What is this blog about?

There is no such thing as an expert on the topic of Life. We all have had our battles, our suffering, and our questions. Despite the uniqueness of our personal obstacles, we have endured them. We have endured them well enough to advise those behind us as to how to do the same. I have done the research on your behalf regarding the multitude of reasons why wisdom exists. My mission is to utilize the voices of the world's greatest thinkers and heroes to compose a guideline of life's wisdom so that you don't have to experience those trials alone.

If you have any questions, please tweet them to me @JoeSielski or email me at JJSielskiJr@comcast.net

(Please title your email with the word "Wisdom" so I know it will be for this blog.)

I will do my best to try and answer every question as quickly and efficiently as possible. Thanks.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Day without Guilt

As I've made it a habit of highlighting virtues and vices on behalf of this blog, I have highlighted many thus far.   However, there is a topic that has taken me many years to identify.   This is such a common vice that it often goes unnoticed, and yet, it is lethal on our social and emotional well-being.  It's often alluded to frequently, but never outlined as a prime offender.  As anyone could deduce from the title of this post, I'm talking about guilt.  Guilt is so sinister because many behaviors for which guilt is responsible are often blamed on other origins. The deflection of its own responsibility is guilt's greatest defense.  For this reason, the guilt itself remains unscathed to continue its toxic influence.

So, what is Guilt?

According to the dictionary, guilt is when you have committed a crime or perceived offense.  However, apart from fact, guilt is also a feeling.  While guilt does occur on behalf of our legal systems, largely with the intent of public protection, I'm not here to discuss legalities.   This blog post exists to discuss the latter part of the definition, the "perceived offense."  Since I tend to be more philosophical in nature, I hope to expand the definition of guilt and stretch it to encompass the type of guilt I'm intending to describe, and counter.   The guilt I'm referencing is often the guilt that most people deny even exists, therefore this post might be difficult for many.  Although the dictionary provides a very valid and rational definition, guilt has a more nuanced definition than what the dictionary offers; especially considering that guilt is often deeply intertwined with shame.  To offer a variation:  Guilt is the perception that you have done something wrong, or caused something bad.  Guilt is the belief you have overstepped a boundary or limitation, often established by others, then inherited and reinforced by ourselves.  Therefore, it becomes the belief that you are personally responsible for something negative.  Guilt is inherited culpability.   Finally, and more specifically, guilt is the belief one must adhere to limits of other people.  And thus, guilt becomes the precursor emotional impetus behind self-sabotage.

Let's start with some groundings.  First, to understand guilt, one must understand the following concept and it's kind of heavy, so brace yourself:  When you project darkness into the mind of another, it is because you are responding to the darkness in your own.   What does that mean?  Projection is a means by which we displace negativity and bestow it to another.  This is often called "blame-shifting," and rightfully so.  And when you accuse someone or get angry, you are projecting an element of darkness onto them.  However, one must understand that when you do that, the darkness must come from somewhere.  In that moment, it came from a corner of your own mind.  What this implies is that you have dredged up negativity from within and regurgitated it on to someone else.  We do this with the intention that they experience it instead.  Despite that this can feel good...and while the ego convinces us that it does... it only reinforces the habit of fostering the negativity in yourself.  Judgment with the attempt to belittle others does not liberate you from your darkness, rather it implies that you're extending it and propagating it in someone else. You believe that through the belittlement of others, you become stronger.  This reinforces your faith in guilt.  I hope to make it evident how this habit is essential to the longevity of guilt.  I'm even aware that, as a reader, you may feel guilty that you have done this before.  I ask that you not feel guilty simply because this is the topic. This is what this essay aims to address.  

Others are establishing limitations through which you should live.   The same rule applies when you act as if to shame another because you expect them to follow your perceived limitation. You make an unspoken agreement, and also expect more of this agreement; an agreement that one must become stronger and another weaker via the affliction of guilt. Thus one must conclude that all guilt is collaborative. It is a collaborative effort upon which guilt is the result.  Someone must give and someone must receive.  Together, two individuals create guilt in the minds of both.  When you feel bad about yourself, even in private, you have collaborated with the voices of others who have bestowed their guilt onto you. Conversely, when you become angry at another, your expression of anger expects that they must feel guilty.  As a population, we have all collaborated with one another, over and over across the timeline, to manifest and maintain guilt in the community as a whole.  However, guilt does not work alone.  There is also shame.   Shame is the feeling associated with that belief that you have caused something bad.  Shame is the "feeling guilty."  Shame is usually the cause of the self-loathing attached to guilt.  However guilt is still the primary source; and shame is its pesky sidekick.  There are facets of fear which are rooted in guilt. Guilt births shame, and shame births fear… And yet, and we end up blaming the fear as the prime inhibitor and not the guilt.  So just to be able to remove one pocket of fear, really helps you to observe other facets of it elsewhere.  

Where does guilt come from?

One must understand that guilt is born of societal origins and not from individuals themselves. The perpetuation of guilt must imply that the habit of guilt is more like indoctrination than one individual expressing an opinion.  We live in a world composed of guilt, designed by guilt.  At times, it will feel like the movie, Matrix-- meaning the more guilt you identify and expose, the more you discover how pervasive it is.  And, you'll begin to see how false the world can appear once the guilty perspectives are shattered.  Guilt works in a very odd manner.   Guilt is transferred from one person to another.  In some aspects, it's like a package. In other aspects, guilt is a plague. Yet many people aren't aware that we have the option as to whether we would want to keep it or dismiss it.   We don't even realize we have this option to dismiss guilt. It simply becomes habit to accept it.  If this gets challenged, we draw back in fear.  We are anxious to examine guilt's origins.  And we believe that guilt is a force as normal as gravity.  And if you stretch this definition to communities, cultures, and across continents, eventually you'll see that this implies that guilt is ultimately the belief that humanity is the origin of evil.  Thus, guilt is the system through which we attempt to avoid evil; by projecting it.  For this reason, we have continued to pass it down, generation after generation after generation until we have consequently modified culture itself to reflect this doctrine.  Therefore, guilt remains. 

If guilt is one of the architects of culture, how does it work?    

Guilt thrives because guilt preys on one of our most fundamental emotions:  fear.  We fear so much.   We fear death.  We fear illness.  We fear poverty.  We fear one another.  We fear isolation.  We fear fear itself.  However, the longevity of guilt is maintained because we fear shame.   Remember that guilt is the belief we must adhere to an assigned template of limitations.  Remember that shame is the feeling of diminished self-worth when one suppresses themselves.  Therefore, we grow to learn that the feeling of shame is negative and thus we learn to avoid and fear it.  While growing up, we learn to fear shameful circumstances.  We fear situations that may illicit embarrassment, so we avoid them also.  At some point, we were told that we were supposed to feel that embarrassment, that shame, or that guilt.  At some point, we were once given limitations that others described for us, then ascribed to us.  In fragile states, even as impressionable children, we accepted that as truth, and so we suppress our sense of value.

How is guilt maintained?

The behavior of guilt is so entrenched in the human experience that it often goes unnoticed.   For example, when someone insults you and you feel bad about yourself, guilt has occurred.  When you get angry at a stranger in traffic, you intend that they feel guilty for something they've done, something you believe one ought to feel guilty for doing.  In that moment, guilt has occurred again.   Because guilt is entrenched in the human experience, shame is also.   We expect shame to be such a stalwart pillar of our lives that when someone doesn't feel shame when we believe they should, we will attack to ensure both guilt and shame drive down their self-worth. Guilt is established by attack.   Attack maintains guilt.  Aggressiveness is an attack.  Judgment is an attack.   Accusation is an attack.  Attack maintains guilt.  Negligence is an attack. Belittlement is an attack.  Self-deprecation is an attack.  Attack maintains guilt.  It's truly that simple, yet we over-complicate it hundredfold.  As described earlier, the 'leveling down' is part of the purpose of the attacking.  We attack what we fear.  We believe that weakens it. Think about it. Fashion is a very common avenue for this.  If a woman were to dye her hair bright blue and not feel ashamed for it, others may respond with subtly shaming words in an attempt to return her to status quo.   We are constantly attempting to discard guilt onto anyone else.  When we cannot displace guilt, we transfer it to other people.  However, the transference of guilt is not the eradication of guilt, but rather the multiplication of it.  Afterward, we deny it was ever in us at all.  And this is how guilt is maintained.  However, consider that if guilt must be maintained, then guilt must be temporal.  Guilt must have an expiration date.  This is the beginning of the end of guilt.

How do the guilty behave?

If self-worth existed along a sliding scale, whereas people could have quantifiable levels to their confidence or sense of self-worth, then this would make for the perfect metaphor for how guilt behaves...specifically how guilt can negatively impact our lives.  With this metaphor in mind, compliments can raise us up a level on this scale, and accusations can lower us.  In life, this happens at various times and it's constantly fluctuating.  Unfortunately, the act of dropping oneself down levels of self-worth soon becomes such a normalcy that the act itself ceases to get questioned, therefore guilt establishes its camouflage while hiding in plain sight.  Throughout the course of life, other factors can have a similar effect on our confidence as well.   Grief, depression, physical pain, weariness, and disappointment all have the ability to drive down our view of our self-worth.  Because of this leveling-down, we begin to act differently also.  We treat ourselves differently.   We treat others differently.   The quality of our interactions aligns to the quality of how we perceive ourselves.   By nature of believing there is a hierarchy or levels to worth at all, guilt remains present in our minds.  And by nature of this belief in guilt, our actions follow suit.  We behave in accordance to what we think we deserve.   We also behave in accordance to what we believe others deserve.  We behave so not to cross lines, specifically lines that induce shame.  In the mind of a guilt-ridden individual, shame becomes necessary when one nears too closely to a limitation.  In the mind of that same individual, self-deprecation also becomes necessary to maintain a lower level of perceived self-quality.  Thus we pursue things that continue a low perceived self-value:  substance abuse, malnutrition, abusive individuals, people that we can abuse, and ultimately suicide.  This is the danger of guilt.  We allow these things because we feel too guilty for attempting to 'level up.'  We feel guilty for calling ourselves worthy of something greater.  We maintain guilt because we want it that way.  We cherish guilt because our ego would have it so.  We self-harm because we've mistaken it for self-care.  We have convinced ourselves that there is guilt in being free, or that self-liberation is shameful.  And yet, if you stand back and catch yourself in the act of maintaining your own diminished worth, it will seem like madness!  Often we deny that this occurs, but guilt relies on this denial. It's just another way guilt is maintained.  We choose to deny because we choose to overlook the truth of guilt's presence. We prefer denial because we feel shameful to admit we have guilt in us at all.  Because we fear shame, we avoid it.  Thus we deny it.  We deny that we are participants in the whole system of guilt at all!  

How is this made evident?  It's simple.  Look around, it's everywhere!  Have you ever apologized for things you're not even accused of doing?  Have you ever witnessed others doing the same?  The culture of guilt requires that to be polite, we must inherit just enough guilt to apologize for forgivable things.  Reflect on moments when that happens.  Notice the subtle guilt.  We feel guilty for eating too many calories.  There is a negative perception is that fat is bad, therefore we shame ourselves for getting a piece of cheesecake. Guilt, being the belief that we caused something bad, causes us to shame ourselves for having fat.   Also, consider this:  Has anyone ever given you a compliment or a gift that you feel you didn't deserve?  The system of guilt, the system of selective self-oppression is evidenced also because many of us feel guilty for receiving a kind gift or compliment.  We believe we are not worthy of it.  We have the chosen to diminish ourselves to such a degree that kindness from others challenges that belittlement to where further guilt is the result.  We are expected to feel ashamed for leveling up.  We are expected to feel ashamed for embracing our self-worth.  In the eyes of the selfish ego, another person's confidence is shameful.  Therefore the attempt to acquire confidence is met with resistance.  When a person acts confidently, the guilty ones critique them.  When a person challenges any social expectation, the guilty ones rise up in anger.  When a person performs an act of charity whereas a guilty one is the recipient, the guilty one is suspicious of the motive and denies their worthiness to the act. We feel guilty due to the belief in the hierarchy of worthiness. We agree with others' limitations and therefore sabotage ourselves.  We axe away at our confidence to diminish how worthy we think we are.  We, the guilty, find ourselves unworthy of Love.  As a result, many struggle with the doubt and denial that they are worthy of anything.   

 The odd illusion is that once guilt has taken hold of our fear enough to diminish our sense of self-worth, we believe it.   Once we believe it, we accept it as reality. Once we accept it as reality, we dismiss any voice that challenges it.  Once we've reached this stage, we deny that fear was the root cause of our belittling and thus we remain attracted to this world of anxiety.  We keep ourselves diminished.  We become too afraid to blossom.  We acquiesce to mediocrity as all guilt funnels into acquiescence.  As described earlier, we become the "guilty ones."  The ones who challenge the confidence of others.  The ones who get angry and get angry that others defied our belief in limitations.  We get angry at the free-spirits.  We become the ones who actively shame ourselves via the anger of others.  Because anger holds the intention that others experience guilt, we consequently fear others.  Therefore, we also fear anger and we avoid it.  The prevention of anger in others is ultimately the avoidance of our own guilt.  We, who believe in all the limitations of the world, get angry at those who defy them, very simply out of envy.  We know our power and our capabilities, because we see it in others, yet our fear causes us to deny them; and envy becomes the next vice to maintain our guilt.  There will always be guilt if you believe that you can change others by belittling them simply because you choose to. This attraction to guilt and to fear is largely why there is an entire culture sculpted out of it. 

Often when we encounter an individual whose power and influence of compassion are so magnanimous, we feel intimidated.  Not because it's genuinely frightening,  but because there's something within us that has convinced us we are not equal to that power.  Have you ever felt guilty when someone offers encouraging words?  Because somebody wants to raise your level?  The guilt was established in you to keep you diminished.  Many people feel guilty for attempting to align with what great value they are. This is the struggle that many people face when trying to bolster their confidence.   We are threatened by a barrage of angry and deprecating opinions.  As a result, many continue to hide their successes.  Many feel as though they are actors walking around incognito, while everyone else is authentic and successful.  This mind-game has a name.  It's called the Imposter Syndrome and it is one of the most complicated results of guilt. 

The Imposter Syndrome is the belief that you are a complete fraud and everyone else is successful.  It is the feeling that you are simply acting. The Imposter Syndrome also includes the fear that someone will expose you as a fraud; the fraud you perceive yourself to be.  This is a mindset that many people have.  It's a mindset that many understand.  Unfortunately, this is a mindset that many people find themselves struggling to overcome.   It can cause a great amount of guilt.  Remember that guilt is born from the belief that one must adhere to an implied set of rules.  Due to this guilt, we are left believing that we are not putting forth enough effort, or that our effort is not quality.  Because we believe our effort is not adequate, we interpret our effort as merely trying something while we choose to believe that others are truly doing it.  Therefore, by association, we feel ashamed. 
The solution is simple, as given to us by Yoda after Luke Skywalker said he would try to use the force:  "No! Try not!  Do or do not.  There is no try."  The fundamental belief of the Imposter Syndrome is that we believe we are only trying whereas others are actually doing.  This is the origin of the fraudulent-focused worrying.  This is the catalyst for most of the guilt. It is crucial to be able to identify this self-sabotaging headspace.  The Imposter Syndrome is simply the desire to compare yourself to others and to deprecate yourself for it.  Essentially, it's the opposite of being over-confident.  The inner critic taunts us:  "Why am I here?"   "They're all doing it and I'm not, I should just stop!"  This is why Yoda challenged Luke's reluctance. Try implies more than an expectation to fail. Try implies the expectation to quit. Try implies an incomplete mission. The process of climbing a mountain is still climbing a mountain, whether or not you tried it or did it entirely. Yes, if you stop climbing, you've tried. Maybe your "try" attempt is the farthest you've ever gone. Wouldn't that be part of the path to success? The difference between Try and Do is your spirit of conviction.

In the eyes of the Imposter Syndrome,  you compare yourself to the ideals of success and belittle yourself every step that isn't the finish line; and fully ignore that each step is a contribution to the goal.  The imposter syndrome believes that if a step isn't the final step, then it should be critiqued for not being the successful one that crosses the threshold.  For that reason, every non-winning step feels like a disappointment... that's the Try. And therefore, every act that does not directly result in success feels like a fraud; and thus the Imposter Syndrome manifests. It evaluates all behavior based on effort, quality, success, and experience.   Therefore, if you compare yourself against someone who you deem to have higher quality effort or more experience with successes, you feel ashamed for not being equal to it.  Remember the reference to envy just a moment ago?  This is it again.  Guilt is the belief that you must adhere to a template of expectations.  The Imposter Syndrome envies that others have somehow escaped those limitations, and as a result, shames oneself for not having overcome them yet.  The Imposter Syndrome exists in this essay on guilt because it represents something quite revealing about the nature of guilt.  It stands as evidence that guilt is inherited and used against us, by choice.

Ok, but now what?

In the solution for the Imposter Syndrome lies elements of the solution for Guilt itself.  With guilt now having been unearthed and examined, what remains is the decision to ascend.  Let us do that now.  In this world, there are only two forms of motivation:  the avoidance of guilt and the pursuit of dignity.  That's it.  However, in regard to the ascension of worth, the pursuit of dignity is the only motivator to achieve goals.  How does it work?  Motivated journeys often begin because someone is avoiding something negative.  For example, we can initiate a fitness journey by distancing ourselves from feelings of shame associated with fat.  Remember that even moments where we avoid embarrassing situations is still the avoidance of guilt.  Avoiding guilt is simply a way we redirect our paths. This is very common and has been the catalyst for many great moments of change and self-improvement. Most new motivations start as one repelling against their guilt.  If you need to start something new, if you need to change your habits, this is a fantastic platform to initiate your journey.  But it does come with a catch.   You see, there is a reason why dignity works and repelling guilt doesn't.  If you repel guilt only, then it can only get you so far. By only avoiding shameful sources, then you are more prone to float in an ambiguous middle zone.  You get stuck in this field where you know you don't want to return to where you began, but you haven't yet decided where you want to go.  You truly get stuck in mediocrity.   Many have found themselves in this zone.  Many have also been frustrated by this zone because avoiding guilt doesn't imply success.  This is because they have not yet decided to take the next step and face the finish line.  When you choose to uphold your dignity, then you have identified a goal and you know where you're headed.  Finally the journey gains focus and you can shift your mindset onto one that seeks confidence and self-efficacy.   We develop goals.  We focus effort and aim for reasons to feel proud of ourselves, not prideful or boastful; simply proud of what we've achieved.  Proud for knowing you've done something noble.  Fortunately, many use confidence as a motivation from the onset and their path is often more clearly defined.

This is an essay on learning to live a life without guilt.  Guilt happens.  We have all experienced it.  Guilt is an act of psychological vandalism.  Hopefully, the preceding paragraphs have helped you to extrapolate how to apply this to your routine.  But this is the part of the essay where we cease to avoid guilt, and focus on something better. The next logical step becomes 'How do I eliminate guilt?' As the invasive weed that guilt is, you sever the root and the remainder dies.  Eliminating the burdens of guilt, comes down to 3 core concepts: compassion, forgiveness, and dignity.  To begin, remind yourself that guilt is collaborative.  We have the potential to both receive and produce it.  Notice the prefix "com" in the word "compassion," it means together. Therefore compassion is the understanding that you share the elements of passion with others. However, to fully understand compassion, one not only must understand your shared joys, but also shared suffering. In truth, the real definition of compassion is the awareness that the suffering of others is equal to your own, and from the Buddhist texts: "the desire that all sentient beings are freed from suffering." The Buddha is also quoted in saying: "If your compassion does not include yourself, then it is incomplete."  In other words: Be kind to yourself.  Acknowledging that others experience guilt, you learn compassion.  By understanding that you could be a factor for whether others feel guilt, you learn compassion.  By understanding that you could cause yourself to feel guilty, you can develop self-compassion.  Compassion is the awareness that others experience suffering and that their suffering is equal to your own. 

In regard to Forgiveness, being that I've written about forgiveness thoroughly throughout this blog, I will offer a link instead. [see below]  However, one thing I would like to add is the following:  If you consider that when you project darkness into the mind of another, it is because you are responding to darkness in your own mind.  Then consider it must also be true that to ignite light in others, it must come from a moment of light in yourself.  Therefore, it must be concluded that to forgive others for their darkness is to forgive yourself for the same, which is why it is often commonly stated that all forgiveness is self-forgiveness.  Forgiving yourself of your own guilt is no different.   I have stated before that forgiveness is a realignment with Love and a reunion with peace.  This realignment with Love is the recognition of light in both you and others.  The reunion with Peace is the humble acceptance that you are deserving of peace, and that for you to be at peace, you must allow others to be also.  Through compassion's influence, the peace of others is equal to your own.  You are worthy of peace and not guilt.

Forgiveness TEDx Talk

A Day for Forgiveness

This brings us to the pursuit of dignity. To see dignity as a goal, you must identify that it is a goal.  If you run a marathon, do you run towards the finish line or to a random car in the parking lot?  The simplicity of acknowledging that you have worth and value is that you know what direction to align your focus.  When researching dignity for this post,  I found the dictionary's definition to be best:  The state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect. That's it.  That's the goal, to reach that state where we understand we are worthy of honor and respect.  Through guilt, we have been robbed of that belief.  Through guilt, we let others convince us that we are not enough.  Through guilt, we have allowed ourselves to be stripped of worth, of respect, of honor, and of dignity.  “Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.”  [Aristotle]  You are so deserving of goodness and only goodness.  You are deserving of Love.  You are worthy of Love.  Your self-worth is as great as you can imagine it to be, and any objection is guilt at work.  Your worth is equal to anyone's.  Honoring your dignity is honoring the dignity of others. The nature of compassion implies that if suffering is equal, then worth is also.  If worth is universally equal, then kings and paupers are equal as well.  There may always be a voice within that says "But wait! What about!"... this is the voice of guilt demanding someone's level be lowered.  Be aware of that.   Thus it bears repeating:  Your self-worth is as great as you can imagine it to be, and any objection is guilt at work.  Be aware of the moments when all the guilt that has ever touched you will attempt to limit you.  It will attempt to shrink you.  It will attempt to intimidate you to cower yourself small again.   Take a moment to stand back, free of that feeling.   Examine it.  Once you realize that you gave guilt its power, you will be released from it.  

One of the most inspirational quotes written on this topic comes from the fingertips of Marianne Williamson:  "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."  The fear she describes is that we've never envisioned ourselves limitless.   The societal infrastructure of guilt has established such limits that even when we try to image ourselves limitless, we fear it.  We fear what's beyond the fences.  Thus it becomes our responsibility to uphold our dignity.  It becomes our responsibility to release guilt, shame, and fear.   It becomes our responsibility to shine from within and extend that light.  It becomes our responsibility to be compassionate, to forgive, and to ascend to meet our dignity.   If guilt ever arises, be kind to others, forgive them, and welcome them back to their dignity.  The same must also apply to you. 

If guilt has always been brought to us and we gave it power to limit us, who are we really?

Take a moment to see yourself unscathed by guilt.  There you are, free from limitation.   There you are, free from embarrassment.  There you are, free from shame.  There you are, free to act in Love. There you are, free. You are at peace.  You are powerful.  You are humble.  Your humility is no longer synonymous with the belittling of yourself, but your humility is the result of your power to choose to uphold the dignity of those who misplaced theirs.  As a being unscathed by guilt, what remains is the awareness to your innocence, your unconditional innocence.   No matter the accusation, no guilt has ever touched you unless you decided it should.  No matter the condition, your innocence has radiated within you, truly unscathed by guilt.  Look around.  What is in you is equal in all.  Witness the unconditional innocence in others.  Notice how unscathed they have always been, yet have chosen to limit themselves with the burdens of guilt.   See the Love radiating out of them.  It is as unconditional in them as it is in you.   You are worthy of this experience.  When you can witness the world through your lens that filters guilt, you will see only beauty.  You no longer see accusation, it will simply become a voice, frightened by limitless Love, attempting to vandalize your potential.  Your response: compassion, forgiveness, and the humility to return their dignity to them.   And I hope this essay has done the same for you. 

You are loved.
Thank you for your time.
Joe Sielski
June 10, 2017

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