Self-acceptance 4 – living the life of others


Thinking for oneself

How much are our thoughts, principles, tastes and convictions borrowed from others? It usually turns out that everything we might think is ‘ours’ turns out to be commonplace inherited routine. ‘There is little of me in me’ as Carlos Valles wrote in his book ‘Courage to be Myself’ – this is about being a second-hand person. Our ideas and tastes are often culturally dependent and inherited – even our reactions are formed through careful training. Clearly no child is brought up without influence and is taught a way of life and a language; trained in moral behaviour and how to be with and relate to others. We all have to learn to be a person, have to be given certain universal foundations to function and cultural and social pointers about how to live in the world.

The Indian philosopher Krishnamurti wrote:

‘For centuries we have been spoon-fed by our teachers, by our authorities, by our books, our saints. We say, “Tell me all about it – what lies beyond the hills and the mountains and the earth?” and we are satisfied with their descriptions, which means that we live on words and our life is shallow and empty. We are second-hand people. We have lived on what we have been told, either guided by our inclinations, our tendencies, or compelled to accept by circumstances and environment … To be free of all authority, of your own and that of another, is to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigour and passion…’

To separate one’s own thoughts from those we have been conditioned to believe is one of the things that can happen in therapy and spiritual direction. ‘What are you feeling?’ ‘What do you want?’ And sometimes the answer is ‘I don’t know’, but potentially there is the space to discover.

Valles recounts an experience when he was approached by the leader of a religious group –who praised Valles – saying he was close to God but in order to become a fully enlightened person this person wanted to suggest to Valles one more thing. The man said:

“I feel moved by the Lord to propose it to you … all you have to do is to recite after me the sacred formula I will pronounce and bow at the name of the guru, and wear always round your neck this locket with his picture … this step I firmly believe is God’s will to you.”

Valles whilst respecting the man’s sincerity rejected the offer, and the man was disappointed. Valles felt suppressed anger:

‘If this is all religion has to offer, I thought, no wonder we are in crisis, and indifference grows all around us. Repeat the words and tie carefully the thread. That is all you need. …Bow your head. Surrender your mind. Someone has done all the thinking for you, and all you need now is to repeat what you are told. If that is enlightenment, there’s not much light in it, and, if that is religion, it is a very sorry religion.’

It’s our own experiences that can help shape our thinking …