I recently had a conversation with a reader who made a “terrible mistake.” Call him “Quint.”
Quint: I find myself in a position to ask you for some quick advice, if you don’t mind. I made a mistake this weekend, got out of hand, and while no one got hurt… feelings were hurt, people were scared, etc. I apologized profusely, owned up to the mistake… took responsibility for it. But I cannot stop obsessing over it myself. I cannot stop beating myself up over it. I will, with time, but it’s frustrating and hurting my productivity. This is a pattern with me. I’m working on cutting it off, but if you have any suggestions, I’d be open to hearing them.
Steve: All right. Tell me what happened, and what you specifically request of me.
Quint: Drank too much at a friend’s party (I don’t drink often)… got far too drunk, got into a tussle with some folks later on outside. No one was hurt, but my friend was embarrassed by my behavior (as am I) and I apologized profusely, accepted responsibility for my actions, and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Yet I’m beating myself up for the mistake, to the point that my close friends are more worried about that than what I actually did. What’s a good suggestion for breaking this cycle of beating myself up over my mistakes?
Steve: Love yourself more. Never say anything about yourself you wouldn’t say to your most beloved child. The entire “Ancient Child” technique is designed to hook you into this. Heartbeat Meditation as well, and the Morning Ritual as well. Love and forgiveness toward yourself gives you the foundation to improve future behaviors.
Quint: That’s what I’ve been working for, but it’s been a challenge to let go of the obsessiveness of my nature.
Steve: Don’t “let go” of your obsessiveness. USE IT. Become obsessive about healing, about positive things.
Yeah, I like that. Are you obsessive? Then be obsessive about meditating, visualizing. About your Morning Ritual. THAT’S the proper use of obsessiveness. Why fight it when you can use it?
Here is a good man, who simply wants to be a good person, walking the Road of Trials called life. Like the rest of us, he makes mistakes. And like the Heroes before him, he reached out to friends, associates, and potential mentors for advice.
The problem is not that he made the mistake. That was done with. The problem is that he kept the pain and shame with him, beat himself up. Now, if beating yourself up worked to make you a better person, that would be fine. But the trouble is that it really only works if you have EXCELLENT role models. For instance, if you have loving, healthy parents, and you are on the wrong life path, it can actually be healthy to crush your ego and allow them to help you reconstruct yourself in a new mold, much as a white belt would be wise to find a teacher who can be trusted to crush and reconstruct your ego.
But for adults? In general? Not a good idea, as your crushed ego will diminish your confidence in yourself, and lead to a descending spiral of results, as well as attract predators: you have become one of the halt and the lame. Limping sheep attract wolves.
So you have to start by loving yourself. Simply imagining yourself as a helpless child will work for most people even over the internet, and in personal coaching I’ve NEVER met anyone it didn’t work with, although I might have needed hypnosis or deep visualization to get down to the core survival circuitry. Those who have been neglected or abused often have no conscious memory of ever having been safe. Sigh.
My heart breaks for you, but that means that YOU have to do it. YOU have to commit to protecting yourself.
That’s the first step. The most important step. As an individual or a culture, you MUST start here, or you won’t have the motivation to do “Whatever It Takes” to change your life.
- Love yourself to begin the healing process, and find your strength. If you would fight for a child, but wouldn’t fight for your own life and dreams, you have work to do.
- Love another person. Love forces us to empathize with others, to see our own soul in their eyes (intense sex is great for this!). If we can love ourselves despite our flaws, and love another despite theirs…we open the door to deeper understanding.
- Understand history without guilt, blame or shame. Core perspective: people are just people. If you can see the same basic motivations and behaviors playing out in a variety of circumstances without hating or thinking “they” are less than “you”, you’ve taken another step. Can you embrace humanity without thinking either black or white are superior, “better” or “less” in any significant way? How about male and female? We have a LOT of stress there now. And a LOT of men and women who don’t trust each other. Here’s a hint: you can trust other people to the exact degree that you can trust your own judgement. If you cannot relate the behaviors of men and women to core humanity, cannot see how they are two sides of the same damned coin, you haven’t gone deeply enough, and have disowned half of your own nature. Get to work.
- Embrace and protect your tribe, while avoiding sleepers and snakes. All you have to do is embrace the humanity of people willing to embrace yours…and all will be well. Not immediately. Not tomorrow. But the human race is knitting itself together after the Great Migration. And you can be a part of it.
Let me tell you a little story. When I was researching GREAT SKY WOMAN in Tanzania, I had a bit of private trepidation. What would I see and experience? What if I found the negative stereotypes pervasive, and the sneers of the racists justified? Could I be honest enough to admit that possibility? Because if I couldn’t, I couldn’t be certain of my POSITIVE perceptions either. So…I steeled myself, and went.
Interacting with as many people as possible at every opportunity. Played little games testing abstract thought, reflexes, perceptions, memory and other things. And… was delighted. The children, even those who had been living in very simple circumstances, were so quick and beautiful. Compared quite comfortably with kids in far wealthier circumstances in America.
The damage, then, could easily be explained by differential patterns of interaction with the rest of the world, distance from the Road of Silk and that pesky North-South continental orientation (domesticated grains and animals can migrate east-west much more easily than north-sound. By the damage of colonialism, and the plunder of the slave trade. In comparison, the Eurasian Land mass seemed almost custom designed for spreading genetics and information.) Multiplied over tens of thousands of years, how was sub-Saharan Africa to catch up? Copper phone lines were being scavenged by desperately poor people, crippling the attempt to wire together a communications infrastructure.
I brooded for a couple of days, and then saw something that made me laugh: Maasai warriors, watching their flocks, standing on one leg leaning on their spears…talking into their cell phones.
I laughed and laughed, knowing at that moment that all would be well. All I had to rely on was a sense of universal humanity, and there was no problem.
There is work to do, but we cannot let ourselves be dragged down into the muck by wasting time with trolls who infect us with dualistic, oppositional thinking.
Step 5: Win with integrity. Respect the rights and humanity of others. While keeping the strength to protect your heart and family, come from a place of love. Of knowing that most anger is just fear. Understand what they are afraid of, and you can forgive them. Understand that enough fear creates enough psychological pressure to shut down frontal lobes. An educated person can believe in a Flat Earth if they delete enough contrary data. Might such a person be someone looking for simple explanations to an increasingly complex world? Be compassionate. If for no other reason, remember that YOU do this too. You will need help, support, compassion, understanding. You’ve been wrong in the past, and will be again in the future. Also…there is nothing more common than oppressed people becoming oppressors. The abusers turning out to have been abused.
I have to remember that I, too, am asleep in some ways. That I, too, seem a snake to some. That in some eyes I, too, carry the Monster in my heart.
Start by loving yourself. End by loving the world. Whether as an individual, a family, or a tribe, the pattern is the same.
And always has been.