Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 2: Overview of Practices Involved > Chapter 6: Self-Reflection and Action
Self-Reflection and Action
If he can bring himself to desert his habitual standpoint and begin to think as a sage thinks, his battle will be over bloodlessly. But if he cannot do so, cannot let go so abruptly of his old egoisms and animalisms, then there will be a long struggle, with its attendant wounds and inescapable sufferings.
The disciple should be ever alert to profit by his experience and, especially, to note where his own attitudes create his own ills. This profit will come to him only if he looks at the experience with ego-free eyes.
His aim being the contrary of most people's aims, he tries to depersonalize his attitudes and reactions. What relief he feels with even partial freedom from the burden of self-consciousness. How heavy a load is borne by those who see, sense, or react with ego-centered nervousness.
The inner work requires him to strive deliberately to keep on entering--and re-entering after each lapse--a state of awareness of what thoughts he is holding and what emotions he is feeling; and if any correction is called for to make it instantly. The work is to be continued until correct thinking has become habitual and settled.
At off intervals during the day, he is to pull himself up abruptly and note the nature and character of his thoughts. Then he is to ask himself why he is holding them or what is impelling him towards them. The purificatory worth of this practice is great. It gives him the chance to become aware of negatives and throw them out, but best of all it trains him in detachment. From this exercise he is to go on to its sequel, which applies the same attitude towards what the body's senses tell him and also towards what his emotions and passions make him feel.
In the end, the Quest becomes an effort to separate himself from his lower principles, to disown his lower nature, and to repudiate his lower self. He must consider the task a lifelong one, and therefore guard against premature complacency by making repeated self-scrutiny with humility and abasement.
As he studies his present life so impersonally, the past also comes back to him. He will then find himself more interested in its errors and failures than in its virtues and successes. He will search for, and try to recognize, the point of departure where, in such negative experiences, he first went wrong.
Unless you word your replies to criticisms carefully, cautiously, restrainedly, mildly, and with dignity, you will create violent and intolerant reactions, for few seek truth and most seek partisan opinions. You must demonstrate by the calm, dignified, temperate, and fair character of utterance, by its freedom from bitterness, that you have attained a higher level than those whom you criticize.
The philosophic aspirant must test the truth or falsity of the phenomena which present themselves as he advances, of the teachings he hears and the intuitions he receives and, especially, of the moral ideals involved in every situation. He should not take for granted his ability to distinguish true from false, right from wrong, whether in the inner or outer life. The safeguard of such a test is needed because he is, mentally and emotionally, so tangled up with his personal self that his experiences themselves are so interfered with, his interpretations of them so altered by the ego, that their correctness needs to be examined.
It is the earnest aspirant's duty to accept criticism. Provided it is not rendered in a spirit of personal malice, he should humbly, unemotionally, and impersonally seek to learn therefrom.
He will have to learn the art of standing aside from himself, of observing his actions and analysing his motives as though they belonged to some other person. He may cease to practise this art only when his actions reflect the calm wisdom of the Overself and when his motives reflect its detached impersonality.
Once the past is properly, impersonally, understood; once the logic of its consequences is traced; once the implication of all this is practically applied, especially in self-discipline: let it go.
He needs to recognize his strengths as well as his weaknesses, so as to have a fairer view of himself. He need not paint too sombre a picture.
It is hard for the civilized man to know what are his true instincts and what his false ones. What seems true may be merely what is habitual to him, what he is accustomed to. So he must get this knowledge from a revelation--either an external or an internal one.
Only he who is willing to regard himself entirely without partiality and his critics entirely without prejudice can hope for any success in this Quest.
We must learn to see more clearly, to separate our real needs from our fancied ones. Take a single example. Our real need is to be emotionally secure. Our fancied need is possession of or association with a particular person through whom we believe such security can be had. This person may be a marital mate or a spiritual master.
If he is to save himself he will need a relentless honesty about, and toward, himself. He must be uncompromising in getting at true appraisals of his motives, his actions, and his feelings.
Through attending to the deepest inner promptings that come to one in moments of relaxed calm, one may get valuable pointers toward the best direction of any needed changes or adjustments in his worldly life.
Take all criticism graciously, even smilingly. This means you are neither upset by it nor indifferent to it, but that you take it to heart to learn humbly, coolly, and impersonally whatever is true in it.
"Straight is the way and narrow the gate thereof" said Jesus. The Hindu Upanishads, the sacred and formerly secret works containing some of the highest wisdom of India, have a similar phrase: "The path which is as narrow as the edge of a razor." What do these words mean? They do not tell of a path to moral perfection, however desirable it may be to be morally perfect. No! the way they speak of is the Ultimate Path which demands from us utter and complete rectitude of thought and feeling. Every movement made in the heart and mind must be completely straight, undeflected, and undistorted. The mental activity must be true in every sense of the word. Life must become one-pointed, perfectly concentrated, moving always in a straight line. When ideas are warped by prejudices, or distorted by preconceptions, or clouded by illusions, or inflamed by excitements, then the movement of the mind is not straight but wavering from side to side. It may even turn round and move backwards. We inevitably approach life with a predetermined outlook which has gradually developed from the many influences played upon us since childhood. Rare indeed is the man who is immune to them. This bias tends to overload with personal feeling all judgement, and to raise selfish emotion to the status of a test of truth.
As if his own new negative creations plus the inheritance of older karmic carry-overs were not enough troubles for him, he has also to endure the buffetings of other persons' negative thoughts, feelings, and speech about him.
The obstacles which he has put in his own path can be removed by no one but himself.
It will be hard to ferret out the blunders into which his own egoism will lead him, for it will deceive itself as it will deceive him, by using the guises of virtuous feeling or logical thinking. His supposedly selfless motives may be, in reality, other than what they seem. His superficially sound reasoning may be an attempt on the part of his ego to retain its hold upon him by plausible self-justification.
Difficulties are always within the skull. Unless you can conquer them in there, you will never conquer them outside.
Some denigrate their own power by accepting the truth of mentalism but denying the possibility of realizing it in experience. For them the sages prescribed the study of texts, the thinking out for themselves of their deep meaning, and deep meditation. This done, the obstacles are removed and the way is opened for intuition to transcend intellect and lead the aspirants into Overself. It presupposes that they have earlier purified character and strengthened concentration.
If a person desirous of following this path has troubles and difficulties, which assuredly most of us have, he must learn to apply mental discipline to himself in dealing with these conditions. There are those who have a tendency to magnify fears unreasonably, and to throw themselves unnecessarily and unjustifiably into moods of acute anxiety or emotional disturbance. Such people must learn to apply their philosophy to the difficulties they are having and try to rise high above them, serenely and calmly, by refusing to worry and by turning them over in full faith to God. Isn't this the test of faith? They must show by the way they refuse to be drawn into merely personal attitudes towards these problems and by the way in which they instantly commit them to God and His powerful care that they have an appreciation of this teaching and seek to apply it. They must also overcome the habit of seeking, every time a difficulty crops up, advice from the mystics whose teachings and writings they strive to follow--or else they will rob themselves of true self-reliance. It is impossible for the advanced mystic to undertake intervention in all such personal matters as that is really outside his province. Usually the way in which he gives help is general, not particular, impersonal and not personal, and it is through a prayer whose result spreads over long periods rather than through day-to-day separate thoughts. It is easy for the ego to mis-translate the help it receives, so these people must be careful to watch out for that.
As Tze Ya Tze wrote: "To hesitate when the occasion presents itself is to hinder Tao."
Those who limit themselves to the practice of meditation as the sole means of finding the spiritual self and who believe that this alone is sufficient, who never show signs of giving attention to the ennoblement of character or to magnanimous, generous, and compassionate aims, will not find the spiritual self but only a dull quiescence of feeling, a blank emptiness of mind, that have no real lasting value since they will crumble away when meeting the hard struggles of worldly life.
The hidden resentments have to be unveiled, the open mental barricades have to be raised.
Concepts and procedures which served him on the Quest in the past--ideas symbols names and forms which helped him then--have become rigidly fixed in his mind and he himself has become so attached to them as to be dependent upon them. He has lost openness of mind and become dogmatic, the victim of his own jargon. Thus the very things which were of service to him are no longer so and, in fact, constitute barriers stopping his further progress towards the true freedom.
Apply the will
The right creative use of faith and will, exercise and effort can work wonders in leading us out of the enslavement, the blindness, and the ignorance of the lower nature back to the enlightenment, the freedom, and the wisdom of the higher self.
Practice is the first requisite. Day after day one must dig into one's mind. One cannot learn swimming from a printed book alone, nor can one learn to know the Overself merely by reading about it.
Few are willing to undergo discipline and deliberately reform themselves. Yet, some method of attainment is necessary, some exercises of the inner life must be followed, otherwise there will be inertia and stagnation. The resolute practice of some spiritual technique brings inner energy into everyday living.
If a man is to arrive somewhere on this Quest, he must gain his own respect by being strong, must have a firm mind and support his words by his will.
His spiritual fervour is not to consume itself in futile emotional sputters that end in the air nor waste itself in frothy sentimentalities that are shut-eyed to realities. If he finds himself strong in feeling but weak in action, he should take it as a sure sign that the will has to be exercised more, the body hardened and disciplined.
Only he who has taken one can know the value of a vow to help him struggle through inner conflicts of will against desire. The dedicated life can become also the fortified life, if a man swears solemnly to hold it to a specific discipline.
But men cannot master themselves solely by willpower. It can give them so much control and no more.
The cultivation of power must begin with the will, which must be used to impede desire and govern passion.
It is for him to determine how his thoughts and feelings are to be shaped, and how his forces are to be used. This calls for acts of the will to follow choices of the will.
At first he has to use his will to break away from undesirable or negative feelings, to move his consciousness out of them. But first he must recognize them for what they are, then he must react against them swiftly.
Anyone who pursued the Quest with the same zeal with which everyone pursues earthly things, would soon come within sight of its goal.
There is a weapon which we can place in our hands that will render us independent of external patronage and make us master of circumstance's ebb and flow. This is the power of persistent will.
Aspiration must express itself in action. The weak are forever wishing, but the strong take the plunge and act. There are three kinds of people in the world, the Wills, the Won'ts and the Can'ts. The first achieve everything, the second oppose everything, and the third are failures. Which will you be?
To make the result dependent on grace alone would be to deny the existence and power of the universal law of recompense. The need of effort can only be ignored by those who fail to see that it plays an indispensable part in all evolution, from the lowly physical to the lofty spiritual.
If we were static beings fixed and chained by Nature, nothing would be worth the effort of trying. But we are not. We are dynamic centres of intelligence. Most of us revolve at low speeds. All of us could revolve more quickly. Some of us could even revolve at high speeds. For we can will ourselves into anything. In the silence of our heart we must will that this thing be accomplished, and lo, it is. "I will" carries man onward and upward, and defeat only spurs to further endeavour.
The iron strength of his purpose will shield him from temptations, the intense force of his loyalty to the truth will carry him through obstacles and barriers. He is astonished to find how easily the man who knows what he wants can conquer his way to it, if his will is able to go straight to its mark.
We have to demonstrate by our lives and to exemplify in our attitudes not only the truth of the ideas which rule our minds, but also the inherent power of these ideas.
To enter into the inmost part of his being calls for a terrific struggle, a terrific strength, and a terrific concentration. All his powers need to be called to the task. They must therefore be brought up out of latency and developed to a sufficient degree before the inward journey can even be started, if it is to have any likelihood of success at all. Such development requires systematic working on himself and cannot be left to merely chance and random spontaneity.
The power to commune with the Overself is within us all, but most do not trouble to exert themselves in the nurture and cultivation of it. Hence they do not possess it in actuality.
The quest is a deliberate attempt to shorten the passage from life in the underself to life in the Overself. Therefore it involves a constant discipline of actions, feelings, thoughts, and words.
There is no room for spiritual lethargy and personal laziness in the philosophical aspirant's life. First he will labour incessantly at the improvement of himself; when this has been accomplished, he will labour incessantly at the improvement of others.
If some men succeed spiritually because they are destined to, most men do because they are determined to.
Form a plan of life and carry it out.
He has to oppose his own preferences when they stand in the way of progress. He has to drive himself to do what he fears to do.
Nothing is more fortifying to the will than to do something every day along the lines of a declared intention to which all habit and environment are opposed.
They must stir some strength into their wills. But if they were unwilling to do this, then it were better to wait and let evolution perform its slow process of education. Suffering and loss would not be absent from this process, but they would be spread out over longer periods and hence spread thinner.
To take up the practice every day afresh requires a certain strength of will, a certain stubbornness of purpose, and a certain appreciation of its worth. Few have this staying power.
Eckhart: "Sloth often makes men eager to get free from work and set to contemplation, but no virtue is to be trusted until it has been put into practice."
It is true here as in other fields that study of the history and theory of mysticism will never be a satisfying substitute for practice of the exercises of mysticism.
Philosophy uses sacrifice and discipline to train the practical will. For we are not only to hear its voice but also to obey it.
To believe that such a great task can be achieved without personal effort and self-control is merely to deceive themselves. It is to deny the biblical statement that only what they sow can they reap.
This is a work which calls for the interaction of two powers--man's will and Overself's grace. The will's work is to engage in some measure of self-discipline, and yet to surrender itself entirely at the proper moment.
If the fruits of philosophy are not to be plucked in the gutter and the tap-room, neither are they to be found in the dry leaves of printed books: they can be gathered only by those who attempt to live it.
Each man must want and will his own entry to communion with the higher power.
"IF . . ."is usually the symbol of failure, but "I can," and "I will . . ." are powerful mottos that are always the sign of the success-bound.
"No man can serve two masters," said Jesus. Thus he rejected all indecision of will.
We must lay siege to our own soul. If the fort of mind is attacked with dogged determination, the victory is promised us. But the siege must be maintained until the day the gates open.
Ideas are born and die within our brains. Lofty thoughts and magnificent schemes for self-regeneration swim before our eyes like some new tortures of Tantalus. Yet we are unable to back them up in action. Our desperate need is the vital will necessary to give our ideas concrete expression in external life.
To all those students who complain of inability to get correct guidance on the problems and confusion in their worldly lives, answer: This is because they are not practising what they have studied. They are not applying the philosophy. They allow negative moods, emotions, and thoughts to take possession--instead of firmly exercising their will to resist beginnings and crush the danger in the bud. They want the guidance without having prepared the conditions which make guidance possible. If aspirants do not try to deny themselves in certain ways, they remain unprepared and therefore unfit for illumination. They must firmly resolve to lift themselves above the level of blind animal impulse or mere inert drifting. Otherwise, what is the difference between them and the multitude of ordinary folk who do not even know there is a Quest? This quest is not for weaklings. Let such go back to popular religion. It is only for those who are ready to be steeled in will and shorn of self-pity. Real aspirants show they are such because they do not weary in their efforts and remain uninfluenced by the setbacks and difficulties that they meet with on the way. There is good hope for a man no matter how much of a beginner he is, but only if he is eager to see his mistakes, if he is his own harshest critic, and if he puts forth a continuous and persistent effort to amend his life.
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