There is no word for shame or guilt in Tibetan. The closest translation is “intelligent regret that decides to do things differently.” One of my biggest regrets is wasting so much of my energy on anger, instead of cultivating compassion. It wasn’t until I made the decision to look more closely at my anger, dig in and pull it out by the roots, that I discovered most of it came from feelings of shame.
I never set out to intentionally hurt anyone. I do the best I can with what I have to work with at any given moment in time. As I learn and acquire better tools, I become more adept at expressing myself honestly and productively, causing less collateral damage. When I’m wrong, I accept responsibility and endeavour to right that wrong. Denying my culpability is a complete waste of energy. I cannot move forward and enact significant change in my life if I’m not accountable for every aspect of my life. I am the sole creator of my life experience.
Whenever conflict arises, it’s not always easy to see what my part is. It takes skill and rigorous honesty to unravel the knot and discover what part is mine. Then comes the real challenge… to not beat myself up about it. It’s this investigative process that leads me to a much deeper understanding of myself and others. This is where compassion is born. However, if I’m being harsh with myself, that harshness will cloud my interactions with others. In order to gain freedom from anger and shame, I needed to snap out of delusion and fearlessly seek out the truth.
I began with my resentments. They serve as a rich guide, as I tend to resent in others what I most need to acknowledge in myself. When I took a hard look at my anger, my patterns became very clear. I have learned some painful truths behind my behaviours and expectations. I found that I often looked to others to fulfill my need to feel secure in myself…for validation and worthiness. I allowed the behaviour of others to dictate whether I was happy or miserable. I was a victim.
Through the following practice in honest accountability, I found liberation from shame and victim consciousness. I discovered a well of happiness not dependent on outside circumstances… a sustainable happiness I could maintain by working with my mind. Taking people and circumstances out of the equation put me completely in charge of my levels of joy or suffering. The choice was, and is always, mine.
The practice: Make a list of all your resentments, past and present. Give yourself permission to throw out all rationale and reasonableness and just vent all your feelings about the person or situation. Be as detailed as possible, but don’t worry about how accurate it is. Your perception is what matters in this exercise.
Next, write down how you were specifically affected by the circumstance that led to the resentment? Did it affect how you feel about yourself or what you believe others think and feel about you… your reputation? Did it prevent you from getting something you wanted or did it cause you to get something you didn’t want? Did it affect your sense of safety or security? Did it make you feel fearful or worried? Did it affect your finances? Did it affect your personal or professional relationships?
Now, describe any part you played in the event. This is where you need to be rigorously honest with yourself. There’s no point in this exercise if you’re just going to bullshit yourself. Where were you harsh or judgmental… expecting others to behave the way you think they should? Were you lacking in humility? Seeking to arouse jealousy? Was the need to be right (protecting your ego) the most important result to you? Were you dishonest in any way? Be aware that blame is often dishonesty in disguise. Dishonesty includes, not only lies to others, but lies to yourself (denial) and things left unsaid. Were you inconsiderate…only thinking of yourself? Were you full of fear? Were you grasping… afraid of losing what you have or not getting what you want?
If you are able to be completely open and honest with yourself, you are likely to see your patterns of thoughts and behaviors underneath your resentments. It is only in identifying the hidden defense mechanisms we use and accepting responsibility for the role we play in all our interactions with others that we can begin to make real changes in our lives that create a new and healthy dynamic in all our relationships. Refusing to play the victim and allowing the behaviour of others to dictate our level of happiness is liberating. We will no longer be held hostage by our feelings, which, by the way, are constantly changing and very rarely based in fact. As Helen Schucman says in A Course in Miracles, “Your understanding is not a powerful contribution to the truth.” In other words, feelings aren’t fact. Anger, shame, fear….. all delusions.
So, be brave, seek out your truth and know peace.