Think about the title of this blog for just a moment. Think about your initial feelings once guilt has come into play. I do not know about any of you, but I think we all have the same reaction: it feels like my body shrinks, and I become smaller; I feel less than; I have committed a punishable wrong, and there will be a consequence, and I create a consequence. All of the feelings that arise for me are rooted in fear. We separate ourselves from our source (whatever yours might be) and all our friends. Even if we stay physically present, emotionally, we become isolated. Unfortunately, there are some of us so prone to guilt that we feel guilty even if we didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. We can bypass all of this unnecessary process.
Guilt is a natural part of the human condition. All faith-based sects believe they hold the corner on guilt like their particular denomination teaches guilt the best. The Jewish, the Catholic, the Baptist, the non-denominational, the atheist, and even the agnostic all believe they were controlled more by guilt than others. The truth is guilt is a control mechanism used by everyone all the time. It is one of the best manipulative tools known to man, if not the best.
The question is: What purpose does guilt serve other than to control and manipulate? We carry with us in all that we do the deep inner belief that to feel guilty is the price we must pay for whatever perceived wrong we think we have committed. It is our penance. The very definition of penance says it all: voluntary self-punishment is an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong. Having a debt to pay for a perceived wrongdoing is at the base of all guilt. For most, it is automatic, almost instinctual, a reflex. We seem to get some sense of satisfaction from feeling guilt, like a small voice within whispering when we feel shame, ‘See, I do care.’
We often respond to situations as guilt is a great motivator and reason to change. We do not have to make ourselves wrong to get ourselves right. How many times when we attempt to change behavior and falter do, we feel guilty because we fell short of our goal? What if we told ourselves I do not like how this makes me feel? Or said to ourselves, this is not who I want to be. And decide to try harder the next time. Guilt does not have to be our motivation to change. Whenever we feel guilt, we have judged ourselves. We make ourselves wrong and seek some way of punishing ourselves. The first thing we do is separate ourselves from others, (a tool for divisiveness) maybe not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Guilts only purpose: to divide and conquer. It is impossible to make ourselves or anyone else wrong without making someone else right, which enhances the idea of isolation and separation. We cannot heal from a separate state.
When we determine someone to be guilty, we have judged them, and we cannot put ourselves in the position of judgment without making ourselves better than whoever or whatever we have judged.
The ego’s use of guilt is to separate. You cannot feel or project guilt onto others without simultaneously enforcing the wall the ego puts between us.
How can we overcome this almost instinctual reaction to a mistake, whether ours or someone else’s? It takes a lot of self-discipline, practice, and a commitment to self-investigation with an honest self-appraisal. As is valid with all spiritual growth, it takes an intense devotion to the three most prevalent spiritual principles: honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness.
It takes a deep inner commitment to the possibility of ‘I could be wrong.’ There is no way to grow without an open mind and a willingness to be wrong. We cannot learn anything if we think we already know.
In summary, the path beyond guilt is through compassion, understanding, empathy, and love, not only for those we attempt to see as guilty, but also and, most importantly, ourselves.