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The Challenge of Faith and Ideals


Reconciling one's faith and ideals with the facts of one's actual experience requires a humbling honesty that is all too easy to avoid. We like to flatter ourselves by our wisdom and high ideals. We think that because we consciously endeavor to uphold good values that we are doing all we can, except for trying harder. We also have an innate aversion to pain, and facing our inner conflicts and deficiencies must naturally involve admitting some disconcerting pain and anguish.

However, we learn through psychotherapy that we have nothing to fear, i.e., that we -- and likewise our faith and understanding -- can only be strengthened and enlarged by honestly facing our conflicts and our pain. However, without doing the work of openly and honestly examining ourselves and our life, we can continue to delude ourselves that we are congruent, and thus allow discrepancies between what we profess and what we live to go unnoticed.

There are two factors that largely account for this situation. First, even if our conscious beliefs are congruent among themselves (which is not likely), we typically hold assumptions -- often subconsciously -- that conflict with our professed beliefs. As long as these conflicts remain they will create their damaging effects in our lives despite a conscious faith that would belie them. Beliefs that are lived are more powerful than those we merely profess. For example, intermittent affirmations of our self worth or safety are not too effective if for twenty-four hours a day contrasting fears and negative images that we have held since childhood are part of our core subconscious programming. They will manifest themselves regardless of whether we are aware of them! Furthermore, any conscious belief that is negative must be in conflict with the intrinsically positive essence of one's inner Self.

The other distortion in our faith comes from the process whereby it is established. An idealism that is an internalization often takes a form that entails subtle dualistic judgments that distort and deny aspects of one's Self. These restrict free and direct expression of our inner being. When our self-image and the ideals or "shoulds" connected to it are artificially established they only exacerbate the separation of ego and Self, rather than furthering integration. When the Self is the center of our life, ideals cease to be rigid, polar and conflictual. They become living ideas that describe qualities and purposes implicit in our being. These inner self qualities all work naturally together without conflict.

It's difficult not to have any assumptions of how things are or should be because from our earliest experiences with parents, culture and peers, we are conditioned to internalize values and beliefs. Although ideals vary between individuals and cultures, the urge to act on the images we have of how we should be is normal. However, endeavoring to mold one's nature to fit one's image of how we should be, creates a great tension and conflict within oneself.

Unless we honestly face the actual conflict created by this process we shall continue to experience pain and a diminution in our life. Using the will to repress elements of our personality that we deem different from our ideas and expectations doesn't result in a harmonious integration -- especially if our images and assumptions are not a reflection of our actual inner Self. Dualistic (involving rigid right/wrong, good/bad thinking) internalizations are not. Authentic beliefs and values must be established by addressing our psychological experience and listening to, becoming aware and expressing the intrinsic truth of our Self.

Let's see how taking the common ideal of "being perfect" may be made more effective by self-examination. Trying to be perfect is usually experienced as the impossible attempt to live up to one's particular ideal of how one should be. As we translate the intention to "be perfect" through the crucible of self discovery, we will invariably find that we become more self-accepting -- especially of those parts of ourselves that we had previously judged against. This is because on examination we shall find that even these aspects of ourselves express positive essential energy that has been distorted by negative interpretations and form it was given. Therefore the energy could not be integrated. For example, the basic healthy energy of self assertion can be difficult to integrate if it becomes connected to false interpretations of how that energy must be expressed -- that one has to be better than, superior to or more powerful than others; or "perfect". (This interpretation is false because it assumes that the reality of the soul can be threatened or needs to be proved or validated.)

In the final analysis, if all parts of our lives are an expression of spirit, then we do not become perfect by trying to change who we are to fit our ideal, but by perfectly accepting that all aspects of ourselves are legitimate parts of a whole. Through this openness and acceptance we may activate a transformative process that progressively unfolds and realizes our Self, because the actual experienced wholeness contains seeds that unfold in qualities, expansions and realizations that are latent in our being.

Conflicts and tensions are not wrong but a natural part of the process of growth as each new challenge reveals an unrealized potential. As a result of integration, our personalities are enlarged and transformed. Although we change, we paradoxically become more of who we already (potentially) are. In this process, painful experiences are indeed helpful because these allow us to become aware of the negative images and assumptions we hold that have created them, but that are out of accord with the truth of our spiritual Self. We must be clear about the causal connection between the images we hold in our minds (the creative agency) and the outer life situations and experience that result.

As a consequence of going through the crucible of openness, honesty and change, faith is transferred to the Self's innate capacity to deal with anything and not be adversely affected. We ultimately realize that the only thing holding us back was our attachment to false assumptions about ourselves (that are refuted by the reality of the soul).

"Love" is another ideal we are tested by. However, if we apply it to ourselves, our emotions, needs, feelings and experiences, we will soon free ourselves from the guilt and sense of inadequacy this ideal will otherwise inevitably create. Psychologically, we must transform our internalized injunction that we "should be loving" to a capacity to live in and be at peace in our self, which naturally results in an intuitive sense of what is optimally right, appropriate and loving in each situation. A deep experience of peace, untroubled by guilt, is concomitant with realizing love. It is beyond a dualistic perception that must imply moralistic judgments and rejections. This realization is tested in our relationships.

So, if you are plagued by strife and dissatisfaction in your relationships despite your faith, ideals, prayers and endeavors, it is time to examine the form of your ideals and core negative assumptions working in your life that are creating these experiences. At worst you will find that you are assuming things that are not true but that by your belief you are establishing unnecessary limitations and unhappiness. Through working on ourselves, we free ourselves from a painful confinement and begin to explore and live in a happier and more abundant world. Our faith and ideals can be positive and organic reflections of our deepest Self and therefore allow that Self to progressively reveal itself.