I, about age 14, Gary my cousin, two years older. My aunt, Martha, uncle, Leonard, and their son, Byron, lived in Jacksonville, FL, we in Georgia some two hours north. Gary and I visited Byron for a couple of weeks. I learned my first lesson in guiltless guilt.
* * *
Guilt was a big part of my upbringing in home and church. I was reared on a "God" always keeping watch over me. He was stern. He would punish me, if I did not live up to his ideals, his commands. I must obey, without any questions. I was guilty if this "God" said I was. I was to accept the punishment, even if I did not seem, to me, to be in the wrong. So, no defense. Also, so with my parents. If I contested innocence, I was guilty of challenging the guilt assigned me by the parent ~ guilt on guilt. I was simply to be quiet, accept the verdict, or I might be punished for challenging. "God" and parent were always right, regardless. If I thought differently, I was always wrong, period. I grew up not only to see myself in the polarity of "guilty-or-not-guilty," I came to see others the same way.
Of course, I, as all children, was not born this way. I was taught this way; I, later, as a religious leader, taught others this way. And, like my parents, I was only doing what I had concluded was right. Knowing that helps me not blame them, or myself. We all act, to a degree, and hurtfully from ignorance, even when we are so certain we know the truth.
* * *
The sense of guilt got bone-deep in me. For many years, even well into adulthood, I seemed to need to feel guilty, even suffering the suffering of guilt when disagreeing with someone else. I tended to apologize, to take the blame, feeling someone must do so, assuming if someone was guilty, I must be the one. This is not common sense, this is nonsense. One does not necessarily choose this, it happens, like a sneeze or a fart or getting hungry or laughter or sadness or sexual arousal or yelling if stung by a bubble bee.
* * *
Byron, Gary, and I went to a curb store to get something to drink. We were out biking. Placing our bikes on their stands outside, we walked into the store and up to the cooler with drinks. I saw a drink labeled Apple Beer - had never heard of it, have not since. I was taught by family and church that drinking beer is wrong, sinful, even one sip would mean guilty. I inquired about the nature of the drink. Byron and Gary convinced me Apple Beer was a soda pop, not beer. I bought it. I drank it. Then, they laughingly told me it was beer. I concluded I had violated my moral and religious convictions, had betrayed my "God," my parents, myself. I was guilty, case closed, no appeal. I felt guilty, to the cartilage, sinew, and marrow.
For days I carried around this sense and perception of "Guilty as charged!" Some would say I walked around as guilt. The guilt clung to me like adhesive tape wrapping itself tightly around my heart, choking the joy and love out ~ see, the feeling of guilt includes an intense self-focus. I could not escape. Guilt had me, it seemed, rather than I having guilt.
* * *
See, when a hurtful feeling arises and we cannot escape it, that is saying, "You don't have me, I've got you." If we examine closely, we may see the feeling arose without our choosing it; certainly, after being told I had drunk beer, there was no point at which I decided to feel guilty. Also, we may notice when an afflictive feeling appears present, the feeling is not always present. The feeling arises when we are reminded of what we did or the reminder, as a thought, keeps arising without our consent. Then, we are guilty again. Yet, were we guilty when we were not feeling guilty? And, if we examine the goings and comings of guilt, do we find anything we could call guilt? Or, is guilt only a relative experience that comes and goes, largely, if not completely, outside our conscious control? I could claim a guilty feeling about the supposed drinking of beer kept coming and going, but there was no guilt I could locate, for there was no guilt ~ no one has ever found guilt, no one can point at anything and say, "That is guilt. See?".
After days of suffering the guilt feeling, I went to my aunt alone. I told her of my drinking beer. This was a sincere, heart-felt confession. I was seeking a feeling of forgiveness. I was in the confessional with Priestess Martha. I was contrite, as confession must be. She, kindly, informed me all was well, the Apple Beer was not beer. I did not need guilt, confession, or forgiveness. Apple beer being beer was a total illusion, and those days and nights prior were feelings about nothing real-at-all. Then, suddenly, the burden of guilt was gone, without my consent. The sense of innocence returned as spontaneously as had the feeling of guilt. I was relieved without my asking for relief. I had not betrayed my "God," my parents, myself. Wonderful! I do not know where the guilt went, for it went nowhere, even as it came from nowhere. Guilt does not exists as a thing a something; guilt feelings are purely subjective.
Guilt is simply another feeling, an experience, that can arise and dissolve back into the Ground from which all arises and dissolves. This is so for all feelings, even the feeling of innocence.
* * *
I used the above example from my life to point to this insubstantial thing we call guilt. And, like in that sample, if we look closely, guilt is simply a relative sensation based on many factors prior. If one looks to find guilt, guilt is not there. Even a judge and jury can decide a criminal is guilty, but where is the guilt? We know many have been declared innocent after years of living under the sentence of guilty. Was she or he ever innocent, really? Ever really guilty? Where is innocent? Guilty? Again, a simple example pointing to how insubstantial, socially-constructed the opposites of guilt and innocence are. And, in one moment, a shift in the weather triggering a shift in the brain can bury sadness and resurrect happiness. Interesting.
* * *
Part of spiritual awakening is this seeing into the ephemerality of feelings, pleasant and unpleasant. We learn to appreciate and be-with the arising and dissolving of feelings. Peace arises, not in pushing unpleasant feelings away, trying to avoid them, thinking they are bad, but experiencing them as an experience, like a cloud passing in the sky or a smile appearing and disappearing on a face. And, if for some reason, peace simply does not arise, that is an experience, and we learn to be-with unpeace, and unpeace becomes okay to us. Yet, peace can be referred to as that quiet bliss of natural presence, the contentment of being that shines forth when we live in communion with life as it appears to us, the thisness of even that illusion of guilt. Then, guilt is not a problem, simply a happening in peace.
* * *
So, one could ask, "What can I do when I feel captivated by an unpleasant feeling ~ like you did about the Apple Beer non-beer?" I would urge to consider quietly looking at it, observing. Inquire into its nature. Ask questions of it. Do not push the feeling away, I recommend. Yet, if trying to push the feeling away arises, that is okay, see into that, too. We are being receptive to befriend the feeling, not see it as enemy. No feeling is out there coming to you to hurt you. Feelings come, go, for many reasons. We are acting in kindness toward the suffering and are, thereby, learning more about compassion.
And, yes, doing may include other actions outside of direct observation or inquiry, like getting counseling or spiritual guidance, or taking prescription medication, or praying to your God, ... These, too, are experiences; if helpful, good. And, by doing something else, that may make it more likely for you to be able to observe or inquire, or both.
I do not want to be puritanical about this matter, like, "Well, just be-with it, and it will go away, or you are not acting mature spiritually?" I have been where I got a lot of help from counseling and medication, and, once, such help may have saved my life. Years later, I am growing into realizing more the power of being-with, being intimate with in quiet observation, whatever feeling arises. I do not feel, as once, the persistent need to try to shut out emotional pain. This does not mean I enjoy such suffering. And, being human, I have moments of feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed, captivated by emotional pain. But, now, I can see that, when before I could not. Now, the suffering does not spin out into a long drawn-out drama. I have found that by being-with in respect, suffering is lessened, not increased. So, we suffer less by learning not to take suffering as seriously, by befriending the pain. What we befriend, becomes a friend. Love transforms everything.
*The vision statement for Lotus of the Heart is Living in Love beyond Beliefs. These presentations, inclusive in nature, are invitations for persons to explore for himself or herself. Brian does not claim to have answers or the Truth for anyone. He provides pointers to Truth, so as to inspire others on his or her own journey of Truth, to compassionate living with Earth and all creatures sharing this planet.
*All material, unless another source is cited, is authored by the presenter of Lotus of Heart, Brian Kenneth Wilcox, Florida USA. Use of the material is permitted; Brian only requests that credit be given and to be notified at email@example.com . Also, for spiritual guidance via phone, Skype, or in-person, Brian can be contacted via the above email.
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union, is available through major booksellers.
*Move cursor over pictures for photographer and title.
The Sacred in Me bows
to the Sacred in You