our own darkness, illusions, divisiveness and/or hatred without first bringing kindness and self-compassion within, no matter how many shadows we have in the deep recesses of our heart and mind. Beating ourselves up over the existence of those shadows - or denying or pretending they don't exist when they do - does not help us advance in consciousness as humane human beings. If we don't love, respect, accept and forgive ourselves fully, we can never authentically embrace the same for collective humanity, with all its collective imperfections. But this does not mean we ignore our shadows, or attack anyone who brings our own "foulness" to light where it can be transformed into something beautiful. And we cannot transform the "foulness" of any human behavior, individual or collective, by hating it, or feeling we are superior and beyond or above it. I read an outstanding article years ago in Yoga Journal called "Violence Against Self" by Phillip Moffitt - vipassana (mindfulness and insight) meditation teacher and founder of the Life Balance Institute - that I still refer to often. In it he said:
"Gradually I’ve come to realize that violence against oneself is one of the great denials of our time. People are very willing to talk about the violence that the world does to them, but they’re much less willing to own the violence that they do to themselves."
So profoundly true. I've witnessed many self-described peace-loving people who are in constant battle with themselves. The violence they commit internally (but don't even recognize it as such) includes ruthless self-flagellation when they make mistakes, fall short of a goal, disappoint people, etc. - inflicting themselves with inner-voice chastisement, punishment, approval addiction, self-hatred, detrimental thought processes, negative self-talk, unhealthy eating and lifestyle, and extremely destructive habits and behaviors. Their pacifist exterior is merely a mask for their ongoing internal brutality.
Like myself, Moffitt is a great admirer of Patañjali's Yoga Sutras, which were written around 200 B.C. In this highly recommended book about codes of conduct for those on a dedicated, conscious journey of innerevolution, Patanjali discusses the yama (moral restraint), of ahimsa, or non-violence. Moffitt went on to say:
"Inner development and maturity come from acknowledging to yourself that you are being violent with a human being; the fact that you happen to be the human being who is being hurt does not change the truth of the violence. From a spiritual perspective, it is never right to hurt any human being - including yourself - for selfish reasons or because of sloppy attention to the consequences of your actions. Understanding this is your first step in practicing ahimsa toward yourself."
Also like myself, Moffitt suggests the practice of bringing deliberate, conscious awareness to every moment of every day. Paying close attention to whether your thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors are rising from love, or from fear - whether it is inside or outside - is a powerful step in freedom from auto-reactive, repetitive, non-productive and even destructive (to self and others) behavioral patterns we can get caught up in, including those which cause us to act irrationally and without a sense of personal accountability.
Yet, it is often easier said than done, and the transcendence of these harmful inner shadows is a threat to the ego, especially if we are attached to the payoffs (also known as secondary gains) we receive from engaging in them – whether they may be positive or negative in the long run. However, choosing to avoid the elimination of whatever impedes your growth as a human being is a choice against the deepest, healthy love of yourself, as well as an often unconscious lack of regard toward all those your life touches. Consistently doing the work to upgrade your inner operating system with a spirit of discovery and adventure is actually an act of selflessness, because the contagious ripple effect of the energy you will extend when leading by positive example will naturally inspire and motivate others to do the same.
We change the world by changing ourselves first.
Bringing light in the form of kindness, compassion and empathy to the "unlovable" without and within is what will aid us in being able to distinguish the behaviors from the human being him- or herself, and cast a discerning eye at the same time as to what is not of love, but of fear. Ahimsa, fully embraced, is reflected in every thought, choice, action and behavior we engage in, in every moment of every day.
Before we can fully love the "unlovable" within or without, we must be able to practice another flavor of love: unselfish forgiveness. It has been widely said that we should practice forgiveness for ourselves more so than for whom we are forgiving. Yet if done for selfish reasons, or to stroke our ego, it lacks purity, humility and authenticity. True forgiveness of others is freely given without thought of what we may gain from it, and is the only way we will automatically and genuinely benefit in a pure and profoundly humane level. True forgiveness of ourselves allows us to let go of the self-violence of guilt and shame, and is absolutely unselfish, as our healing affects those we care about in a powerful way, and often breaks up generational cycles of inner pain.
However, it is crucial to note that true forgiveness of transgressions committed against us, people we care about, or humanity as a whole also means we need not forget, nor enable someone else's dark behaviors. One of the most compassionate things we can do for a fellow human being is to not enable their darkness in any form in takes. Unless it is psychologically unsafe to do so, don't be afraid to shine the lights of Truth and Reality upon their darkness, including expressing your feelings of anger, violation, disappointment and hurt in a clear and non-violent manner. Their ego may react defensively, so be certain you are not coming from a place of malice or contempt. Stuffing our feelings is not a loving thing to do to ourselves or the other person(s). Appropriate and natural anger expressed without it devolving into blinding, divisive rage is a healthy response to disturbing and painful experiences - but if it results in long-burning hate, vindictiveness and destructive auto-reactivity, deep anger ultimately leads to depression and a wide range of illnesses, including heart disease and addictions. When our heart and mind become blackened, we harm ourselves perhaps more than we harm than those we hold in a tight, unrelenting grip of our wrath.
I always recommend acting with discernment in the now as well as in the future, knowing that holding anyone (including ourselves) rigidly to their/our past and the mistakes they/we have made (including violence against self and others in any form), will never allow for them or us to learn, change and grow. We cannot fix, change or save anyone except ourselves, and sometimes the kindest and healthiest thing we can do is to protect ourselves from those who are stuck in abusive, self-oriented or even violent shadow behavioral patterns - and if necessary, assertively establish firm boundaries or even permanently walk away and reclaim our power and dignity instead of perpetually feeding the energy-draining drama and chaos. Although we may practice compassion, empathy and diligently do our best to treat others the way we wish to be treated, we must acknowledge that will not always be reciprocated, and staying in the orb of the madness of an unworkable situation is also committing self-violence.
Letting go of violence against self and others in our thoughts and deeds is a challenge when what we observe without is indeed "foul" as Emerson said. Yet conscious activism is about positive and fearless change toward the possible, not just mere cursing the darkness - or worse, staying stuck in - and enabling - the old status quo. Allowing ourselves to understand that all expressions of separation and disconnect from the heart and mind will be ongoing if we react with violent energy of any sort, and instead choosing to bring authentic "light and love" via truth, honesty, strength, compassion, calm assertiveness, empathy and forgiveness as selfless forms of service to others is what will also nurture deep internal transformation when applied directly toward ourselves. Real love is sometimes "tough" and fiercely passionate and can appear contradictorily "judgmental" when it calls out all foul darkness into the light, yet in its purest intention and expression comes from a place of deep compassion and humanity, even if the recipient doesn't like it - and that goes for being tough with yourself when necessary.
As Gloria Steinem once said, "The Truth shall set you free,
but first it will piss you off." :)
Come into a state of calm, alert awareness, breathing calmly without effort or strain, and gently focus all of your attention upon those situations wherein you were (and perhaps still are) triggered to engage in thoughts, choices, behaviors and actions that reflect not treating yourself in a loving, respectful manner on all levels: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Do you beat yourself up on a regular basis? Quickly review your lifestyle: do you consume a poor quality diet, ingest known toxic substances but act in denial about their effect, drink too much alcohol, engage in bad habits, over-work, not exercise your body or your mind and brain regularly, deprive yourself of adequate sleep, not take time to meditate, etc.?
Do you allow others to be abusive and draining to you physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, and not say "no" when it is appropriate – and necessary?
Do you not express your feelings to someone who has upset you because you need their approval, love, money, etc. and instead choose to avoid conflicts and to "stuff it" – while you are seething and feeling resentful below the surface? Understand we all lead by the example we extend in whatever sphere of influence we have in any given situation and interaction. Our energy is contagious, and we are 100% responsible and at choice as to what we communicate to others, including how they should treat us and how we should treat ourselves. If we don't communicate self-compassion, self-respect, and self-forgiveness – and transparently walk our talk – we are endorsing violence against ourselves, by our own hand as well as by others. Allow yourself to release and forgive yourself for the times when you thought, chose, acted and/or behaved in a manner that communicated your lack of healthy self-care to others - even if it was not totally obvious. Take a deep, calm in breath, and then a slow exhalation, and allow yourself to be constantly re-minded to choose to do your best to consciously embrace a sense of non-violence toward your own well-being on all levels, and to lead and communicate by positive, fearless, transparent example - from this moment forward.