Winter 2023 Blog Update (Part 6 of 6) ~ Media Recommendations List

If you’re interested in followup resources to explore some of the themes I’ve covered in my Winter 2023 Blog Update project, I invite you to review my media recommendations below.

Throughout my freelance writing work, I’ve contented myself to helping other people with little concern about financial compensation for my time and energy. Nowadays, I’ve grown more appreciative of my boundaries. In respect for the tremendous effort I’ve dedicated to this humble blog offering, I kindly request your consideration. Besides investing in your own wellbeing, any purchase you make would help honor the work I’ve done so far and support more work to come. I also welcome comments of any kind. Feel free to reach out to me through your preferred platform: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Emotional appeal aside, dear visitor, thank you very much for your attention—I don’t take that for granted. Until we meet again, please continue your journey into greater heights (and depths) of your being.

Please note that my list includes affiliate links from Amazon. I may earn a small commission if these items are purchased using the links I have provided. 

Media Referenced in my Blog

I have listed the following media in the order that they appeared in my blog.

The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture 

Book by Gabor Maté

The Path of the Warrior-Mystic: Being a Man in an Age of Chaos

Book by Angel Millar

The Bhagavad Gita (Translated into English prose with an Introduction by Kashinath Trimbak Telang)

Book by Vyasa, translated by Kashinath Trimbak Telang

Tao Te Ching

Book by Lau Tzu, translated by D. C. Lau

On the Decay of the Art of Lying 

Book by Mark Twain

Man’s Search for Meaning

Book by Viktor Frankl

Musashi’s Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi’s Classic Book of Strategy

Book by Miyamoto Mushashi, translated by Stephen F. Kaufmann

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations: Adapted for the Contemporary Reader (Harris Classics) 

Book by Marcus Aurelius, translated by James Harris

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Boxed Set: The Hobbit / The Fellowship of the Ring / The Two Towers / The Return of the King

Book set by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Book of Equanimity: Illuminating Classic Zen Koans

Book by Gerry Shishin Wick

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

Book by Kristin Neff, Ph.D

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself

Book by Michael Singer

King James Version Holy Bible

Sacred religious text

Media Not Referenced in my Blog

Because the following media were not referenced in my Winter 2023 Blog Update project, I have provided some context as to how they relate to the preceding text and why they might matter to you.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Book by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter

Marshall Goldsmith is an executive coach with a passion for helping individuals and organizations create positive behavior changes. Co-authors Goldsmith and Reiter both acknowledge at the outset of Triggers that living in the world with other people inevitably implies the potential for conflicts. It’s essential, therefore, that we learn to manage our individual triggers so we can cultivate healthier personal relationships in addition to achieving greater business success. For people unfamiliar with the mental health term “trigger,” Healthline defines a trigger as: “something that affects your emotional state, often significantly, by causing extreme overwhelm or distress. A trigger affects your ability to remain present in the moment. It may bring up specific thought patterns or influence your behavior.” Because triggers are deeply rooted in patterns of behavior, changing our triggers implies changing our habits. Changing habits, however, is hard. In order to help us, Goldsmith and Reiter offer a system for tracking our progress towards our goals. Since a trigger, in the authors’ estimation, can be either positive or negative, our challenge is to create triggers in our lives that encourage the changes we want while deterring the changes we don’t want. Goldsmith and Reiter also propose a conceptual model about the lifespan of a behavior cycle that underlies our tracking system: trigger-impulse-awareness-choice-behavior. When we are triggered by a personal belief or something in our environment, awareness acts as the buffer between an impulse and a choice; that kind of awareness functions like an act of mindfulness, creating a spaciousness around our reflexive instincts where our informed, responsible agency can best enact itself. 

Force Majeure

Movie by Ruben Östlund

As the sole movie entry in my media list, Force Majeure earns its company for good reason. With the depths of a psychological character study, filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure tells the story of how a single passing conflict between spouses can disrupt an otherwise perfectly happy marriage. The catalyst for the relational disruption occurs when one spouse’s primal instinct betrays them in a misguided moment of self-preservation, casting doubt, thereafter, upon their integrity. At its core, this is a moral tale: The interaction between spouses tests each other’s convictions, leading them to question their assumptions and beliefs about their relationship. Highlighting ambiguity within morality, even where one spouse has valid reason for criticism and concern, the way their reconciliation is pursued turns into an obsession, betraying the very thing that they cherish the most. The title of the movie carries its own depths of meaning. Merriam Webster defines force majeure as: “1) superior or irresistible force; 2) an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled—compare act of god.” Sometimes acts of human will can occur as unpredictably as forces of nature. We can be bound to that which we intensely pursue or avoid—either way leads to obsession. It’s our reckless force of will that can trigger a landslide within our lives and within the world at large, causing unforeseen consequences. Fortunately, reconciliation remains possible for people who can approach their truth with an open mind and heart, building their lives in good faith upon the raw earth exposed after a passing avalanche is cleared.

Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict

Book by Robert Hunt

The theme of conflict management is at the beating heart of this Winter 2023 Update blog project. Short of people who have gained spiritual mastery of themselves, navigating personal conflicts remains an unavoidable part of most people’s daily lives. Studies show that people spend nearly 3 hours per week engaged in some form of workplace-related conflicts. And that’s not even accounting for conflicts we engage in with families and friends in our free time! Even if the statistics are exaggerated, it’s still startling to consider that we are so poorly equipped by default to advocate for our personal needs. Robert Hunt’s Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict makes a convincing case that we waste precious energy fighting with people with whom we should be communicating in more meaningful—i.e., both more effective and peaceful—ways. The premise behind Mastering Confrontation is that our view of confrontation influences our approach to it. Instead of confrontation being something best avoided, ostensibly because it necessitates subjecting ourselves and other people to criticism that may lead to embarrassment and hurt feelings, we can view confrontation as a catalyst for positive growth. When the value of confrontation is disentangled from our hang ups with it, we can approach confrontations as an opportunity to learn more about others, fuel innovative new ideas, and develop solidarity through collaboration. Of course, not all issues can be resolved fairly, so Hunt also details how to discern when it’s time to quit. But before we call it quits, we can all empower ourselves through developing a greater appreciation for patience and active listening that will make us not only more effective communicators but also more peaceful human beings.

The Art of Everyday Assertiveness: Speak Up. Say No. Set Boundaries. Take Back Control.

Book by Patrick King

Patrick King’s The Art of Everyday Assertiveness: Speak Up. Say No. Set Boundaries. Take Back Control. serves as a fitting counterpart—in spirit—to Robert Hunt’s Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict. To be clear, both books address the issues inherent in navigating interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, both books advocate for healthier modes of communication in our human affairs. But whereas a conflict often implies a differing opinion or belief held by multiple parties regarding a mutually agreed upon issue, the issue of personal boundaries is often more encompassing in its applications, less overt in its manifestations, and doesn’t necessitate the awareness or buy-in of multiple parties. Boundaries, simply put, are something we create by and for ourselves for reasons that are entirely our own. King explores a variety of strategies that people can use to manage healthier boundaries in their lives, including cognitive behavior therapy and exposure therapy. At the most basic level, however, the main tool for implementing boundaries in our lives, after we are clear about the underlying issue, is assertiveness. In a brilliantly simple way, King places assertiveness as the ideal mode of communication along a spectrum ranging from aggression on one end and passiveness and passive aggressiveness on the other end. For people inclined to overcorrection, we are cautioned that being assertive is not incompatible with being accommodating and agreeable. Rather, being assertive is about appreciating that nobody else is entitled to our precious time and energy. It’s never too late to ask for what you really want and gain respect, from yourself and others, in the process. In an effort to make his teachings actionable, King offers a 28-day assertiveness action plan to jumpstart both the chronically overwhelmed people pleasers along with those who just need a little tune-up. If saying no to people is often a challenge for you, like it has long been for me, then The Art of Everyday Assertiveness may be the text that inspires a much-needed life transformation. 

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

Book by Don Miguel Ruiz

Those who don’t like to read, or don’t have time to do so, will find a sympathetic author with Don Miguel Ruiz. Don Miguel Ruiz has dedicated his life to sharing the wisdom of the ancient Toltecs, an ancient people of southern Mexico who were known for their great knowledge. Avoiding the pitfalls of both New Ageism and academia, Don Miguel Ruiz writes without pith or pretense, trusting that the wisdom he shares is intuitive enough to resonate with readers viscerally, striking simultaneously in the brain, heart, and stomach. The main argument underlining The Four Agreements is that our lives are governed by the agreements that we make. An agreement is an arrangement that we make with ourselves, and for ourselves, about how we live in accordance with the roles we adopt in the world. The four agreements include: 1) Be impeccable with your word; 2) Don’t take anything personally; 3) Don’t make assumptions; and 4) Always do your best. These agreements also imply stories we craft about ourselves and the world. Oftentimes, we don’t reflect upon where our stories come from and what purpose they serve us. Furthermore, our stories lead to self-perpetuating narratives that can limit our growth potential. But we always have the right and responsibility to question the stories we hold to be true. We have a choice to make between choosing a path of suffering or liberation. 

The Perfectionism Workbook: Proven Strategies to End Procrastination, Accept Yourself, and Achieve Your Goals

Book by Taylor Newendorp, MA, LCPC

Perfectionism isn’t a theme I addressed explicitly in this Winter 2023 blog project. Yet it complicates the relationships I have shared with many people in addition to my professional and creative projects—including this blog project with its laborious two-year conception. For me, perfectionism is most likely a habit I picked up from my upbringing, finding myself under the influence of demanding figures in my life. Whether I was chronically struggling with my math homework or improperly attending to my house errands, I seemingly chronically fell well short of other people’s rigid standards. Eventually I grew up and realized that it was my responsibility to question the narrative voices from my past that I had been choosing to believe and continue carrying with me—like luggage with someone else’s name on it. But before I can accept myself as I am now, someone whose self-worth is independent of my egoic strivings, I have learned the necessity of accepting the damage caused by my counterproductive narratives, recognizing the signs of their toxic influence, and then taking steps to change my thinking patterns and behaviors. Although I tend to avoid workbooks, because it’s easier to read theories than it is to reflect upon how certain concepts apply within my life, Newendorp succeeds in creating purposeful exercises that inspire actionable steps for creating changes within one’s life. It helps that Newendorp has a background as a clinical therapist and offers grounding approaches to implementing mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy practices. It’s never too late to get off the perfectionist treadmill and find peace that isn’t conditioned upon one’s accomplishments. 

Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self

Book by Chuck DeGroat

So many people around the world are experiencing burnout these days, and often unnecessarily. Therapist and pastor Chuck DeGroat makes a moving case in Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self that the drive for busyness so common in contemporary cultures has been misunderstood and misdiagnosed. The kind of busyness DeGroat examines can’t be medicated or alleviated by an occasional vacation. The kind of busyness DeGroat refers to is deeply existential: It is born of a divided self and begets yet more division. Readers who are open to the Judaeo-Christian tradition will find a gentle voice grounded in a Biblical worldview supplemented by a background in psychotherapy and psychology. Implicit within DeGroat’s position is that we all struggle in the aftermath of our disunion with God, misidentifying ourselves with our own vain labors. One person prides themselves in their worldly knowledge; another in their stock portfolio; and yet someone else in their acts of philanthropy. But try as we might, we are fighting with fire—our acts of production won’t redeem us; lasting peace of mind and being can’t be gained through our own devices. Only rooting our identities in wholeheartedness, in alignment with our higher being, or, in DeGroat’s belief system, in alignment with God’s Word and Spirit, will bring us a lasting grounding that can’t be counterfeited. Because good ideas and inspiration aren’t always enough, Wholeheartedness includes chapter exercises to work through for those who like a little homework. Readers who are agnostic or secular will still find much that is compelling in DeGroat’s work. Ultimately, since we all inevitably fall short of ideals, including the ones we set for ourselves, the concept of wholeness is relevant enough to apply to human nature as a whole. 

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Book by Parker J. Palmer

At 115 pages, Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak is the slimmest book in this media list, making it the perfect leaflet to be read in a gently bustling park one warm spring day. But Palmer’s lived wisdom shouldn’t be downed in one casual sitting; it speaks all the more clearly and profoundly when it is slowly savored. With a career spanning a doctoral education in sociology, community organizing in Washington, D.C., and long-term residency in a Quaker commune, Parker has lived with curiosity and compassion in response to personal failures, setbacks, and battles with depression. Key to letting our life speak is first separating the difference between a profession and a vocation. While the former is often motivated by a paycheck, to the end of supporting one’s primal survival drives, Parker outlines the latter quite poetically as the alignment of one’s greater being with the greater good of humanity, “True vocation joins self and service.” A vocation is really an expression of one’s life calling. Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner deepens the definition, suggesting that true vocation belongs “where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep needs.” The titular phrase in the book ,”Let your life speak”, is a traditional Quaker instruction about living in witness to the deep truths that are particular to each individual. For Parker, finding the right calling involves finding companionship—a kind of union which is neither romantic nor religious. In our own way, we are called to rise to the type of service that we can’t help doing for ourselves in addition to others. Although our individual journeys all differ, the drive towards a common end binds us all together.

The Enneagram of Discernment: The Way of Vocation, Wisdom, and Practice

Book by Drew Moser, Ph.D, with Chuck DeGroat (Foreword)

The Enneagram of Personality Types is an ancient conceptual model for assessing the nature of human personality. I find the Enneagram to be more humanizing than the more clinical psychology standard of the Big Five personality test. In contrast to the Big Five’s data-driven approach, the Enneagram envisions a more subtle perspective of human behavior that is equally deep yet more fluid and hopeful. Of course, a human being is far more complicated than any test can fully account for. But it still helps to orient one’s understanding around objective insights. What makes Dr. Drew’s book unique, within an ever-expanding forest of Enneagram literature, is its focus on the implications that personality has for decision making. Sometimes embracing our strengths involves appreciating our weaknesses. Through introducing nine questions designed to illuminate one’s vocation, calling, and passions, The Enneagram of Discernment balances an intriguing mixture of fields ranging beyond psychology into neuroscience, theology, and spirituality, providing practical wisdom that can help us cultivate greater awareness and meaning in our lives. Better yet, when we are grounded in a fulfilling vocation, our increased wellbeing also pay dividends in our personal relationships. The more we gain through self-love, the more we have to offer other people.

Transitions (40th Anniversary Edition): Making Sense of Life’s Changes

Book by William Bridges with Susan Bridges

I am certainly not immune to the allure of prestige. Yet in the era of the Information Age, when reactionary consumerism seems to drive so much of our palette preferences, it’s easy for me to become cynical at the accolades fawned upon cultural classics old and new—especially the best-sellers. Considered one of the all-time top 50 best self-help and personal development books, William Bridges’ Transitions (40th Anniversary Edition): Making Sense of Life’s Changes transcends my cynicism, proving itself to be a timeless treasure with universal appeal. Every culture throughout humanity seems to have its heroes and bards who comment upon change as the essential matter of life. Try as we might, encountering change in one’s life is unavoidable. However, like the theme of conflict, change often suffers from bad optics requiring a deeper appreciation. Changes, as the promotional copy for Transitions reads, can bring both opportunities and turmoil. In Transitions Bridges reframes changes as portals between dynamic stages in our lives that are full of activity: The Ending, and The New Beginning. And in between these two stages lies another transition: The Neutral Zone. We have the right to feel lost, lonely, and confused in The Neutral Zone. That’s normal. But without the dual curse and blessing of this overlooked desert territory, without taking time to wander through the twilight wasteland where coyotes and cicadas thrive, we can’t emerge with a new vision, new goals, new dreams with which to guide us next. Seen from this vantage, transitions, whether personal or professional, serve as memorial celebrations of the valuable, and unavoidable, changing seasons that make up our colorful lives.

As helpful as the above media resources have been for me, and may also be for you, a list can never encapsulate the dynamic needs of a single living person. For a deeper voyage into the realm of transformative life resources, I highly advocate for a holy trinity that has been especially beneficial for me: cats, counseling, and yoga and meditation.

Cats. Love them or hate them, the world is obsessed with the domesticated feline. In a way, the fandom rivalry between The Rolling Stones and The Beatles reminds me of the modern clash between dog and cat lovers. Excusing some studies demonstrating the possible link between IQs and pet preferences, we can obviously be fans of both types of furry companions; our tastes certainly don’t need defending—check out a more humanizing study about the demographic differences between dog and cat owners as expressed in character traits like extroversion and creativity. Pet preferences aside, adopting a cat is like inviting an agent from an alien civilization into your house to shock and seduce you into awe and submission. They come to you, and leave you, solely on their terms and, throughout their stay, remain largely resistant to your influence. Caring for a cat is a meaningful lesson in unconditional love and acceptance inspiring equal parts humor and grace. For those who have minor feline allergies, there’s always air filters and medication.

If you value personal interactions with other human beings that meet you as you are currently, I highly advocate consulting with a professional therapist. Unlike turning to close friends and family who are biased in their relationship with us, a therapist can offer objective feedback and emotional confirmation in a way that is both compassionate and dispassionate. There is no shame in asking for guidance and talking through issues in real time. Quite the opposite. Reaching out for support takes humility and courage, and, when we do so, sends ourselves the message that we are worthy of the time and attention. For general purpose counseling, consider getting started with BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers a range of counselors from a variety of backgrounds along with scholarships for people who have financial hardships. For an intimate experience combining insights from neuroscience through ancient wisdom, I highly recommend life coaching by Jade, the 5D coach. Encouraging wellbeing for all, Jade offers a complimentary coaching session along with an ever-growing catalog of inspirational knowledge videos.

The market is flooded with free meditation apps and Spandex-clad yoga videos. While I believe that any kind of deep breathing and mindful movement of one’s body is a net gain, there are some tools and techniques that are worth learning more formally. The Isha Foundation, founded by spiritual leader and humanitarian Sadhguru, offers a wide range of yoga and meditation workshops. The Inner Engineering course is a good starting place. And The Art of Living Foundation, founded by spiritual leader and humanitarian Gurudev, also offers courses. The SKY Meditation course is their signature entry-level course and is backed by clinical studies confirming its effectiveness in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. For people who are religious but skeptical of spiritual traditions or practices that are foreign to their own, Gurudev makes a delineation that is especially relevant for orthodox Judao-Christian believers: “Prayer is asking or thanking God for something. Meditation is listening to God.” These tools are not mutually exclusive. While Gurudev’s observation reflects my own practices, people who are more humanistic and prefer to avoid anything with a whiff of spirituality can still benefit from yoga and meditation even if these practices are approached as purely mechanical tools for the mind and body. Take what you wish from the experience.

Lastly, if you are looking for an alternative or supplement to the above resources, consider taking an online character assessment test to receive some insight into who you are as a person. The Big 5 Personality Test is an industry standard within the field of psychology. It’s a good place to start for people who have more data-driven minds or like having an abstract subject quantified in a visual way. Consider taking the Big 5 test here. However, the Enneagram is my personal favorite. It takes a more wholistic view of human nature as an integration of emotional drives, defense mechanisms, and communication styles that conceives of every person as a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Consider taking the Enneagram test here. As American historian and philosopher Will Durrant puts it, “Knowledge is the eye of desire and can become the pilot of the soul.” Everyone benefits when we pilot our soul with deeper (and higher) awareness. Imagine what the world would look like if we looked ourselves in the face and said with real conviction, The sky is the limit!

(The featured image is used by courtesy of Janko Ferlič on Pexels.)

Winter 2023 Blog Update (Part 4 of 6) ~ Current Challenges: Victims of Our Unawareness

What percentage of our time do we spend on withholds and grudges? How is that energy investing in our wellbeing? Is it helping to resolve our differences? Does it guide us onward with greater wisdom? 

After we have been hurt or wronged, we may wrestle with our perceived injustices in the aftermath: How can this happen to me? I don’t deserve this. The hardships we face may test our ties to the world, complicating our personal relationships, including our attachments to our values and beliefs, even our sense of moral righteousness.

When life disrupts our equilibrium between self and world, between desire and fulfillment, we are charged with reclaiming our freedom within the heights (and depths) of our inner being. In the best way we can manage, we continue growing by leaning into our pain with loving wisdom, separating it—carefully—from our truth. 

Before we can dress our wounds, however, we must address that which has wounded us. Moving on from our life wounds, therefore, requires that we first reckon with the past. But to venture into the unreconciled past, we must sacrifice the assurance of our present comfort for the sake of our greater future potential. 

Forgiveness is a fundamental stage in the healing process; the trouble is, forgiveness is often misunderstood as a prescriptive formula rather than a natural fruiting of spirit that occurs when we embrace—and release—our wounds with grace. Consequently, forgiveness has become a cheap word in Western cultures these days. The sloganeering of pop psychology is littered with tributes to concepts that have been worn to pieces like, forgive and forget. We recruit these twin f-words with reflexive abandon. Yet we should take heed, because if we can’t push through our pain on the way to healing ourselves, we can be left nursing a festering wound of one’s being that no doctor can relieve for very long. 

Author Lysa TerKeurst distinguishes two facets to the emotional core of unforgiveness in Forgiving What You Can’t Forget: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again, “Resentment is usually attached to a specific person for a specific incident. Bitterness is usually the collective feeling of all our resentments. But however you define these words, they are part of the same problem.” Unfortunately, there are likely no limits to the suffering we can cause ourselves and each other. Even if we feel that we suffer alone and undeservedly, our suffering is contagious; we can perpetuate it within our own lives and pass it onto others. Fortunately, the contagion of suffering often has a logical path of development that we can learn to overcome. 

It’s long seemed to me that human nature is neither inherently blameless nor corrupt. We are more often simply self-serving, preoccupied with protecting our vested interests. For the outliers among us, the pursuit of righteousness, like the pursuit of malevolence, is a life-consuming passion requiring practiced commitment. Not many rise to the calling. 

Either way, we don’t exist as a blank slate in self-isolation. Self-actualization involves mindfully acknowledging the complexity of human nature alongside the social context within which we are all embedded. 18th-century English Anglican preacher Henry Melvill highlights the intricate interconnectedness of life in his sermon “Partaking in Other Men’s Sins,” “Ye cannot live for yourselves; a thousand fibres connect you with your fellow-men, and along those fibres, as along sympathetic threads, run your actions as causes, and return to you as effects.” No man is an island—for very long. If we approach our connections with others with curiosity and empathy, we can help transcend the cycle of self-involvement that obscures our interconnectedness. 

I can think of no more conducive medium for channeling interconnectedness than love. In the ancient Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita (meaning “Song of God” or “Song of the Lord”), the god Krishna advises the Pandava prince Arjuna about life philosophy during an epic battle. The battlefield strategizing serves as a moral analogy for defining courage in context of our response to a world that has hurt us. Krishna explains, “If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred.” Love, in many ways, is life’s ultimate battleground. Yet when we are confronted by ill-will, we so often fight with love instead of living for it. Which one is more heroic?

Before we slump into moral verbosity, we should puzzle upon what it means to live one’s life under the influence of love. As 6th-century BC Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu says, a man known for his contributions to the anthology of wise sayings known as the Tao Te Ching, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Lau Tzu continues, suggesting several values that can help us channel love within our relationships, “Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” 

Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, known by his honorific title of Gurudev, has much to say about love. Gurudev explains the role of forgiveness, as an expression of the spirit of love, in times of conflict, “The readiness to forgive and ask for forgiveness is a sign of strength. When you take responsibility for clearing up a misunderstanding or conflict and create harmony, it reveals your broad-mindedness and magnanimity.” Gurudev illustrates how we are all casualties of the mistakes that we perpetuate: 

“You do not plan your own mistakes. They happen because of a lack of awareness or because of stress in the mind. If you do not plan your mistakes, what makes you think that others plan their mistakes? 

When you do not have compassion for others and forgive their mistakes, you tend to seek revenge and get into a cycle of negative feelings. 

Forgiveness protects the mind and spirit from the poison of negativity.” 

While forgiveness can help alleviate our pain and suffering, the balm it offers is always temporary. The trouble is, forgiveness tends to isolate the perceived victim and culprit from a wider web of human engagements. The process of redemption, therefore, may labor in limbo until we round up to the perspective that we are all interconnected. From this more compassionate bird’s-eye view, we can appreciate the universality of the cycle of pain that we inherit. Gurudev explores a way through this bind:

“Forgiveness can never be complete. When you say, “I forgive”, you think the other person is a culprit. However you do it, a little bit still remains. It’s not complete. But when you see the big picture that the culprit is also a victim, a victim of his/her own mind, ignorance or unawareness, compassion arises from within you.” 

Angel Millar also advocates for a position of dignity in The Path of the Warrior Mystic: Being a Man in an Age of Chaos, “If a parent or childhood friend hurt you, it is not because he or she was uniquely evil and powerful but because that person had his or her own unresolved emotional issues, or perhaps even psychological issues, which probably began during childhood. Understand that this person did not act out of strength, but out of weakness.” 

Whatever issue we confront, whatever hurt we experience, it’s rarely, if ever, personal. By failing to resolve our wounds, we cling to them, thus strengthening and preserving them; as the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung warns us, what we resist, persists. Contrary to the grain of the egoic self, relating to other people with compassion doesn’t imply ignoring the wounds that we have received; rather, meditating upon the physics of interpersonal relationships inspires contextual awareness, helping us detach our truth from our pain. Love then allows us to exercise compassion without pretense, bridging the gap between our mutually wounded hearts in a union of equals.

The way we describe our experiences matter, influencing the way we perceive them. Our language has a life of its own. Like love, truth is a simple word with a dense history. On one hand, both love and truth have left a trail of broken hearts and bodies throughout humanity; on the other hand, they have also spawned new life forms and civilizations. In the West, we tend to think of truth as a fact we can plot on a spreadsheet or a cause we can champion on a ballot. Equally shallow, we think of love as a fountainous feeling that we attempt to contain—for our benefit. But perhaps neither truth nor love are terminal outcomes as much as endless processes of becoming. 

We may never discern where truth and love begin or end. Nor may we ever discover their chemical compositions. That’s okay. We are still enriched by their guidance. However, harnessing the influence of truth and love for the betterment of humanity requires that we first confront the nemesis guarding the gate to our potential. 

We are that adversary. We must mind the creaky bridges leading to the buried treasures we seek. While we’re all well aware of one obvious gatekeeper, malevolence—a nasty mountain troll responsible for horrendous crimes against humanity—there are more subtle goblins creeping in the hedges that ambush our consciousness—consider the arrogance of certainty, the insecurity of fear, or the self-pity of hopelessness.

If we must be kept up at night as we are wrestling with the burning questions of our existence, it is best to be haunted by a specter that conspires to delight or instruct us, something we can’t quite shake, but in whose company we are vitalized. Of course, what we invite into our minds we also invite into our beds. Although we don’t always choose what comes knocking at our door, we always get to choose whether or not to welcome the visitor inside—offer it some tea; then wish it farewell. 

However sensible we may be, the integrity of our truths can be compromised by the way we express them. While whole-hearted truths are made honorable when driven by devotion and buoyed by awareness, half-truths are full of triggers and extra baggage that eclipse their well-meaning message. 

A half-truth is a troublesome response to one’s self and the world, a blurred mix of as-it-is-in-itself with as-it-is-in-my-likeness. A half-truth is linear and personal: a transaction we command in the moral economy that can be bought or sold with our earned worth. 

A whole-hearted truth is cyclical and trans-personal; it’s a self-transcending experience that fuels and consumes our inner being. We manifest whole-hearted truths in our lives through service to a noble purpose that frees us from our perceived limitations: The price of admission is an intractable sacrifice of who-we-once-were in service of who-we-can-yet-be.

When our attention slips away from our whole-hearted being, we allow ourselves to succumb to the laws of market transactions. All is not lost. Or at least we are never lost for long if we can gain new ground during the trials that we encounter. As things go awry, we are wise to ease ourselves away from the weight of our past expectations and back into the presence of our weightless agency. 

Of course, the pursuit of truth requires courage as much as strength. But truth is best served on all sides when we embody it with kindness and humility. Without humility, truth is a hungry lion unleashed in a library—a terror and a public menace; without kindness, truth is a tower waving in the face of grace—a reckless force collapsing upon itself. 

More problematically, our truth can be corrupted when shaped in our image. It’s a unique tragedy of humanity that the things we do for the sake of truth can be as destructive as anything we do out of ill-will. As American humorist Mark Twain observes in On the Decay of the Art of Lying, “What I bemoan is the growing prevalence of the brutal truth. Let us do what we can to eradicate it. An injurious truth has no merit over an injurious lie. Neither should ever be uttered.” Enacting our truths at all costs may demand a cost that we can’t afford. Rather than brooding like moral tyrants over who is right or wrong, then justifying our actions in our favor, we can share our truths with authenticity without forsaking compassion.

Lest we forget, we are capable of compassion even in the darkest of times. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor known for his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, shares a humbling awareness he had while detained in a concentration camp; instead of fellow prisoners judging each other’s suffering in contrast to their own, Frankl offers a different perspective, “…the ones who seem to suffer less should not look at the others with contempt but look at the others with compassion and look for anything possible to help the others.” Clinging to the singularity of our individual experiences can prevent us from rounding up to a bird’s-eye view of an issue. In such cases, relating to each other through the indivisibility of our shared humanity pierces through the conditioning of merit-based moralities.

Encountering a world that seems contrary to our own will and understanding is inevitable. The temptations to yield to our ego triggers are numerous and effortless. Yet our ego only desires to protect us. The growth of our inner being requires that we confront the illusions of self that prevent us from transcending our perceived limitations. 

In challenging times, it’s helpful to recognize the hidden opportunity: If life is a lesson that we can learn to love and love to learn, do we approach our experiences as walls that enable our inertia, or as wings that empower our expansion? Along the way, perhaps it’s best that we find ourselves shocked in the wilderness that is our freedom (and responsibility), awake in the flesh (and spirit) of our becoming. We are who we are. But if we stop at that, we’ll never know who we can yet be.

(The featured image is used by courtesy of Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.)