Tag Archives: Spirituality

Reflecting on Reflection: How to Make the Good even Better

Just like with anything else, reflection is an instrument that has to be used with great wisdom, for it can both fulfill its higher purpose, or lead us astray. Need I point out that the road to hell is paved with good intentions?

This guy knows a thing or two about driving down *that* road

Our purpose in life is to know and worship God, which means that reflection should bring us closer to Him. We know that God is good; so how can spending the bulk of our time dwelling on the dark side of things bring us closer to goodness? It’s like trying to see the beauty of a flower by looking through the compost bin! And yet, thinking of the conversations I have had or heard about in the last month or so, I realize how much we tend to dwell, almost obsessively, on the negative things in life. For the sake of fulfilling our dual moral purpose (that is, of improving ourselves and society), we will dwell on the mistakes we made, the negative relationships in our lives, the bad things that happened during our day.

Please note that I said “dwell on”, not “talk about” the negative things in life. I am not extolling an approach that ignores all the negative, just questioning the habit of only or mostly looking at the negative, looking on what we are lacking and trying to acquire it. Our intentions are good, for we are reflecting on these things in the hopes of learning from them. However, constantly talking about the negative ends up bringing and keeping us down. What if instead, we chose to acknowledge these bad things, then reflect and build on the positive things that can help us overcome these negative things?

Not dwelling on the negative but instead building on the positive seems to be a challenge not only at the level of the individual, but also at the level of society. I am thinking of the news and shudder to think what aliens would think of us, were they to intercept our telecasts! They would get the impression that Earth is only a place of war and contention. Think about our intergalactic reputation!

No wonder they are hiding from Mulder and Scully

But of course, we are so much more than that! Just this week, amidst the terror and horrific destruction in Moore, Oklahoma shone extraordinary acts of heroism. Similarly, in any city with high crime rates can be found inspiring stories of redemption and community-building; even in war-torn zones can be found stories warms the heart. There are glimmerings of hope in all corners of the world.

To push the thought a little further, just like darkness is the absence of light and not something tangible in itself, there is no such thing as an “uncommunity.” If there is no light in the room, one would not think about how to remove the darkness. Rather, one would think on how to add light. Similarly, if there is no community, one does not think about how to remove this “uncommunity”; rather, we would think about how to build one. And when one builds a brick house, one does not use weak, broken bricks: we use the sturdiest, most perfect ones possible.

It is the same when it comes to personal reflection. If we are “mines rich in gems of inestimable value,” focusing on the rocks will not lead to much polishing of our spiritual gems. We should of course acknowledge the reality of the rocks, but focus on the gems: finding them, extracting them and polishing them. If our higher nature is the light we are hoping to shed on all aspects of our being, focusing on the darkness of our lower nature will not really help, will it?

Thankfully, this only requires a change in perspective that would do wonders for our intergalactic reputation. This change begins at the level of the individual, and comes back to something we have all heard many times: that the glass should be half full, and not half empty!

Refusing to Undermine One’s Integrity: The Role of Dwelling and Self-Doubt

The culture of backbiting and gossip is clearly an unhealthy one, and while it is (relatively) easy to stop talking about people, it often does not mean that we are not thinking about other people in a negative light. I have seen, in the last couple of months, how poisonous these thoughts has been to previously beautiful friendships.

I recently read something that struck a chord. In the context of a letter in which the strengths of current day youth exerting every effort to build strong, spiritual communities were being extolled, this sentence popped out as if written in neon lights: “youth whose integrity and uprightness are not undermined by dwelling on the faults of others and who are not immobilized by any shortcoming of their own.” The main reason why this struck a chord is the way these two concepts are so intimately related, and how they in turn are related to a the culture of backbiting and gossip which has harmed people I love.

We know that the purpose of life is to know and worship God, and to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization through the dual moral processes of personal and community development.  Oftentimes, we get caught, with the best of intentions, in the trap of dwelling. Recently, a friend of mine decided to stop spending time with a certain person because this person displayed a negative character trait this friend was also struggling with. The conversation was uncomfortably centered on the person’s fault, and it soon became clear that my friend had spent more time dwelling on this person’s fault than reflecting on the way she displays this same character trait.

Thinking about this conversation in the context of the abovementioned sentence made me realize that oftentimes, because we feel immobilized by our own shortcomings, we instead dwell on those of others. That is to say, it is easier for my friend to dwell on this person’s negative character trait because if she reflects on her own, it will paralyze her into inaction.

What seems to play a major role in this situation is the ego, which immobilizes us for various reasons, such as fear of making mistakes. Of course we are meant to make mistakes; it is in our very nature, as imperfect human beings, to make them. And mistakes teach us what not to do, which bring us closer to finding out what we should do; ergo we should be happy when we make a mistake.

So learning to stop dwelling on the faults of others could perhaps not only help decrease backbiting, which, as we know, quenches the light of the heart and extinguishes the life of the soul, but also gives us the space to work on our personal development. It might seem like an impossible task but really, as always, the spiritual solution is both simple and yet difficult to implement: stop dwelling! And one tool that I use, which I have written about before on this blog, is the use of mantras. Any tendency to dwell on someone’s faults can be countered with a simple: “I will not dwell” and by immersing oneself into whatever one is doing instead. And when one feels overwhelmed by one’s own shortcomings, one can remind oneself that “having shortcomings is not the problem; not striving is.” 

Do you use mantras? I would love to hear from you!

These are Not the Tiaras You Would Want Your Toddler to Wear: Why the Sparkle of TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras Worries Me

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never even watched a single one of its episodes, and was already horrified by its central concept: TLC’s show Toddlers and Tiaras documents pageants in which little girls, some as young as one, dress up (or down, at times) and, their faces caked with makeup and bodies covered in paint, compete to win prize money based on their looks. Then I figured that I was being unfair; how could I have an opinion about a show I had only heard about? Surely there had to be something good about it, if it was still on air after its January 2009 debut.

But after watching a couple of episodes, I have to say, there really does not seem to be anything good about it, other than to bring to light the systematic sexualisation of little girls for the sake of winning money. These pageants teach girls that sexualising oneself at an age where sex is something one cannot understand for the sake of winning money is commendable.

It would be easy for me to start railing at how horrifying this is, but I don’t think such an attitude would help. It’s also easy to portray the parents that not only allow, but encourage their children to enter these pageants as evil and self-centered. But I do not think that is the case. I honestly believe that a majority of these parents do have the well-being of their children in mind. The questions rather is to figure out how this came to be.

All species have in mind their survival, and for that reason, the adults teach their young ones skills to survive in this world so that they can, one day, also procreate and so, ensure the survival of the species. With this in mind, one only has to look at the decadence in society to realise that perhaps this is what these parents are doing. So perhaps this culture of pageantry is just a way for these parents to introduce and hone skills their children would need to thrive in a world that is increasingly rewarding sexualisation. These parents could simply be empowering their daughter to use their beauty in a way to get them the money needed to live a secure life.

So railing against these parents would not only alienate them out of a much-needed conversation. It would also deter from addressing the core issue: there is something wrong about a society that not only allows for, but rewards over sexualisation. This is all the more problematic that humans have a noble purpose of knowing and worshipping God. Humanity is not supposed to be led by its lower nature; rather, it is supposed to be controlled by its higher nature. This higher nature allows for the lower one to be expressed in a way allowing humans to still be as noble as they are meant to be. A beautiful little girl, appropriately well dressed, is after all a sight that touches most hearts.

A species survival is guaranteed by the way it nurtures its young ones. Sexualising little girls and further toying with them for the sake of our collective entertainment is wrong. Perhaps this is what the books in the Hunger Games trilogy really are about. Stripped from the outward glitz of Toddlers and Tiaras, it feels like these pageants are in essence doing the same thing to our children as the people in Panem were doing to theirs. We all need to look at ourselves and at our contribution to this kind of society, and reflect on what we can do to create a society in which skills honed in pageants as they are currently held are not only unnecessary, but harmful.

Living Our Life to the Fullest: Choosing What to Focus our Thoughts On

It feels like an increasing number of my friends are battling the blues. Having the privilege of being a confidant to many of them, I have had many occasions to reflect on what causes said blues. Reflecting with my friends, we realized that often, they become blue because they dwell on unpleasant things.

We know that we shouldn’t dwell on the unpleasant things of life. While it is essential for our survival to know what can go wrong so that we can avoid it, dwelling on these things entrenches pattern of negative thoughts in ourselves, patterns that sap our energy. And yet, as recently posted by Things We Forget, “for every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Dwelling wastes precious time we could instead spend on being happy.

A subset of things we dwell on seems to be the wrongs, real or perceived, others have wrought on us. The abovementioned applies: why dwell, which saps our precious, limited energy, and waste time being hurt instead of happy? Furthermore, when relationships become difficult, it is usually related to a lack of maturity on both parts. We should perhaps then remember that “an infant must not be treated with disdain simply because it is an infant.” Dwelling on negative things related to bad friendships wastes precious time we instead could spend on good friendships.

Learning not to dwell on the unpleasant things in life seems all the more important in the context of community building. A community is not built by a group of people dwelling on unpleasant relationships. Rather, it is built on a group of people who have strong bonds of friendship; these allow for consultations geared on addressing the needs of the times they live in.

So, how can we adopt a healthy mode of learning that balances the need for “survival” with that of not wasting time dwelling?

I personally think it starts with oneself; we should stop dwelling on everything we do wrong. “We must be patient with others, infinitely patient! But also with our poor selves.” Not that we should pat ourselves on the shoulder, far from that. Rather, in a spirit of constantly striving to become better, we should “persevere and add up [our] accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and a bright side.” Dwelling on what we do wrong is not going to help us become better. But by building on our strengths, we can slowly overcome our weaknesses. If instead we choose to dwell on our weaknesses, it can be lead into very dark places. But, as Helen Keller said, “[k]eep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.”

Something else I realized through these amazing conversations with my friends is that if one manages to learn how to focus on what is important, the rest will fall away and will become easy to shrug off, even self-doubt, self-guilt and dwelling on other unpleasant things in life. Think of yourself walking on a path. The slower you walk, the more you have time to notice details on the sides of the path that will distract you from getting to your final destination. But the faster you walk, focusing on the quality of each step, learning to walk more and more efficiently, focused on the end goal, the more the side paths, the distractions, the unimportant things become a blur, and the sharper and clearer your goals become.

And so, which path will you choose? And how will you walk it?

Jack of All Trades, No Master of Community-Building

Ever heard of the expression: “Jack of all trades, master of none”? It is an expression that hits a pretty resonant chord in a world moving at an ever increasing speed. Wanting to read everything, to attend everything, to fight every injustice, to back up every cause, we end up doing nothing, for the simple reason that we do not have time to do it with the level of attention and excellence required to create sustainable change. At the level of the individual, it can cause frustration, distress, anger, and exhaustion, which further undermines attempts to make the world a better place.

I wonder if this habit is even more problematic when one is part of a community-building process focused on achieving the spiritual and material well-being of all. With the best of intentions, we participate in every activity, we back up every cause, we attend every rally, etc. It seems doable, since, even if we hold a full time job, there are five evenings available every week, and two full days over the week-end!

But what about the strong bonds of friendship which are the building blocks of community-building? What about the conversations between two souls at the basis of these bonds of friendship? When we are trying to deepen our friendship with 30, 40, 50 people, are we creating conditions in which we can have strong bonds of friendship based on conversations between two souls? What about the other aspects of our lives – family life, work, school, health: are we achieving excellence in all of these areas, and, if we are not, how is it affecting our community-building efforts?

Service requires sacrifice, and just like with everything else in any Holy Scripture, it cannot be taken out of context. We are asked to strive for excellence; we are advised to delve into Holy Writings; we are counseled to take care of our health; we are encouraged to create a harmonious family life. All these aspects of our lives should be aligned with the purpose of our creation, that is, to know and to worship God, which expresses itself in a life of service, requiring sacrifice. Namely, we should set aside what we would like to do and focus on what is needed.

It’s fascinating how all the topics featured on this blog keep coming together. Sacrifice is needed to focus on what will best help bring forward an ever advancing civilization. But moderation is key, which will help us increase our ability to serve. By striving to excel in one’s chosen field, one can learn to translate the Writings into action and to have a positive influence on its discourse. By taking the time to eat well, to exercise, to sleep enough and to meditate, our bodies will remain at peak efficiency, and we can remain lean, mean service machines well into our golden years.

We should therefore exert all efforts to bring forth an ever advancing civilization, and not just focus on, say, only activities directly related to community-building. On the one hand, this immoderate focus makes us forget about other equally important parts of our lives. On the other hand, it decreases our ability to form solid bonds of friendship based on conversations between souls. Both of these turn said activities into events that do nothing to weave tightly together the fabric of our society. Should we instead choose to do less but increase the time, effort and commitment to each, the changes that we will bring to our relationships will be deeper, and will go a very long way in helping carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.

Striving For Excellence Without Guilt Tripping in a Morally Lax World

One of the aspects of spiritual development is that of excellence, which is a challenging goal to aspire to. It is of course much easier to strive for spiritual excellence when one is part of an institution that promotes it. Let’s go for an extreme example: being chaste is a lot easier in a nunnery than a strip joint.

What happens when one wishes to strive for excellence in a morally lax environment? Moral laxity implies a lack of discipline towards spiritual development, which hinders the quest for spiritual excellence. In other words, moral laxity is the kryptonite to striving for spiritual excellence.

I have come to wonder if avoiding this kryptonite is the reason why many of my friends, who try so hard to be spiritually excellent while living in morally lax societies, have become so hard on themselves, almost cruelly so. They beat themselves down so much that at times, they seem to forget all that is good in them, and only see the bad.

And so, while fear of the influence of society’s moral laxity is understandable, being this hard on oneself can nurture deep, destructive feelings of guilt. Ironically enough, this drains us of the energy we need to remain firm in the quest for spiritual excellence in such a society.

While striving for spiritual excellence is a powerful engine that can help us overcome our egos for the sake of our moral development and that of our community, it has to be done right; we should be focusing on the movement towards excellence rather than excellence itself. Furthermore, we should not forget the context within which we are striving.

Those who are hard on themselves have often been told they should not treat themselves so. But I think we should indeed demand the best of ourselves; but rather than to encourage self-complacency, perhaps we should be encouraged to also learn, hand in hand with excellence, to be compassionate, just and kind towards ourselves. After all, just like with everything else in the Holy Writings, we are striving for excellence in a bid to know and worship God. Are we worshipping God when we are putting ourselves down and demeaning ourselves? Or are we worshipping God when we bring ourselves to account every day, being frank and honest with ourselves on both what we did right and what we did wrong, and make new goals for the next day?

So while well-intentioned, being too hard on ourselves is not the right way of dealing with living in a morally lax society. What is? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Some Completely Shameless Self Promotion

Yesterday’s post does not imply that I have not been writing at all. Interestingly enough, I have been writing a lot, in the context of small projects with deadlines and specific content (which of course makes me think of Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant’s fantastic post). So here are links to the six articles I wrote for The Journey West.

Enjoy!