This essay is about cultivating self-awareness in spiritual practice by paying attention to one’s thoughts and feelings to know truths about oneself, without cognitive distortions and self-deception.
It is a common human trait to be critical and judgmental about others, but too sensitive when the criticism is directed against oneself. Most people find it easy to pass comments and opinions about others, but become defensive or even aggressive when they are made against them. It is why criticism is mostly viewed in human relationships or social situations as a hostile response rather than a constructive or nurturing tool.
Human beings also have a problem when they have to discern truth about themselves or evaluate their own behavior because they cannot readily and objectively think about themselves. Since people are sensitive to what others may think about them, they also do not pay attention to what goes on in them or know about their truest thoughts and feelings. Most people live in denial about their own failures and shortcomings, as their minds filter information that may likely hurt them or disturb them.
Since people do not like criticism, it is difficult to practice truthfulness or honesty in human relationships. Truth hurts. Therefore, people go around it to avoid rupturing relationships or feel bad about themselves. We not only detest personal criticism, but also any criticisms that are directed at things, which we like or cherish, including beliefs, objects and opinions. Indeed, it is difficult to discern truth about anything in today’s world, as facts become lost in the cacophony of opinions, interpretations and disinformation.
What we get in the process is a huge cloud of disinformation, confusion and distortion, in which nothing appears to be what it is. In a world of conflicting interests and intense competition, truth has become a raw material in the workshops of manufactured opinions and commercial interests, to be sold to people in different packages according to their tastes, beliefs and expectations. Hence, you will not find “the truth” in its pristine purity, but various versions and aspects of it.
From a purely scientific perspective, speaking or not speaking truth is not a moral or behavioral issue, but a survival strategy. Information is supposed to be intelligently used to further one’s progress or interests, or to protect oneself from potential harmers or threats. Even animals, birds and other life forms use deception as a camouflage to hide from predators.
Since truth hurts and truthfulness cannot be practiced in worldly life without suffering from the consequences, and since truthfulness is imperative to cultivate purity and achieve liberation (Moksha), forest life or secluded life is prescribed in the ascetic and monastic traditions of India. In a forest, you are left to mostly to yourself. There, you do not find people who may be hurt by your truthfulness. No one bothers you if you decide to practice silence and refuse to speak to others. Further, you become indifferent to what others think and say.
In worldly life, you may not have the freedom to practice truthfulness in relation to others, without hurting others or the relationships. However, the world will not crumble if you practice truthfulness in relation to yourself. In truth, it is desirable because you will have an opportunity to know the real you, and not be a stranger to yourself or to your deepest thoughts and feelings. If you truthfully acknowledge your true feelings, by paying attention to them to know who you truly are, you will not be deluded by your own ignorance, illusions and delusion.
Most people cannot fathom truths about themselves because they do not bring truth into it. They go by their surface thoughts and feelings to avoid feeling hurt or disturbed by their failures and imperfections. In the process, they fail to discern truths about themselves and become deluded, which in turn makes them vulnerable to many other problems.
One of the best ways to practice truth in relation to yourself is to be honest with yourself and accept your feelings and emotions as they are. Feelings are important. You cannot ignore them because they convey important messages to you about you, and what is going on with your life and in your inner world. Their purpose is to draw your attention to those aspects of your personality or circumstances, which need to be resolved, repaired or improved. Many people lose touch with their own feelings, as they become deeply involved with the world, and thereby their ability to improve themselves or adapt themselves according to the situation. They become victims of their own self-deception.
Therefore, be honest and truthful about yourself and your deepest thoughts and feelings. Your mind is a product of your karma. All your past is stored there. It is the only place where you can find truths about yourself, apart from any information you may receive from others. By knowing both, you can bring the power of truth into your consciousness and free it from ignorance, falsehood and delusion.
Truth in relation to yourself improves your self-awareness. You may also do the same in relation to others, but you do not have to speak the truth of them to them, unless they ask for it. Our scriptures say that nonviolence is more important in spiritual practice than truthfulness. If truth is going to hurt others, it is better to be silent, and not to say anything. In your case, it is a self-cleansing mechanism. Therefore, let truth speak for itself.
May God bless and protect you and…
May you always be
Safe and Comfortable
Seth Kelly Curtis