When you see a problem in yourself, what do you do?
We can be hard on ourselves when we don’t live up to our ideals, particularly when we do something (or have thoughts) that are morally or spiritually bankrupt. Let’s look at this more deeply.
When we feel empty, or when we even feel miserable or sad, we try to fix the emptiness with some kind of gratification. For some it is a lot of sex. For others it is alcohol. For many it is overeating or shopping. In any case, we are trying to fill a void in our heart.
After we do this, we feel guilty because we know it’s wrong. So we think, “I am bad. I have no self-control.”This then creates a vicious cycle in which we turn to our old habit to fill the void that this very activity created when we last did it. We go there to feel better, but it only makes the emptiness greater. The cycle continues. It is a classic description of rajo-guna, the mode of passion (as described in the Gita), a treadmill of endless unfulfilled desires.
How can we deal with this?
Ask yourself, “What need am I trying to meet by doing this?” In other words, why do I want to indulge in something that is harmful to me?” Are you trying to cope with stress, suppress anger, avoid feeling lonely, or run away from something? Or have you given up on yourself and you just don’t care anymore?
It’s important to be present with your feelings instead of pushing them away. We have a strong tendency to resist the sore areas of our lives, the areas inside that need repairing. We don’t want to look at them, pretend they are not there, or tell ourselves we’ll deal with them later, only to put them off indefinitely.
When you see this problem in yourself, what do you do? Many people become more depressed. But this is counterproductive. When you are tempted to slip into a bad habit, you can extend patient compassion to yourself. Understand that you are conditioned, and this means you inherited saàskaras, tendencies for activities that are harmful to you.
Don’t beat yourself up. Be patient, kind and tolerant with yourself. Recognize that you are simply trying to fill a spiritual emptiness in your life with something material. Then,when confronted with the tendency to do the wrong thing in the future, pull back a little bit into your higher self and prepare to make a wise, self-supportive choice.
Don’t allow yourself to do things that are self-destructive. Treat yourself as you would a small child. Take care of yourself; nurture yourself; be kind to yourself. Understand that self destructive acts stem from a lack of self-compassion.
Instead of criticizing yourself, remember God loves you – even if you believe you don’t deserve His love. Just as He loves you, you should also love yourself. If you don’t, you’ll become your own worst enemy; and you’ll prevent yourself from making needed changes in your life.
Your inner critic holds you down. Although as a guru, Srila Prabhupada’s duty was to criticize his disciples, he rarely did. He always encouraged them. Deal with yourself in the same way. Choose encouraging internal responses to your difficulties. In the Gita, Krishna says a sadhu is one who puts no one into difficulty. This includes not creating difficulty for yourself. Don’t treat yourself in a way that will cause you to lose hope.
It’s okay to not be perfect, as long as you are trying to improve. When you’re faced with a choice to succumb to an old habit or stick to your resolve, notice how you’re talking to yourself about the choice. Saying no to something or getting up early isn’t an act of self-denial; it’s an act of self-care. Give yourself credit for the good choices you make and the good things you do.
When you’re struggling to make a change, it’s tempting to see your mistakes as evidence that there’s something wrong with you. But as Patanjali points out in the yoga-sutras, everyone struggles on the path to selftransformation. This doesn’t mean you should berate yourself every time you get up late, lose your patience, or do something stupid. Rather than say, “I am so stupid,” use a mistake as an opportunity to learn how to not make the mistake again. Self-hatred makes you give in to such an extent that you won’t even try to learn from your mistakes. Instead of improving, your mantra is, “This is just how I am. What’s the use in trying?”
This response is so common that researchers have given it a name: the “what-the-hell effect.” The problem is not the mistake, but your negative response to it. This tempts you to find comfort in the very things you’re trying to stop doing. Or you just give up on a goal so you won’t have to feel bad about failing. Studies have shown that whatever you’re trying to do, accepting where you are at, and forgiving yourself for past failures, makes you more likely to succeed.
Having more self-compassion motivates you to try again without triggering the guilt and self-blame that are common when you have difficulty changing. Selfcompassion gives you the impetus to think more about your material and spiritual wellbeing, even when you’re tempted to give in to an old habit. Of course, sometimes feeling really bad about what you have done can make you so disgusted that you want to change. But this change takes place because you feel bad about what you are doing, not bad about yourself for doing it.
What does Krishna say in the Gita about not being perfect? He says that actions born of one’s nature, even if they are faulty, should not be relinquished. Krishna goes on to say that all undertakings are covered by some fault. Krishna is telling us to try out best but don’t always expect perfection. What He says is most important is the consciousness with which we do it.
We all need to make changes because none of us are perfect. Think of changes you need to make, the big obstacles you need to deal with, the things you may be resisting. Now think of them with self-compassion. As you work to change, you’ll be fighting the temptation to give up. Remember that being kind to yourself will give you the strength to change.
And never forget that you have an inner resource of wisdom, resilience, and strength, Paramatma, God within you.
Mahatma Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, joined ISKCON in 1969. He is well known in ISKCON for his music and seminars. Visit his website: www.mahatmawisdom.com