I keep a checklist of the things I want to accomplish every day. Once I perform a task I check it off my list. The idea of the checklist is to motivate me to perform each task on a daily basis and it worked well in the beginning. One of the items on the list used to be “prayer / meditation.” I put this on the list to remind me to exercise my “spiritual muscle” on a daily basis. In the beginning this worked well as a reminder.
Eventually, however, this stopped working. It stopped working not because I refused to exercise my spiritual muscle. It stopped working because this item became another item on the checklist. The fact that I had this on the list negated some of the power of my spiritual practice. I found myself approaching this item motivated to check it off the list; to have it accomplished. I found that my spiritual practice does not work this way.
I firmly believe it is the nature of spiritualism whether in the form of prayer or meditation that it must be performed whole heartedly. Return to me with all your heart. (Joel 2:12). If not, then I am only going through the motions and any spirituality drains out of it. This is true because spiritualism by its nature deals with the nature of my heart, with truth and not surface level appearances. Render your heart not your garments. (Joel 2:13). To the extent I can keep a spiritual practice on the check list and maintain a wholehearted expression towards the task the checklist serves its purpose. But the point at which spirituality becomes a task to compete is the point when it needs to be removed from the checklist. In other words, if I am not approaching spirituality with my whole heart then I am not being spiritual. Whatever I am doing has become an empty gesture (in terms of spirituality). In the same respect, religious ritualism serves to remind of truth. To the extent ritual stops reminding me of truth because I am not approaching it with my whole heart then it becomes empty and is not serving its purpose. In a sense I am checking something from the list that I have not yet completed if I do not pray or meditate whole heart.
The spirit is truth. Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar render unto God the things that belong to him. (Matt 22:21). Checklists are for items I want to accomplish because I want them accomplished and not because I want to experience the performance of the item. Certain things can be put on the check list because they do not require whole hearts to perform. These things belong to Caesar. That is, the physical world. For spiritual things, prayer, meditation, being grateful, these things belong to God and must be performed whole heartedly. These things belong to God (if you like).
So I removed this item from my checklist and I found that I still perform the task. But now the quality of my performance is different. The checklist served me well to begin the practice. But to maintain my spiritual practice I had to eventually take it off my checklist.
Shame is the hatred of the self or at least the belief that the self deserves punishment. Not all shame is bad or inappropriate. In fact, shame can be healthy when one commits a bad act and seeks to atone for that act. In this circumstance shame informs the self that the self has committed a bad act. Shame becomes a problem when it expands beyond this role and dominates a person’s life and infiltrates every moment of existence. When shame expands beyond its useful role it becomes difficult to live a moral life according to Christian morality as defined by Jesus. Specifically, when asked in the Gospel of Matthew which is the greatest commandment Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (MT 22:36-40).
A person I recently interacted with who is a self-avowed white supremacist and Christian whom I believe to be shame driven expressed that because he does not love himself he is not required to love his (presumably non-white) neighbor. I found this to be a clever loop-hole but it ultimately fails for two major reasons.
First, to love God (the first and most important commandment which even my white supremacist acquaintance would acknowledge) he must also love God’s creation which is an extension and reflection of God. God’s creation includes one’s self and his neighbors. Certainly this love is not unconditional. In order to love something whole heartedly (as the greatest commandment requires) the love cannot come from a place of obligation. The heart must have the free will to choose to love or to not love. To love out of obligation is merely going through the motions, is not whole-hearted and lacks real value.
Second, in the absence of self-love, shame will expand beyond its useful role because in this environment shame does not serve to bring the self back from error but rather to annihilate and perpetually punish the self. With this type of shame naturally comes comparison to others, resentment of others and jealousy of others. In this environment it is impossible to love one’s neighbor or one’s self. I believe if one cannot love himself he cannot truly love God. Life becomes joyless and hateful to the self and the others with whom he interacts. Under these circumstances there is no room for the Holy Spirit to enter the heart. This is self-annihilation. According to Saint Paul the fruit of the Holy Spirit are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. (Gal 5:22-23). None of these fruits can ripen in an environment of shame and hatred for the self and one’s neighbor.
Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the Book of Genesis specifically states “they were both naked … and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:25). But when they ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they became aware of their nakedness, became ashamed, covered themselves and hid from God. (Gen 3:7-10). It was shame that separated man from God since the very beginning. It is also shame that separates man from himself and his neighbor (extensions of God). This is why shame (the absence of self-love) is ultimately self-annihilating.
I recently read Tony Robin’s book Money Master the Game. I recommend it for anyone who is concerned about their financial situation and does not know what the first steps would be to address that situation. Towards the end of his book he talks about a three-step meditation technique he practices every morning. For three minutes he thinks about all the things he is grateful for. For three minutes he sends out blessings to the people he thinks need help. And for three minutes he pictures himself succeeding at whatever endeavors he wants to accomplish.
I was introduced to this book through a podcast where James Altucher interviewed Tony Robins about this book. James frequently talks about what he calls “The Daily Practice” where he tries to work on four pillars of his life every day. Those pillars are physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
I have been trying to follow the advice described above from both Tony Robbins and James Altucher for some time now but during Lent I have decided to do this in a more disciplined manner.
This lent I am taking 20 minutes out of my day (preferably first thing in the morning) to meditate. I use the free “Insight Timer” app as a meditation timer which rings a bell in the beginning and end of the meditation. For the first part of my meditation I follow Tony Robbins’ meditation technique. During the gratefulness section this morning it came to me that one function God serves is to be an object for gratefulness. I know being grateful is a powerful spiritual practice because it deprograms what my shame-ego tries to program me to think. It seems to me that expressing gratefulness to someone is more powerful than just being grateful and so (for me) God can be that someone. Another thing I noticed while meditating today was that the voice of my shame-ego was smaller than the voice of my intentions. It was in the background trying to undermine me but was easy to dismiss. God is the personification of the object of my gratefulness. My shame-ego is the personification of the voice that undermines me in my head. I am also reading a daily Lenten reflection book called Lent with St. Paul.
For the intellectual pillar I am trying to finish a novel I have been writing for some time which I intend to publish as an e-book. I will also work more regularly on this blog. I also write down 10 ideas a day (another James Altucher suggestion).
I run, walk, and do push ups every day. I avoid those activities that do not serve me physically.
This pillar seems to be the most difficult for me. James Altucher talks about avoiding negative people and associating with people who love and respect you as a way of working on this pillar. I do this to an extent but because I work from home I do not associate with people outside my immediate family with the regularity I need. During this Lent I will try to seek out organizations to join to work on this.
I am grateful for the opportunity to focus my energy in a more disciplined way during Lent. I recognize that it is important not to overburden myself with an overly strict regimen because I risk burning out and abandoning the practice. I simply try to do the best that I can with a whole heart.
The three lines in the readings for Ash Wednesday that stand out to me are “Come back to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2:12), “Rend your heart not your garments” (Joel 2:13), and “Your father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matt 6:4). All three lines emphasize honesty over appearance. They recognize and expose a fact of life that I do not often admit to. That is, the way I present myself to the world is very rarely the same as my own internal experience of myself. The father that sees in secret can only be myself or an outside entity that knows the inner workings of my heart and mind. Either way I must be honest and whole-hearted with him. Anything less is pointless.
Lent is the time to set things right with myself. To come back to God and myself with my whole heart is freedom from ego. The symbolic way to do this during Lent is to “give something up.” To sacrifice by giving up those things that I may like in the short-term but do not serve me in the long-term is liberating, not burdensome. I firmly believe giving something up should be voluntary. If I am not acting of my own volition, I am not acting with my whole heart. To turn away from sin is to better myself. Loving God and loving myself amount to the same thing. The opposite is true as well. A shame oriented person would give something up to appease someone else. A non-shame oriented person acts with their whole heart. Giving something up is an act of devotion both to himself and to God.
Lent is a time when I feel closest to God. It is a time when I feel the most spiritual and physically healthy. I do not know God. To be strictly honest I must say that I am agnostic. But I fall more on the side of believing in God than not believing in God. I certainly want to believe in God and there are times when my faith is stronger. I was raised in the wishy-washy world of post Vatican II Catholicism in the United States of America. Religion did not take ahold of me when I was young. I do identify with its symbols, mythology and rituals; Lent chief among them. They are all I have spiritually and I do not want to let them go. I need them to approach the infinite unknowable of existence. I do not want to be an atheist. Feelings have a lot to do with it. Believing in God feels truthful to me.
Lent is a time of year I look forward to. It is a time of spiritual renewal and transformation. It is too bad I cannot feel that way all year round because when I feel that way I feel content and grounded. For me, Lent is a time of opportunity to better myself by coming back to God with my whole heart. It is a time I do not want to waste.
So you have decided to make a New Years Resolution and you feel ashamed for various reasons a good deal of the time. Here is what I recommend based upon my life experience dealing with shame issues.
First of all, do not make a New Years Resolution out of a sense of guilt. Only make New Years Resolutions for your own benefit. Of course, your shame ego will tell you this way of thinking is selfish and something to feel ashamed about. Remember that the shame ego is the same thing that will convince you that maintaining the resolution you made out of guilt is too difficult to keep up and then once you stop maintaining the resolution will then tell you that you are weak for giving it up. Of course this requires awareness of when your shame ego is sabotaging your efforts and looking for reasons to feel ashamed (but that is a topic for another blog post).
I recommend your resolution should either be to stop performing some self-destructive behavior or to take up a behavior that improves yourself. It should be something you are capable of doing with your whole heart. That is, it should be something you want to do. People with well-developed shame egos have a hard time knowing what they truly want because they have bonded to the message that what they want is wrong. A good way to tell if something is what you want is to pay attention to how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel good then it is (most likely) good and something you like doing. If it does not make you feel good then it is (most likely) not good and something you do not like doing. Be careful. Somethings feel good in the short-term but are destructive in the long-term, like addictions. Addictions are another trap of the shame ego. At first addictions seem like an escape from the shame ego’s constant criticism. That of course feels good. But eventually the addiction becomes self-destructive and gives the shame ego another reason to criticize you.
James Altucher recommends performing what he calls a “Daily Practice” where you perform activities daily that benefit four aspects of the self in order be happy. The four aspects are Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual. He claims (and I believe him) that you need to nurture these four aspects of the self to be happy. Quick examples: Physical – exercise (even just a little), Intellectual – read a book, Spiritual – meditate, pray, read something spiritual, Emotional – do something that makes you happy, avoid things that make you unhappy. Read the article I linked to above for good ideas about making a resolution that comes from your heart and not shame.
To maintain this resolution make it a habit. Take time out first thing in the morning to perform this resolution. Make it the first priority. Do it with your whole heart and not out of a sense of obligation. Good luck and Happy New Year.
Shame-based people unconsciously seek each other out. Shame-based men and women both have low self-esteem and feel unworthy. As such they each put on a good face to attract each other. On the subconscious energy level, however, shame-based people recognize each other and are attracted to each other. When shame-based people get together it is great in the beginning. Both the man and the woman are “people pleasers” and will do anything to get the other person to like them and each feels gratified to have validation from another person. Because the man feels unworthy he is motivated by a need to acquire something he can show to the world and himself that he has worth. The woman may also have this motive but also has a fear of abandonment and sees the shame-based man as a reliable, non-abandoning replacement for her parents.
Because “people pleasing” is not an action of heart but rather an action of shame, maintaining it eventually becomes tiresome. By “action of heart” I mean an act that is performed for the love of performing the act itself. Actions of the heart are effortless, energizing and joyful. An “action of shame” is an act performed because the actor thinks it will make him look good in the eyes of others. Actions of shame may start out effortless but eventually become tiresome, draining and bring forth a feeling of resentment towards the person to whom the act benefits.
Shame-based women will seek to dominate their shame-based partner. Because the man in this relationship starts out as a people pleaser he will bend his will to hers. Eventually, this will become tiresome and he will begin to let up on his pleasing behavior. This will trigger the woman’s fear of abandonment and she will respond by becoming angry. Shame-based men become very uncomfortable around angry women and so the man will back down. The woman will hold this wounding (the letting up on people pleasing) over the man’s head as a means of controlling him and keeping him from abandoning her. This cycle will repeat itself over and over until the chain is broken.
For the shame-based man in this position the only answer is to stand up to the woman. If he does not do this he will become resentful and will eventually hate the woman and find everything she does irritating. By standing up to her he will notice his resentment and irritation abate almost instantly. Standing up for himself, however, is one of the most difficult things in the world for a shame-based man so it takes a bit of practice and outside support to come to a place where he is comfortable enough to do this. The more he does it, however, the better he will feel.
If anger no longer works for the woman to control the man she may attempt to manipulate him trough tears. It is very important for the man to stand up to this as well. By “stand up” I mean the man must not give himself away. I am not saying to be cruel or abusive but simply to not take shit from the woman whether shit comes in the form of anger, abuse or guilt. He can only not give himself away if he keeps his center and rejects the attempts to manipulate him. This may take anger on his part at first. Part of the woman’s strategy will be to deny him his anger or to make him feel ashamed of his anger. Here, she is playing the role of shame and will try to outflank him every time he stands up for himself. But the man must weather this storm.
Why does the man not just leave the woman? If he does without resolving this inability to stand up to a domineering woman he will simply find another woman to dominate him and the cycle will repeat itself. This is actually helpful for the shame-based woman as well because she will be put in a position to learn the lesson that she should not blame another person for her own feelings.
I have heard it said that the actual definition of sin is not “committing a morally bad act” but rather “missing the mark”. In other words, sin is not an act that makes you a bad person necessarily. Rather, sin is a mistaken act or an act that takes you where you actually do not want to go. Another way of saying this is that sin is coming short of the glory of God. These two definitions of sin are vastly different.
The morally bad sin implies shame. The act is morally bad and therefore the person who commits the act is morally bad. Accordingly, the sinner really wants to commit the sinful act (through the urging of the ego and the limbic system). The sinner knows that it is bad and proceeds to commit the act anyway. After the act is committed the sinner feels guilty and seeks forgiveness. Psychologically, the Super Ego (which is the Prefrontal Cortex overlaid with shame) tells the sinner he is morally wrong for sinning. This is a cycle of shame. This is also a cycle of addiction because shame does not feel good and cannot be sustained forever. If bad feelings continue over an extended period of time the ego and the limbic system kick in again and attempt to relieve the consciousness of the bad feeling. It then seeks out the short-term fix which is the sinful behavior.
According to the “sin as missing the mark” way of thinking, the sinner thinks that committing the sinful act will bring about some kind of desired result. This desired result is typically a short-term benefit (as in the case of addiction). Again, the sinner is encouraged to act by the ego or limbic system which hijacks consciousness and thinks in terms of short-term gains. After the act is committed the ego and limbic system are satiated and relinquish control of consciousness. At this point the prefrontal cortex assumes control again and recognizes that the short-term benefit is not worth the long-term ramifications. If shame is removed from the process, the sinner realizes the mistake and seeks to rectify it. Sin becomes a learning experience and if properly educated the prefrontal cortex is strengthened and the true self becomes more awake. This is the path to enlightenment.
What I am attempting to describe is how shame corrupts morality. In order for an act to be moral it cannot be motivated by shame. Nor can it be rectified by shame after the fact. Morality has to come from the heart. It has to be an actual desire and goal. It cannot be something one does to avoid humiliation. This is inauthentic and devoid of joy. In order to enter into the fullness of God’s glory one must truly enter into the fullness of the true-self. This can never be done through shame because shame sets the self against the self. Whereas, the lines of demarkation are blurred between the true-self and God. Their interests and motivations are ultimately aligned and perhaps cannot truly be described as separate entities.
There are two forms of motivation; shame and heart. Shame motivates through the fear of humiliation. Heart motivates through the true love and desire to do something. It is a Catholic tradition to give up something for Lent. Giving up something motivated by shame is a burden and difficult because it is not truly what is desired. When a person is motivated by shame they seek to avoid humiliation. Their actions are not directed towards their true desires. On the other hand, giving up something motivated by heart is not the same kind of burden because it is an act of devotion and the act itself is desired.
The readings for Ash Wednesday describe this. Joel 2:12 reads:
Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning; Rend your hearts, not you garments and return to the Lord, your God.
God does not want praise that is motivated by shame. God wants authentic, whole-hearted praise. Likewise, the true self is never motivation by shame because the true self can only act authentically. It is the ego that is motivated by shame and acts inauthentically. In truth, both God and the true self desire motivation by heart because they are the one and the same and they are the heart.
Matthew 6:6 reads:
When you pray, go into your room and close the door and pray to your father in secret; and your father who sees in secret, will reward you.
Who is this “father who sees in secret”? I would say, of course, it is God but it is also the true self. It is the true self that knows truth and knows your true desires and therefore acts authentically. The true self does not act motivated by shame.
When I was young I felt compelled to give something up because I thought I would be a bad person if I did not. My motivation was shame. I did not understand the readings. I don’t think the people instructing me in my religion understood the readings either because they were all motivated by shame. People motivated by shame seek to pass their shame on to others. They believe this is morality. They believe shame binds and upholds civilization. But if participation in religion is to have any meaning or saving power it cannot be by shame. It cannot be done half heartedly and inauthentically. It has to be whole-hearted and authentically. Organizations can be held together through shame but shame can never be as powerful a binding agent as heart. Furthermore, shame takes all the joy out of life. On the other hand, acting with heart creates joy and is its own reward.
And so I enter Lent whole heartedly. I give up my vices because I truly want to live free of them. I want to glorify God, my true self, my father who sees in secret. It has taken me 43 years to get to this point. I cannot regret that fact because regret is another form of shame and any form of shame is not aligned with the true self.