Archive for February, 2009

Integrity: honesty about beliefs

Integrity is an important aspect of spiritual inquiry. We must be congruent in our words, actions, and thoughts. However, many of us do not actually believe what we say we believe. We claim to believe in God, and yet in our hearts we are atheists. Or we profess to the world and to ourselves that we are atheist, but deep down we believe in God. This lack of integrity causes problems in our spiritual development, and also impedes the progress of those around us.

It is commonly said in psychology that the first step in progressing forward is acknowledgement – to be honest with ourselves. The same is true of spirituality. It is very difficult to make spiritual progress if we do not first admit our own beliefs. It is like using a map to find directions, but without knowing where we start from. We must be honest with ourselves, and we must also be honest with others. If we are not honest with others, then we usually end up lying to ourselves, and furthermore, our dishonesty may lead them astray. In addition, we must respect the right of others to be honest and open about their own beliefs without fear of judgement.

Religion is a major cause of people’s dishonesty about their beliefs. The reason is that many religions, particularly the theistic ones, tell us what we ought to believe. In fact, we are often told that believing some certain set of things is what will determine our salvation. This is a problem, because it leads people into trying to convince themselves that they believe something, whereas belief is not a choice. We cannot consciously change our beliefs. We can only question them with an open mind, and allow them to evolve of their own accord.

Hence, instead of trying to believe this or that, in accordance with society’s beliefs or what our religion tells us to believe, we should focus on discovering what we truly believe. When we learn to recognize these closely guarded beliefs, we open the door to change. We should never be ashamed of our beliefs, and nor should we try to make them one way or another. All we have to do is be honest about them, maintain integrity, and challenge them and question them on every step of the way.

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Avoiding victim mentality

Victim mentality is that state in which something always goes wrong, and in which we never believe it is our fault. It may be a health issue that bothers us, the inability to find a job, an annoying coworker, or an ungrateful spouse or child. Whatever ails us, the common theme of victim mentality is that there is always someone or something else to blame.

When we get stuck in victim mentality, misery clings to us like a baby monkey to its mother. Our health and relationships deteriorate. There is bad luck wherever we look. We may be resentful of life in general (“Everything always goes wrong!”), or just one thing (“Life would be so perfect if it weren’t for such and such!”). Whatever the case, when victim mentality takes over, things go downhill fast.

People genuinely unhappy about something may argue that their attitude is valid. They will say that they are truly not to blame, and that they really do suffer through no fault of their own. Although this logic may seem reasonable, I have found it to be a very unhelpful attitude in life. I am not suggesting that we admonish ourselves with the rebuke that we deserve all the ill that we get, but we will find we have much lighter hearts when we take responsibility for our lives, and this includes those things over which we appear to have no control. There are several belief systems that are helpful here: One is the Indian and Buddhist notion of karma, which says that all that happens to us is a result of our earlier deeds. Another belief popular in the New Age movement is the idea that we attract the experiences that we most need to grow (including our parents, our surroundings, and our body). Hence, there is no point in resenting others, or in resenting situations, because they are exactly what we need right now. Another belief system is the idea that all that happens is the will of God, or the will of the Universe. While this last belief is useful, and the resulting sense of acceptance may be enough for some people, others will benefit more through a belief that includes the notion that they are personally responsible for what goes on.

Whichever belief system we use, it is essential that we escape this victim mentality. Tempered with a healthy sense of self-esteem, and the knowledge that we are doing the best we can, there is little doubt that our lives will become happier as a result. When we catch ourselves blaming others for our misery, or resenting that lingering illness or other misfortune, we would do well to stop being a victim, and instead accept responsibility for our lives.

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