New, Clear Reactor
I have been giving seminars in “Contrarian Commandments for a Good Marriage (or any other relationship that counts)” for several years, all to good effect. Those for whom the approach works and who apply it to their lives tell me that things get better very quickly, with their spouse, their child, their parents – anyone with whom you have an emotional bond.
At the first session, I add an important clarification. Following those commandments won’t necessarily make the relationship better, but these commandments will make your life better. If your relationship can be made better, following these commandments will create the space for that to happen. If things don’t get better, at least the reduced conflict will allow greater insight as to why, and what to do next.
It is important to remember that all my teachings on spiritual psychology fall under the category of the Jewish spiritual tradition of “Mussar.” Mussar, literally speaking, means to have been “turned away” from something. In the case of spiritual psychology, it means turning away from thoughts, feelings, speech and behavior that sap the goodness from our lives and relationships with each other. If one lives with an eye toward the transcendent, then Mussar helps get the noise out of your life so that one can live with greater presence toward the Presence.
The “spiritual” in spiritual psychology refers to the higher self. At a recent class I taught, someone asked a very good question: can’t the idea of the “higher self” be just another word for an oppressive inner voice? Another person gave a great example: in a moment of interpersonal conflict with another, a family member said the person should “go to their higher self.” I have heard this before. Sometimes telling someone to go to their higher self is good advice, but sometimes it is a manipulation to guilt a person into being nice and compliant, so that the lie can continue. An authentic higher self, rooted in love, just, truth and beauty, might tell you that love is not the answer in some particular instance; maybe it is time for some truth and justice. There is no one size fits all cases higher self.
I think the first rule of the higher self is restraint. The ego self thinks fast. The ego self is a product of your genes, all the influences that have shaped you, from your prenatal experience, to infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The ego self is also shaped by all the decisions you have made, for better or worse. The ego typically has a plan for most instances, sometimes a good one and sometimes a bad one. One plan that nearly every ego self has in its natural state is to respond to another’s “thrust” with our “parry and thrust.” I have seen it in myself and with others; before someone has finished their sentence, we already have a response -- a refutation, a block, a defense, and a redirection. The first rule of the “gentle art” (literally, the “Jiu Jitsu”) of spiritual psychology is to not respond with the instincts of the ego self. One teaches oneself restraint, to slow down one’s feelings and thoughts, to allow the higher self to become present, to chart a course of wisdom, not reactivity. Replace your “nuclear reactor” with a “new, clear reactor.”
Sometimes when you slow way down, you realize: “I don’t know what to say or do.” The ego self can panic: “Just do or say something, anything!” The higher self says, “Don’t just do something; sit there.” The ego self hates confusion. The higher self thrives on it. Confusion means that contradictory thoughts, feelings, emotions and desires are “fused” together to create an inner problem for which no solutions seem available. This is the time for growth.
Often times confusion (should I draw a line? Should I enforce a boundary? Or should I be softer, more empathetic, more gracious?) leads to a deeper questions: Who am I? What kind of person am I? Resting your thoughts into your deepest sense of self often allows an inner wisdom to arise.
In particular tough or confusing times, we are not sure not only of what to do or say, we are even confused about who we are. We may find, in especially confusing moments, that we are in a moment of true becoming. We ask ourselves: what is the trajectory of my life? Where I am I headed? What kind of person do I want to become? How does this moment direct me from here to there? Think of thoughts, feelings, speech and behavior as daily additions to the construction of your deeper Self. Everything is an element of the self we are building.
All of this requires time for reflecting and contemplation (i.e. “mat time,” if you recall that piece).
Just know: at some level, everything you think, feel, say and do both expresses and shapes your soul.