If just before you started reading this you were using your thinking to criticize yourself, this your chance to stop.
Those thoughts don’t improve us even if we did screw up because it’s not the screw up that’s really the issue, it’s our thoughts about it. Those are after-the-fact thoughts about the past. If it’s in the past that can only be ego and egos are dangerous. You have to keep an eye on them.
The fact that we don’t feel good about whatever transpired is only because we already know we could have done better. That demonstrates that we are good people with good judgment because our judgment was able to detect something out of alignment with the range that we use to define our self.
If we let it, our negative reaction to exceeding those limits is what, over time, nudges us closer and closer to being able to live out our greatest potential. This is the process of getting wiser.
This is the point at which many people suggest that we need rules to be ‘good.’ But if they’re saying that they usually mean they want alignment with whatever they think everyone should do. But that’s impossible because we can’t all demand that. While rules can be useful, they aren’t needed to define ‘good.’
Everyone except psychopaths is familiar with the hounding a human conscience can give us. Many of us adults still feel badly about things we did as youngsters. But what is our conscience?
Think of it like an old fashioned thermometer. Humans are good from about +60C to -60C, (or -76F to 140F). Above or below that and we’re in enough trouble we’re likely to die. Our conscience is like a range of things that our real self –the self that creates our ego– has for our behaviour. That part of us is very wise –except for in psychopaths. They don’t have lines that are further out than ours, they don’t have any lines at all. The rest of us have healthy lines for a very logical reason.
We as individuals are a part of a much larger flow created by our species. We’re all ultimately programmed to try to stay alive and see the next generation move on. Since we breed we obviously need others to do that, plus working in groups is safer than working alone, so our nature is to find ways to cooperate.
All of us can temporarily lose track of that connection when our thinking gets crazy, but our nature is to work to stay alive, not work to destroy what we need to stay alive; including others and their support.
Even huge mistakes are just ways of learning, growing, and maturing. Sometimes we inflict ours on others, sometimes they inflict theirs on us; sometimes we are teachers, sometimes we are students. Sometimes the universe benefits from regret, sometimes it benefits from tolerance.
Our ability to understand that flow of pain and regret in a non-personal way is the lesson we are all unwittingly teaching each other through the living our lives. And it’s also why many wise people have said, when you finally become a real guru you realize that everyone around us, has always been a guru.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.