I love the quotation from Milarepa. “Act so that you have no cause to be ashamed of yourself, and hold fast to this rule” is such a good foundation for life.
I believe that when we follow the promptings of our hearts, we never do anything to be ashamed of. And yet shame and guilt play such a big part in so many people’s lives, always with a negative impact. Why is this?
None of us feel ashamed of ourselves when we’re young. We’re born comfortable with who we are, happy to run around naked in the rain or on a beach with never a care in the world. We don’t judge ourselves with the language of shame. We do what comes naturally and say what’s on our mind without any of the constraints we obey later in life. We’re honest, bright creatures, born with integrity.
So where does shame come in? It must be that we are taught it. We learn the word “ugly” and along the way we start to feel less confident about our bodies. We start to judge ourselves by other people’s standards of achievement. We become self-critical, instead of loving us for who we are.
That’s why I think the phrase “original sin” is such a terrible one. It suggests that our origins themselves are to be ashamed of, which is the opposite of the truth.
Mostly this affects us how we look at ourselves physically. How many of us are truly happy with our bodies when we become adults? How many of us are truly comfortable with our sexuality? If we were truly happy with our bodies, would we ever consider botox, face-lifts or implants?
It seems to me the media teaches us to judge our bodies negatively, instead of enjoying their beauty. Worse still, we’ve been taught that sexual desires are something to feel bad about. Just look at the language. Having a “dirty weekend away” really means taking a break from our busy schedules to spend time loving our partners. How different it would be if we were to take a “healthy weekend away” instead!
It’s no coincidence that the notion of “dirtiness” is also linked to money: hence we talk of the “stinking rich” or “filthy rich” rather than the shiningly-clean rich! Men particularly are taught to feel guilty if they are not earning sufficient quantities to meet social perceptions of wealth. The shame surrounding this can be so acute that people will take their own lives rather than continue to live in “failure”.
So how do we rid ourselves of these learned attitudes of shame?
For Milarepa the solution was to live alone in a cave high in the mountains. Here he ate whatever grew nearby and practised metaphysics to such a high level that he is said to have put his hand into the rocky cave wall in order to prove his mastery of the world to a doubting disciple. I have not been there, but am told that you can visit this cave and place your hand into the indentation where Milarepa did this.
Yet, most of us can’t simply up-sticks and head off into the hills. We have obligations. And besides, the life of a hermit is not for everyone.
I do believe that we can all rid ourselves of shame, though. We just have to appeal to our inner beauty, to remember the Divine Self that resides within us all. That Divine Self, shining and confident and free, is who we truly are. We knew it when we were young. We just have to remind ourselves of its presence within us – and within everyone else.
The simplest way to do this is to look at ourselves in the mirror, holding our own gaze until the physical melts away and we connect with the spirit inside.
On top of that, if we start each day by saying: “I am a Divine Idea in body, mind and spirit” this helps to shift the balance. And when we add the simple phrase: “I love myself for who I am” we direct ourselves back onto our Divine Path.
On that path we meet neither guilt nor shame.
The trick is to do this every day, again and again, until the learned behaviours are truly washed away.
My best wishes, as ever, Richard.