(This post was first published on the old blog on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010 at 2:04 AM)
It has taken me a very long time to return to blogging. Apologies to the readers. I had my legs blow up on me, followed by a pet health crisis for my Christmas present. Given what happened, I won’t promise anything here anymore. Here is, with little modification, what I’ve had in the can all this time. I’ll follow up on this, and other topics, whenever
The purpose of self-examination is awareness of reality. Armed with awareness, one can do battle, and win, with one’s character issues.
How? It’s almost too simple: when you see yourself thinking up one of your personal failings, stop. Don’t indulge it. It’s harder than I put it , but not much harder,once one can see what one is doing and has resolved not to do it anymore.
This is very different from “not thinking negative thoughts”. Spiritual cowboys into various forms of “positive thinking” assert that lots of goodies (somehow, the goodies sought by spiritual cowboys always end up being material, not spiritual, goodies) will come your way if only you can be positive about the goodies materializing for you, which inevitably involves the denial of reality. Cowboys believe that you should throw out, for example, thoughts of being broke and in danger of having your car repossessed when in fact you are broke and repossession is a possibility.
It is well nigh impossible to completely exclude reality from one’s thoughts. Even schizophrenics and drug users can’t do that.
Self-examination, on the other hand demands immersion in reality. If you’re broke and can’t make payments, then that reality, and how you respond to it, is exactly what you look at. If this is what is happening, and your fear and stress is leading you to act badly towards others, then you spot the thinking leading to the bad action, stop it, and where appropriate, substitute a right action.
You don’t have to drive the evidence of your own senses from your mind. You don’t have to manhandle the Universe into dispensing shiny blobs of matter. All you have to do is look at what’s in front of you, and make a better decision. It’s low on the warm fuzzy feelings that come from denying reality, but it takes much less effort, and every step of the process is within the ordinary experience of a human.
It helps, a lot, to have other people to bounce your self-observations off. Other people, if they are conscientious and trustworthy, can sometimes alert you to your blind spots, or warn you when you are being too hard on yourself. It’s still possible to make progress without the input of others.
When you are stuck (i.e., can’t stop acting like the ass one doesn’t want to be), one of three things is true: you have not examined the matter thoroughly, and you’re not aware enough of your thoughts, feelings, and motives (most likely); you lack sufficient motive to stop (which usually means you haven’t examined the matter sufficiently to understand how the problem adversely affects you and others); or the problem isn’t really a character flaw (perhaps one is feeling guilty over reasonable behavior (which is itself a character flaw), or perhaps what you think is a character flaw is a hormonal disturbance or some kind of organic brain dysfunction).