Friday, June 25, 2010
My Best or Not My Best; That is the Question
I have been doing some thinking inspired by a request from @SirHendrix that I consider sharing some of the bitter pills I have been swallowing that have been doing me so much good. One of them swirls around the various permutations of doing my best. The hardest and bitterest variation is what happens when I do my best and it’s not enough. When I have done everything I know how, as well as I know how, and still I am unable to protect or save or heal what I love. Just breathe in the pain of that for a moment. Feel the grief. Feel it sober you.
When I breathe that in and then shine that sobered light onto other behaviours that I might quantify as ‘my best’ a lot of them look pretty shabby. Then I have to be careful. It is very easy—with the lifetime of conditioning I have—to become harsh. To judge myself as wanting and failing—to take that energy and screw myself up to be better, to do more. This ultimately fails, producing more harshness or depression, or self-hatred. Harshness is not the answer.
Nor is blind compassion. I could look at the shabbiness of my efforts and say, well, I did my best. I made the best effort I could given the circumstances. Sounds pretty lame already doesn’t it? But let’s really do it justice: remember self, you are enough, you do enough. You are a good person. You do a lot. You work hard. You need to accept yourself just as you are now. Breathe in light, breathe out suffering. (It’s starting to get its claws in now isn’t it?) Hold the small self gently. Breathe in compassion for the one who failed. She has so much on her plate. She needs care too. (Are you entering the lotus position yet? I feel my fingers forming a mudhra as I type.) If I just seek refuge in the triple gem all will be well. I will be mindful of my failings and shortcomings…totally accepting of all that I am not. Blind compassion is not the answer. It leaves me unaccountable for my behaviour and the harm I may have done.
So what is? Well this is where we get into my favourite territory—the paradox—that beautiful quality of the Mysterious Absolute that allows many things to be true, even opposing perspectives. So, were the shabby efforts my best?—well, if I am wandering about behaving unconsciously ( oh come on! We all do it!) then yep, what I did was ‘my best’ in that moment. Now, when I regain consciousness, or finally attain it (here’s hoping, eh), I now have a new perspective. What does my response need to be? That I need to take responsibility for the newly revealed shabbiness of the behaviour. That I need to summon the courage to make amends. That I need to attend to growth. That I need to follow my sense of shame, not towards harshness or unskillful compassion, but towards integrity.
And to do that I have to sit with it, hell, to sit in the middle of the big stinking morass of it and get really intimate with it—body, mind, heart and soul. (Sounds like a whole buncha fun, doesn’t it?) You might try it. I offer you—Integrity—the wave of the future. (Yeh, sure….right….that’ll happen….)
Integrity is the answer to my best. Integrity is hard. It takes guts. It costs friends and family, lifestyles and livings. It weighs as much as absolute responsibility. And holds the keys to true freedom under a blaze of unrelenting light.
Bitter as it may be, I have developed a taste for it. And it’s doing me a lot of good.
Deep thanks to Robert Masters for encouraging me to explore this further in writing.
NB: To be clear, when I speak of blind compassion, I am not speaking against having compassion for the self, merely that that compassion needs to be grounded. Blind compassion is a term used to designate an unskillful application of compassion that uses it to avoid unpleasant realities or responsibilities rather than as an aid to facing them.