By Michael Ketterhagen, PhD
As I mentioned last week, meditation is but one of the powerful tools we as humans have to help us on our spiritual journey. The other tool is contemplation.
The Yoga Tradition suggests nine contemplative practices to specifically move ourselves toward the non-violence, called ahimsa, that leads us to joy, peace, and fulfillment.
Our world is in great turmoil now. Just in the United States, with the coronavirus terror pushing us into strange behaviors and protests against overt and covert racism, many people are filled with anger and violence.
How did our society get to this challenging place?
One of the answers may be that we have not, as a culture, nurtured our conscience. We have killed it. As Pandit Rajmani says, in his book, Why We Fight, “we kill our conscience when we continue to do things we do not want to do while postponing the things we want to do.”
An internal battle takes place and that battle spills over into dissatisfaction with ourselves and towards those from whom we feel different or separate. This inner confusion in our mind leads us to being swayed by strong-speaking, or confidently-opinionated people. We begin to dislike ourselves even more because we deep down realize that we are not being our true self, but are swayed by a crowd belief.
Our actions begin to be more self-centered, often harming anyone with our mouths or our actions, without even thinking. Why? Because we are protecting ourselves. We do things we are not proud of and kill our conscience even more. We might even get to the point where we think harming another is the “right” thing to do.
To break this vicious cycle of harming ourselves and others, we must nurture our conscience. We must begin to do what we know is the right thing and not question it, not even to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others.
It often starts small. For instance, when our inner voice prompts us to send a letter to a friend who needs our contact, we must respond immediately, instead of saying “I’ll wait until later. I’m too busy now.” Or when we are asked what we want to do, instead of saying “it doesn’t matter!” looking deep inside and letting that person know our true wishes.
The confused mind is often swayed by the prevailing group forces that surround us, even subtle forces like commercials. So, in order to practice this important contemplation, we need to ask ourselves a number of questions:
What do I really want to do in this situation?
What makes me hesitant to do what I know is the right thing to do?
Why do I set aside this internal prompting?
Am I worried about or afraid of what others think or believe? Do I feel threatened in any way? Do I want to do it perfectly, and don’t have the time to do that now?
Do I not want to be different? Or not stand apart from the group?
What is my heart really telling me in this situation? What is my inner voice saying?
What is in the best interest of me and everyone else? How can all be helped?
Examining these deeper dimensions of our actions with reflective questions like these will lead us to knowing what our conscience dictates. Then, we can make free choices to nurture our conscience…our guide to truth and righteousness, and ultimately happiness.