A user’s guide to living – part 11
BECOME THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF
DAAJI continues his series on everyday living, introducing the tenth universal principle of the User’s Guide, which is a prayerful approach to continuous self-improvement. This principle nurtures self-acceptance, and allows us to appreciate that we are a work in progress. It offers a method to observe ourselves with self-compassion instead of guilt and shame. It also develops the gratitude and humility to work on changing ourselves, to acknowledge how our lives are interwoven, how to be kind to ourselves, first, and how to be kind to others as a natural outcome. The result is that we rekindle the childlike innocence and sense of wonder that brings so much joy to everyday living.
At bedtime, feeling the presence of God,
repent for any wrongs committed unknowingly.
Beg forgiveness in a supplicant mood
and prayerfully resolve not to allow repetition of the same.
To err is human. To strive to improve is also human.
Finally, we come to the tenth principle of Heartfulness, which focuses on continuous improvement. With the help of the preceding nine principles we experience expansion of consciousness, and refine our values, behavior and relationships, and now the tenth principle takes us to the next level, with a very simple daily practice that helps us to become the best version of ourselves.
Have you noticed yet that Principle 1 starts the day, before dawn, with the early morning practice of meditation, and Principle 10 ends the day, just before sleep, with the prayerful practice of continuous improvement? In between, the other eight principles focus on lifestyle during our waking hours.
After reading this article, you will also realize that the practice of Principle 10 is one of the best ways to work with the other principles.
Continuous improvement consists of two aspects:
The first is to recognize and acknowledge our mistakes, then to repent and ask forgiveness, and finally to resolve not to repeat the same mistakes again.
The second is to prevent the same mistakes from happening again; in other words, to let go of past patterns and open ourselves to a nobler, simpler way of living that is in tune with Nature.
It is the combination of these two aspects that enables continuous self-improvement
Why is Principle 10 practiced before bedtime?
The answer is simple really, given the natural daily cycle: Before going to sleep, we wind down. Our daily activities are over, we are preparing for rejuvenative sleep, and if we are in tune with natural cycles our autonomic nervous system has switched into parasympathetic mode. Our breathing is calmer, our whole energy system is relaxed, and our brainwaves are slowing down so that we automatically access the subconscious realms more readily. We find ourselves in a comparatively free state. Babuji calls it “Nature’s state of contentment.”
It is a good time for introspection and reflection. We are quiet and more likely to accept our shortcomings and work with them constructively. Deeper patterns and memories start to surface. The ego, which is much more reactive during the day when the energy of the sympathetic nervous system is activated, becomes more assenting and less reactive as the parasympathetic system is dominant. So, we make use of the daily cycles to choose the best time to evaluate and correct ourselves, when it is likely to have the greatest effect.
When we go to sleep after this practice of self-improvement, we also assimilate the changes in awareness from our short-term memory into the long-term memory centers of the brain, so that eventually new patterns will form. These new patterns need to become subconscious and thus automatic for real change to happen. Each night, using Principle 10, we are dissolving unproductive patterns and reconfiguring the cognates, in an open yielding heartful state that is the most conducive to adaptation and change. There is a letting go rather than any recrimination. Self-compassion is a natural outcome of this practice.
When we go to sleep after this practice of self-improvement,
we also assimilate the changes in awareness
from our short-term memory
into the long-term memory centers of the brain,
so that eventually new patterns will form.
The more we develop this habit by doing it every night, the more automatic it becomes, and the easier it is to respond the same way during the rest of the 24 hours. Otherwise it is very difficult. Why? We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. The problem lies in our reaction when we do. Often, we don’t admit to our mistakes, even to ourselves, for fear of punishment, embarrassment or ridicule, and because we have been taught since childhood to feel guilt and shame for them. Remember that emotions like fear, anger, stress, anxiety, guilt and shame in the subtle body activate the “fight, flight or freeze response” in our physiology, and when that kicks in no clear thinking is possible. The autonomic nervous system has switched into sympathetic mode, survival mode, and it is primed to attack, defend or freeze.
As a result, instead of gently correcting and improving ourselves, we hide our mistakes and blame others, including parents, partners, co-workers, and the general environment – we deny, cover up, lie, resist, and lash out. These are the reactions of the ego, which surfaces when our sense of survival is threatened, even when the threat is only perceived and not real.
Actually, it all depends upon what the ego identifies with. When the ego identifies mainly with the body, we will attack or defend with the physical body; when it identifies with the mind, we will attack or defend with the mind; in most people it is a combination of the two. When the ego identifies with the soul, we are not so concerned with defending the body or the mind, so we remain centered and focused on our inner state. We are less likely to react, attack or defend, because the soul is immutable and unchangeable, so it is not under threat. We do not flip into that ancient survival mechanism of the “fight, flight or freeze response.”
These days, it is rare to find individuals who willingly take ownership of their mistakes, seek forgiveness, and resolve not to repeat the same mistakes again and again. This is because most people are in chronic low level stress mode, primed for attack or defense. Yet it is impossible to be a true seeker without cultivating this attitude of repentance.
All the practices of Heartfulness are designed to give us self-mastery, and Principle 10 is one in that suite of practices. When we are able to pause and remain centered, we give ourselves the space to repent for our mistakes. The ego becomes progressively subtler and more refined through this practice of repentance, and the lightness from within suffuses our entire being.
In this article we first examine the practice and its underlying philosophy. Then we look at how we can avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
Why is Principle 10 a prayerful practice?
We live a lot of our day-to-day lives in the service of the ego, and that is understandable because the ego is our identity; it is necessary for our existence. The ego is our motivator, allowing us to think and act, including reading this article and working on this principle of self-improvement. Unfortunately, the ego also accumulates false identities that we maintain with our beliefs. Our beliefs stem from the subconscious programs we have accumulated in the past, and also from our likes and dislikes in the present; what we desire and what we avoid. Our thoughts and feelings are a reflection of these beliefs. Our words and deeds flow from our thoughts and feelings. Our mistakes are simply those words and deeds done in the service of a misdirected ego.
Our beliefs are deep-rooted programs, the primary algorithm for the programs is based on likes and dislikes, and our dislikes are often associated with fear. Now, the fundamental source of all fear is our feeling of separation from our own Center or Source. When we forget where we have come from and who we really are, the ego clings to external things.
As a result, we identify with our parents, our carers, our teachers, our friends, our social norms, and with their beliefs. We learn that success is measured by wealth, power, popularity, knowledge, fame, passion, or status, to name a few. Our craving for these symbols of identification is what desire is all about. Once the ego identifies with external things, we forget our true self and take on various personas. Eventually, the layers of these personas become our personal reality, our personality. The more complex the layers become, the more we move away from mental wholeness and well-being toward mental multiplicity and disturbance.
Please understand, I am not saying that wealth, power, popularity, knowledge, fame, passion, or status are wrong; it is only when the ego attaches its identity to them that things go wrong. At the root of all wrongdoings is this false sense of identification, the primary misunderstanding of who we really are.
The ego is often referred to as the lower self, although this is really only true when it is not guided by the heart, when we forget who we really are. And these ten universal principles are there to help us remember who we are throughout the 24-hour cycle of every day. They are really the secrets of the cosmic heart that are in tune with Nature. When the ego is not guided by the ethical intelligence of the heart, it is rudderless, and then it can easily drift in the wrong direction. When we are in the service of a misdirected ego, our desires take over, we become selfish, and we forget our true nature. We lose sight of the universal principles, and ignore our duties and commitments. When we neglect our duties, we commit wrongs against ourselves, against others, against humanity, against the environment, and against all other life forms. But since we are usually not aware that the ego is misdirected, we don’t always see that we are wrong, so we don’t acknowledge our mistakes, let alone atone for them.
The solution is very simple – connect prayerfully through the heart to the Center of our existence, and tune into our highest Self, the inner Master. Here we find the supreme guide, our moral compass. It naturally shines an inner light on our flaws and mistakes, and we can easily repent for them. The ego has no power in this realm.
When we connect with the universal consciousness through a heart that is vacuumized and prayerful, our awareness expands, and we witness ourselves from a higher perspective, without judgment. With self-acceptance and self-compassion we become aware of our flaws and inadequacies. In the tender softness of the inner Presence, our heart melts in humility and we repent for our mistakes, resolving not to repeat them.
What sort of wrongs do we commit?
Do you remember back to Principle 9 and the idea of vyavahara? When we fulfil our duties, our dealings, our vyavahara, then we automatically resonate with others and with Nature. When we fail in our duties, we often commit wrongs, even though it may not be intentional. Such mistakes happen because we are not in tune with the principles of Nature – we are flowing against the current. They can be classified as wrongs of omission and commission.
Wrongs of omission: These mistakes are because of our inactions, generally out of fear, selfishness or inertia: Fear of the consequences and repercussions, fear of failure, fear of being exposed, fear of being judged, fear of rejection, fear of not meeting expectations, fear of change, and fear of the unknown. Selfishness is the result of a misdirected ego; and inertia consists of lethargy, the status quo, and resistance to change. Not doing our duty comes under the category of wrongs of omission.
For example, as an employee, what if you come to know that a colleague is embezzling funds from the company? Is it your duty to report him, even if it is risky? Other examples of omission include failure to stand up for what is right, failure to correct your child who is developing negative habits, and failure to help someone in your family or community when they need you.
Wrongs of commission: These mistakes are from our actions. For example, when we hurt someone physically or emotionally, when we are dishonest or deceitful, coveting what is rightfully someone else’s, when we are lustful or acquisitive, and we go against the fundamental principles of Nature, such as the principles of unity, love, truth and simplicity.
Intentional versus unintentional mistakes
While some of our mistakes are intentional, generally we don’t set out with the intention to hurt others. Many of our mistakes result from our own complicated behavior patterns. Eckhart Tolle has written about this beautifully in the chapter called ‘The Pain Body’ in A New Earth. We often react to circumstances and people in ways that are determined by our own hardwired subconscious programs, without thinking. Not only that, we may be ignorant of others and insensitive to their feelings. For example, cultural insensitivities and misunderstandings can hurt people terribly. And other people may be sensitive toward something that was said or done because of their personal history, too.
Personality also comes into the picture here, as some people are intimidating just by their presence, tone and body language, without being aware of it. They end up hurting others unintentionally. Wrongs happen at the level of intention, thought, word and action. If our intentions are pure, our thoughts will be pure. In that case, even when we come across as abrasive by virtue of our personality, it is still an unintentional mistake.
Sometimes we make mistakes based on misunderstandings. At other times we don’t foresee the consequences of our actions, or we don’t know the rules of etiquette of behavior. Some mistakes are genuine. For example, your friend may ask you the time of a work meeting, and you say 9.00 a.m. because that is what you remember. Actually, the meeting is at 8.00 a.m. and both of you miss it. It is a genuine mistake. Some mistakes are impulsive – someone tries to swat a fly away from your face, and you think they are taking a swing at you and hit back in self-defense. It is a reflex reaction, but if you deliberately punch someone that is a different kind of mistake. Some mistakes are one time only. Others become habitual and may even develop into addictions. There are first time offenders and habitual offenders.
What is the impact of wrongs committed?
How do you feel when you have done something wrong? Often we feel terrible – our mistakes hurt us even more than they hurt others. We often feel bad for days out of guilt and remorse. So imagine having a daily bedtime practice that refocuses toward a constructive perspective, hence removing that awful feeling! Also, when we neglect good things, like our spiritual practice or our health – when we don’t exercise, or sleep enough, or when we overeat – we hurt ourselves. When we don’t study, or when we underperform due to carelessness or lethargy, we hurt ourselves. Also, addictions of any kind hurt us in the long run.
There are also wrongs and mistakes against others. When we undermine a co-worker, we hurt them. When we don’t stand up for what is right, or when we don’t nurture peace and harmony, we hurt people. When we gossip, spread rumors, preach violence, or corrupt young minds, we also hurt people. When we overconsume, pollute, or lay waste to the Earth and any of its resources, we hurt the environment.
All these stem from not living in tune with Nature according to these universal principles.
The steps to becoming our best version
One of the questions often asked is: What wrongs are we repenting for? Only the ones that we know about? Only today’s wrongs? The answer is simple: All wrongs committed, especially unknowingly. In fact, it is not necessary to focus on specific wrongs when we repent. If awareness is needed, it will anyway come to mind.
The process of repentance has five major steps. The first step is to recognize that we are not perfect and take responsibility. This will lead to regret for any of our mistakes. Next is to ask for forgiveness. And the final step is to resolve not to repeat those mistakes. This entire process is done while prayerfully connecting with the Center through the heart.
Recognize: To recognize that we have done wrong is the first step in acknowledging that we are part of the human race! It is a natural state of humility without any expectation of the need to be fault-free. That in itself is very liberating.
Then, by connecting prayerfully with the divine presence in our hearts, it becomes clear how short of the mark we are. For example, we may help someone in need with the expectation of something in return. We may think that we have done a good deed, whereas we have fallen short of the mark of helping someone without expecting anything in return. This kind of enlightened awareness is possible only in the presence of the Divine, where we feel truly humble. This step allows us to see things as they truly are, without exaggeration. In this step, we are not necessarily thinking of any specific mistake, but we have the general recognition that we are a work in progress, and that there is room for improvement. Awareness will surface, however, regarding specific mistakes.
Take responsibility: The next step is to admit our mistakes and take responsibility. The key here is to look within as the place for transformation, and not pass the blame on to someone or something else. Taking responsibility requires moral courage and self-compassion.
Feel remorse: When we genuinely feel sorry for any wrongs committed, we have entered this phase. Here we feel a state of simplicity – the quintessence of Nature. In this state, the potency of our errors evaporates. They are reduced to a lifeless lump.
Request forgiveness: This step involves a deep cry from the heart seeking forgiveness for the wrongs committed. There is so much meekness at this step that our wrongs are washed clean and we are restored to a state of innocence
Resolve: In this rejuvenated state of innocence, we make a strong resolve not to allow the same wrongs to be repeated. Here the vacuumized prayerful state of the heart fills with devotion in the form of repeated prayers as a safeguard against repetition
At the end of this practice of repentance, we feel such a sense of innocence, humility, purity and simplicity. Babuji tells us that “one who attains it has in a way attained all.” Impediments have been removed, and the weight of them is set aside. There is such a tender softness. We feel refreshed and restored. We reach a state of absolute purity like that of the divine current. This state of highest purity is acquired through the relationship of devotion, and this leads us to what is truly behind this practice – the relationship of the seeker with the Master.
This state of highest purity is acquired
through the relationship of devotion,
and this leads us to what is truly
behind this practice – the relationship
of the seeker with the Master.
The complementary practices of Cleaning and repentance
I would say that Heartfulness Cleaning and the practice of repentance go hand in hand. While Cleaning removes the accumulated impressions that are the seeds of our future Karma, repentance arrests the sprouting of the seeds which have already been sown in the fertile soil of our mind. We are never completely free of errors, but they are “reduced to a mere lifeless lump,” in Babuji’s words.
He goes on to say, “By the effect of the strong push applied by the force of the will, they are transformed into repentance. Repentance is nothing but a jerk to the thought-waves that creates, to a certain extent, a state of vacuum within us. The flow from above then gets diverted towards it, in order to keep up its uniformity with Nature. Thus the thing coming in helps us to wash off the previous effect. This may be taken as the true form of repentance.”
Earlier I mentioned that we often act in the service of a misdirected ego. We are so identified with our persona that we genuinely think it is who we are. We believe the stories we tell ourselves and keep revalidating that external personality. Babuji has said time and again, though, that spirituality is the science of Reality. The purpose of life is to see the unchanging Reality that lies beyond all those outer coverings.
As we travel on the spiritual journey, we have glimpses of that inner Reality. It is in these rare moments of awareness we experience that we are not what we think ourselves to be. As we progress in our practice and our consciousness expands, we become increasingly more aware of that Reality – the inner presence of God. In Heartfulness we also call it the inner Master. This inner Master is our highest Self, always showing the way from within. And, if we are lucky, the inner Master is reflected in us finding an outer living Master, a guide who has already reached that state of self-mastery and is willing to support us along the way. He becomes the mirror for our progress.
When we equate the Master with our highest Self, then we see the tendencies of our lower self for what they are. We realize that our evolution lies in becoming like the Master.
Our ego is directed toward that higher aim. This creates in us a state of negation, which attracts his attention and establishes a link with him. It becomes easy for us to fulfill our duties, and we naturally avoid anything that is not in tune with the universal principles. In Babuji’s words, “This can be accomplished when one shortens to the greatest possible limit the distance between oneself and the Master. Hence the best method for that would be to maintain in our thought a constant feeling of his presence.”
The essence of Principle 10
In fact, the real essence of this principle is “feeling the presence of God.” Only when we recognize the presence of our true Self will we see our ego for what it is – mere identity. That recognition sparks the process of repentance, and with it the removal of unwanted tendencies, the Yamas, and the cultivation of noble qualities, the Niyamas. In combination, this leads to continuous self-improvement, and the feeling of purity, innocence, humility and lightness.
The philosophy behind this principle can be applied to all aspects of our life to achieve continuous self-improvement. The practice of Kaizen is one such example. Kaizen is a never-ending striving for perfection in everything we do. In order to achieve Kaizen, we adopt what the Japanese call hansei or “the practice of self-criticism.” This means holding ourselves accountable and finding room for improvement, even when everything is going to plan. Adopting this mindset overcomes the status quo, and pushes us forward. It is what allows us to maintain a differential between what we are now and what we can become, so that growth can continue. There is another practice called poka-yoke in lean management, which means “mistake-proofing” or avoiding mistakes, which is similar to living from the perspective of the higher Self.
This principle allows us to reach subtler and subtler levels of behavior, until we reach a level where mistakes are rare. And when we do make them, we become aware and repent, resolving not to repeat the same. Most importantly, it is our connection with and remembrance of the Master that allows this practice to be so effective.
Article by DAAJI
Illustrations by JASMEE RATHOD
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