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Nurturing Our Conscience

by Michael Ketterhagen

“We kill our conscience

when we continue to do things we do not want to do

while postponing the things we want to do.”

--Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

As I mentioned last week, meditation is but one of the powerful tools we as humans have to help us on our spiritual journey toward peaceful freedom. The other tool is contemplation.

The Yoga Tradition suggests nine contemplative practices to specifically move ourselves toward “ahimsa,” that experience of true non-harming freedom, joy, peace, and fulfillment.

Our world has been in great turmoil in the past few years. The coronavirus rampage, the wars in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the awareness of overt and covert racism, the fear of others violating ourselves or our beliefs, the animosity enkindled by the latest political or judicial decisions have pushed us into strange behaviors of isolation and protection. We have begun to arm ourselves and secure ourselves militarily, even in our own homes.

How did our society or our families get to this challenging place?

One of the answers may be that we have not, as a culture or as individuals, nurtured our conscience. Our conscience is the voice of the Divine Protector, the Divine Agent in us. This Divine Voice (in Christianity it is called the Holy Spirit) always knows what is best for us and everyone else at the same time. It is that part of us that is totally absent of fear and knows the love, peace and dignity that we and others deserve.

Often, however, we ignore what is best for us by not heeding that Divine Voice. Or maybe, out of fear, we decide to say, “No!” to that loving, protective inner wisdom. I often run into this in my own life. I feel the urge to eat some peanut M&Ms that are on the counter, but because now due to my cancer diagnosis, my inner voice says, “No!” I tell that one piece won’t hurt and take one. I tell my body’s wisdom, the voice within, that it will be okay. I have just silenced my conscience.

If I continue to postpone what my body knows is best for me, over time my inner voice will become very faint. My body will get its message across by letting the cancer grow again.

I remember when I first started to drive and wanted to go out to a place where I knew my parents would not approve, I told them I was going to a friend’s house. I lied. I felt so guilty and that created a lot of conflict within myself. I no longer felt peaceful and free. I did this a few more times and gradually I didn’t feel guilty about my actions. I had begun to kill my conscience toward telling my parents the truth. But my inner spirit knew that I was hurting myself and I began to act even more rebellious as a teen.

That inner battle that develops when we kill our consciences 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 or a sensual desire for something.

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.

Sometimes I think that the pandemic has helped many people change their jobs because they realize that they had not been happy in the old job that was terminated during the shutdowns. We want to be happy and free and we can make that happen.

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!” we must look deep inside and let 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?

After contemplating these questions for a few minutes each day, then invite your mind to move its attention to the breath in your nostrils. When humans focus on the breath at the tip of the nostrils our mind becomes still. Permit the stillness to bring your awareness inward to your core’s deep understanding which is the life force—the divinity within. Continuing to do this for at least 5 minutes will allow your inner self to release the confusion of the mind. Examining these deeper dimensions of our mind and actions with reflective questions like these will lead you to knowing what your conscience dictates. You will be nurturing your conscience.

This contemplative practice will bring you back to making free choices. This practice will nurture your conscience…your guide to truth and righteousness, and ultimately happiness and freedom.

I pray to the divinity in you.

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