Do you know what defines a human being? A human being is one that has the capacity to transform anything that is thrown at him or her and create something extraordinary out of it.
Life will throw all kinds of challenges and difficult situations; it is up to you what you do with them. Do you feel like a victim and suffer the consequences of your fate? Or do you use that opportunity for personal growth and development?
When one door closes, many others open. One needs the right vision to see it. I’m not talking about the eyes. I’m talking about opening the mind to various possibilities – to the infinite potential that you have within you.
The problem with us is that we keep clinging to the closed door. I’ll give you my example. A couple of years back, I was so fixated on the idea of making it big as an entrepreneur that I didn’t consider any other possibility for me besides entrepreneurship. I was so blinded by my fantasies that I could not see that I don’t have the skills to become a successful entrepreneur.
I tried everything in my capacity but kept failing. At that time, my self-esteem was in tatters. I became depressed. We are so accustomed to hearing about success stories in media that we don’t even think about the majority who don’t make it.
And every time we fail, it feels like it’s game over. And guess what happens next? We find someone to blame. I did the same – the economy is not right, nobody helps me, my daddy is not rich, my friends do not support me, my spouse is not understanding, I have mortgages, the world is a horrible place, I’m unlucky, god is not on my side, and it goes on and on.
People ridiculed me. They made fun of me, and it hurt my ego. Things used to go wrong at the last minute and during the most unexpected moments. But that’s life. That’s what it does to us.
The question is – what are you going to do when life dumps you in a garbage pit? You won’t get anywhere without resistance. That’s the nature of existence. So how do you think the turnaround is going to happen? It happens by developing self-compassion. You must know yourself more than you know anything in this world. If you’re not self-aware, you will never be self-compassionate.
Beginning With Self-Awareness
The first step is to cultivate self-awareness. How do we do that? Before I answer that, let me tell you a story. There was a great king who desired to meet Buddha because his wife was a devout follower.
She had been following Buddha’s teaching for many years, even before her marriage to the king. The king wanted to meet the Buddha in person, and nowadays, see what the fuss is all about.
King had heard lots of praises about Buddha from his wife, and he was eager to learn from him. On knowing that the Buddha had agreed to come, the wife asked the king to greet Buddha personally when he enters the kingdom.
The king agreed and asked his wife, “I’m meet Buddha for the first time; what should I offer him when I welcome him at the gates of our kingdom? I have a very precious gem that has been for generations a part of my family. Will he be pleased if I offer him this lustrous gem as a gift? Will he accept it?”.
The wife knowing the Buddha, suggested that it would be better if the king offered him a fresh lotus flower from the pond instead of the gem. But the king was hesitant on the gem.
He said to his wife, “I’m sure Buddha will appreciate me for offering him something so valuable that I have not deemed anybody in this world to be worthy of its possession.” Still, this did not convince the wife. Finally, the king decided to offer both the gem and lotus flower.
When Buddha arrived, the king graciously welcomed him and offered the gem. Seeing the gem, the Buddha said, “Drop it!”. The king was shocked to see such a reaction from Buddha. Such disrespect towards something that so valuable to him.
He said, “Oh, great Buddha! Perhaps you have not carefully looked at what I’m offering you here. This gem is one of the most things in the world. It has been a part of my generates for many ages. Why do you insult me? Don’t you appreciate what I’m giving up to honor your presence?”.
The Buddha again repeated, “Drop It!”. Since his people and Buddha’s disciples surrounded the king, he had no other option but to drop the gem. He did it with a heavy heart. After that, he presented the lotus flower, and the Buddha repeated, “Drop It!”. Now the king was furious, thinking that this man is crazy. But at that moment, the king had no choice but to throw away the flower, and he did and said, “Now What?”.
The Buddha smiled and said, “I did not ask you to drop the objects that you were carrying in your hands, but the mental images of them you were holding in your mind”. Buddha told him to drop the facade, the false image that he had so strongly identified within his mind. He said that there’s no king, no popper, no wealthy, no poor, no right, no wrong, no fool, and no learned once you empty your mind.
If you think about it, the gem that the king was holding on to was nothing more than a generational burden. All our lives, we are brainwashed by our caretakers, teachers, and society to believe in false ideas of self-worth.
And in this journey, we forget who we are and what we want in life. We lose ourselves to the conditioning of the past. And we keep carrying this burden hoping that it will bring us joy and happiness, but the real happiness comes when we awaken ourselves to the absolute truth.
It’s all about dropping the facade and being yourself. It’s about developing the mindfulness to accept yourself with all the imperfections, limitations, and shortcomings you think you have. The moment you put awareness to these imperfections and limitations, you realize they were never there in the first place. So as the Buddha said, “DROP IT!”.
Developing self-awareness requires deep inner inquiry of who you are. It is about accepting your shortcomings and the way you are. Self-awareness has different levels of reality, and each of them is realized layer-by-layer as we gain the ability to go deep within.
Without having a clear understanding of your afflictions, you can never overcome them. It requires deep introspection and self-reflection. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you with that.
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment and observing the contents of your mind without creating any reaction or judgment. Only in the present moment will your awareness shine on the essence of who you truly are.
Not only that, it will set you free from the self-limiting beliefs and ideas that you’ve been carrying around for ages. This is what Eckhart Tolle means when he uses the words “the flowering of consciousness”.
For me, this was a great revelation. It helped me understand how I had created a strong identification with an idea of success based on a limited number of parameters. I was deluding myself by thinking that money and fame are the answers to a happy and fulfilling life.
I was continually chasing objects of desires and sense pleasures only to avoid the deeply ingrained afflictions in my psyche. Self-Acceptance was the first step that laid the foundation for my purpose in life and spiritual goals. It made me realize who I am and what I have to do.
There’s a profound quote by Rumi that says, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”.
Who creates these barriers? The thoughts and feelings that you’ve identified with. What Rumi says here is that you have mistaken yourself to be something you’re not.
When you think, you become the thought. When you feel, you become the feeling, and when you emote, you become the emotion. And by identifying yourself with the contents of your mind, you have forgotten your true nature, which is nothing other than unconditional love.
There’s no need to seek love because IT IS YOU. The problem is that you believe that you can only heal when others love you. But that love is conditional. It is based on attachment to form and name.
The moment you remove the form, that love ceases to exist. Your attachment to form is based on your need to be validated for what you believe yourself to be. You’re happy until you keep receiving this validation and become anxious when you stop receiving it.
You have based your whole idea of happiness and fulfillment on acquiring the objects of sense pleasures; there’s bound to be pain and suffering because nothing ever can satisfy your cravings. What Rumi is saying that there is something beyond the mind that you are missing.
If your love is transient, how can it be the truth? Absolute truth is unchanging and everlasting. Love is the absolute truth. You confuse attachment with love and reduce love to a mere feeling, but feelings are temporary or what the Buddhists call impermanence.
When you do self-inquiry, you move closer to your essence, and you experience this love. Let me give you an analogy to explain this. When you look at the sky, you see the sunshine. But you can’t see the sun when the dark clouds appear.
If you say that the sun has vanished, that would be a wrong statement. The sun does not go anywhere. It is always there. It’s the dark clouds that block the sun and give an illusion that it has disappeared. Your love is the eternal sun, whereas the dark clouds are the contents of your mind, the negative thoughts that prevent you from experiencing eternal love.
Self-compassion is a significant challenge for most people because we’re so used to criticizing ourselves when things go wrong. Self-criticism is our standard go-to explanation then things work our way. Every time my entrepreneurial ventures failed, I blamed myself.
I unconsciously kept repeating negative and self-critical thoughts until they became my living reality. When I look back, I feel that I should have been kinder to myself. I was hard on myself. A big reason for my failures was this perfectionist attitude that I always carried.
My ego was so bloated that I could not see how this tendency to do things perfectly was sabotaging my success. It felt like I was being watched and judged for everything that I did. When in reality, nobody cared. But this critical voice in my mind was growing louder and telling me that I was not good enough.
Most people are confused about their goals and what they want in life. They keep chasing success and happiness outwards when the real salvation is within. I’m not saying that it’s bad to have worldly goals. We should do what we need to do to survive in this world, but we should not forget who we are.
Realizing ourselves as the unconditional-eternal-love is the highest self-awareness. And therefore, self-compassion does not come without self-awareness. When you’re self-aware, you accept yourself with all of your shortcomings.
I used to think of myself as a multitalented genius who can handle multiple tasks simultaneously. The main reason why my startups failed is that I was trying to be a “one-man-army”. I believed that I was special and that I could do things that others couldn’t. But all of that was my ego.
This realization that I was ordinary or average was unsettling at that time. It hurt my ego. It was painful because I had created a false image of myself that was desperate to prove itself to the world. That’s when I started practicing self-compassion.
Instead of fighting my ego, I surrendered. It’s not easy to confront yourself, but it’s the only way to realize the truth. And believe me when I tell you this – the moment I surrendered, something amazing happened. I ignited my creative spark. I didn’t care about perfection anymore. I allowed myself to make mistakes and do crappy work.
I was not scared about what people will think of me or that I will be judged or ridiculed for the words I put out into the world. I didn’t have to impress my audience nor seek validation from them. It was a feeling of great freedom.
Self-compassion means that you treat yourself kindly without judging yourself. I often see that most of us like to be kind to others when they’re going through a tough time. If you’re genuinely an empathic person, you will always shower unconditional love and compassion to those who feel vulnerable.
But when it comes to you, do you treat yourself the same way? You don’t. And do you know why? Because there is a subtle voice in your head that’s continually reminding you of past shame, contempt, unworthiness, and belittlement. It’s called the inner critic.
When we create strong identification with our inner critic, it becomes impossible for us to remain grounded in the present moment. This voice keeps reminding you that It’s your fault. You are undeserving. The more you listen to your inner critic, the more you start believing it.
Your afflicting thoughts and feelings become your living reality because you allow them to do that. You cannot get rid of the inner critic by trying to suppress your thoughts forcefully. Suppression, avoidance, or any kind of aversion leads to trouble later on.
Instead of trying to stop or fight with your afflictions, allow them to manifest in your conscious awareness with grace and compassion. Don’t offer resistance. By that, I mean don’t create a feeling of aversion to these troubling feelings and emotions.
When you practice compassion repeatedly, you observe that there is a pattern to these afflicting thoughts and feelings. That your mind is spinning up different stories, but they are all producing the same outcome. The feeling that “I am not enough,” “I am unworthy,” etc., etc.
When you learn to treat yourself with compassion, this negativity loses its power to influence you. You experience a renewed sense of high self-worth that is not dependent on external compassion but from one that is generated from within.
The compassion that you receive from outside has a temporary soothing effect. It doesn’t last long because of the past mind conditioning. Your psychological tendencies and predispositions overtake and hijack your rational mind. This idea that you’re are not good enough or worthy of love can keep you running your entire life. I have seen underachievers. I have also seen overachievers. They run mindlessly after materialistic things hoping that someday it will fill that void that they have been carrying around so long.
One example is compulsive shopping. Now i’m not against consuming. You should have what you need. But your actions should come from the place of highest awareness. If you keep hoarding stuff in the hope that it will make you happy or make you enough, GOOD LUCK!
Every piece of item that you own has a psychological cost. You may not be aware of it at this moment, but it’s there in your subconscious. That’s because when you purchased it, you had created an identification with it, with the expectation that it will make you happy. And now you’re experiencing dissonance thinking about it. That identification is still active.
You know that you don’t need it anymore, but still, you can’t part with it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have any identifications, that’s like saying you shouldn’t have any ego. No. What i’m saying is that you should have a loose gripping on it so that when you realize that you no longer need it, you’re able to part with it.
And that, my friend, is one of the significant teachings of the Buddha. So next time you buy a luxury item, question yourself, “how is it going to enrich my life? Am I still trying to prove myself to others, or is this going to help me in my journey of self-discovery?”.
The most significant barrier to love and compassion are not the adversities that we meet in life but the judgmental mind that prevents us from seeing the simple truth of the present moment. But the good news is that you can change this default programming by consistently practicing self-compassion in real-life situations.
Think of it as developing a skill. There will be times when you will fail, and that’s ok. Even the greatest of the greats have had trouble showing themselves love and compassion. There’s a great quote by Nelson Mandela that says, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison”.
What makes it so difficult is that our conditioned minds have made us prisoners by forcing us to fall back into old habitual patterns, which can be extremely frustrating. This conditioning is so deeply ingrained within our psyche that it feels like a trap that we will never be able to get out of.
We leave no opportunity to criticizes ourselves. If you carefully observe yourself, you’ll notice how strongly you react to situations that don’t go in your favor. For example, when you miss your flight, get late for a meeting, forget your spouses anniversary, and by the way, don’t do that, especially if you’re a guy, because no amount of self-compassion is going to save you from the wrath of what’s coming if you know what I mean.
Just a little heads up for the menfolk out there! What I’m saying is that these may be bad situations, but they’re not so bad that you create unwarranted criticism for yourself. I mean, I have seen people physically assaulting themselves for minor mistakes.
You may say that a particular event triggered you, but the reality is that events are just an excuse; there is some repressed pain in you that you’re not acknowledging. It can be a long-term physical or psychological abuse, a long-forgotten childhood trauma, not receiving emotional and psychological validation from your parents in childhood, or whatever the reason, there’s one thing for sure, eventually, you will have to take responsibility for your unconsciousness that creates unpleasant emotions in you.
If you have a temper, accept it. Don’t justify it egoistically or judge yourself for having it. Create a resolve to change this conditioning by showering yourself with utmost love and compassion. But all that will happen when you’re ready the take responsibility. You know, as they say, the buck stops here.
We are not our conditioned minds, and we have the power to change. The more you practice self-compassion, the better you will get at it. Failure is not a problem, but judging yourself or failing is. With time, you will gradually cultivate your capacity for self-compassion, even in the most challenging circumstances.
You know this is the best time (Apr 2021) to practice self-compassion as we are going through a deadly pandemic that has taken so many lives and uprooted the entire socioeconomic framework. Many people are struggling to make ends meet, and there’s so much uncertainty about the future. Don’t allow Yourself to be swayed away by your inner critic. Practice mindfulness. Practice meditation. Spend quality time with your loved ones. And treat yourself with kindness and understanding.
Developing Compassion For Others
The last step is to develop compassion for others, even towards those who are not well your well-wishers. Now I know this isn’t easy. But if you keep practicing, you will eventually develop this quality. In Buddhism, this concept is called loving-kindness or metta.
I’m planning to come up with some loving-kindness-guided meditations that will help you. Developing compassion for others becomes easy once you learn to be compassionate to yourself. But here’s the thing you need to understand, compassion doesn’t mean that you allow people to hurt you physically or psychologically. If you find yourself in the way of harm, you must do anything you can to protect yourself from it. But while doing that, don’t create feelings of hatred towards the other person.
Once upon a time, a snake had a sudden awakening and decided to follow the path of love and compassion to attain liberation. He sought help from a realized monk who lived in a nearby monastery. The monk, out of kindness, taught him the techniques and lessons on compassion. After a couple of years of learning compassion, the snake was hit hard by the realization that he did so much wrong in life.
He repented and sobbed inconsolably about the fact that he had bitten so many people and taken innocent lives for no reason. He wowed that he would never bite another human being as long as he lived. Just then, a group of drunk village youth was passing by. They noticed the snake and started beating it mercilessly. The snake was gravely injured to the point of death, but he didn’t fight back. After those people left, that same monk, his master, passing by, noticed the injured snake.
He asked what happened? And the snake told him everything. The snake asked him, “Is this what I get for being compassionate? I was better off bitting people. At least they never dared to come close.”
The monk smiled and replied, “You didn’t learn the lessons properly. I asked you not to bite people out of compassion, but I never asked you to stop hissing and scaring them away”.
Sometimes people try to hurt us in different ways by playing covert psychological games. But we must have the mindful presence to understand the situation and respond accordingly. Don’t sacrifice yourself for the well-being of others. Don’t be a people-pleaser or a “yes” person.
That’s why I place so much emphasis on self-awareness before compassion. If you don’t know yourself, you’ll never be able to develop compassionate feelings for others. A majority of people spend their entire lives complaining about others. They love to play the “victim” card. They continuously create resentment and feelings of revenge or getting even with others.
The moment you start changing these unconscious patterns, it’s likely that your judgmental mind will show up. You’ll feel guilty about having negative thoughts, and that’s just another trap of the ego. The ego doesn’t want you out. So self-preservation and self-care should always be your priority.
We are the divine sentient beings having this human experience. And not realizing our true nature, we look for a savior outside. You don’t need a guru. You don’t need a savior. The most powerful transformational tools are already within you.
What’s needed is a shift in the focus from external to internal. You have to power to create the life of your dreams. You have a potent instrument, known as the mind; befriend it and make the most out of it.