The mechanics of guilt are fascinating. The other day, sitting on the sofa, there was an urge to do the dishes. It popped out of nowhere. Before I knew it, I was on my feet, heading towards the kitchen sink, or rather, it was on its feet, without ‘me’. There was no thought in it, no choice, just effortless movement. The dishes were done, the work was completed, without any kind of struggle, without “I” being involved at all. Life took care of itself. It was pure creativity, sans creator.
When I was younger, it would have looked very different. I would have felt the creative urge, the life force trying to move in me, yet I would have sat there analysing the urge, thinking about it, trying to deny it, escape it, repress it, or talk myself out of it. The spontaneous urge would have quickly transmuted into guilt – the sense that I hadn’t listened to life, that I was trying to move against life’s natural flow, that there was a “me” separate from life itself. In a state of guilt, I would punish myself (whose self?) for not doing the dishes, and then punish others too for not living up to my standards. “Why haven’t you done the dishes?”, I would ask someone, trying to make them feel guilty, when really it was my own guilt speaking, my own denied creative life urge. I had gone against my own gut instinct. I had denied the truth of the moment.
This is a very simple, and perhaps silly, example. But this kind of thing happens all the time, in big and small ways. A fresh, spontaneous, creative urge that is held back, denied, repressed, ignored, begins to stagnate, fester, rot, solidify. It turns to guilt. Guilt is not a judgement about a “person”, it is stultified creative life energy. It is the experience of pushing life away. It is “the forgetting of God”, in the deeper sense of the word God. The guilt then moves itself into time and space, and becomes “my guilt”. I am now “the guilty one”, “the lazy one”, “the sinner”, “the worthless one”, sitting on the sofa, disengaged and detached.
Guilty over not doing the dishes, guilty over not feeding the hungry, guilty over not saving the planet, cosmically guilty over my lack of action, my lack of gratitude for existence, my receiving-without-giving-back, my harvesting-without-sacrifice. We can feel guilty about the big and the small things in life. Guilt doesn’t discriminate over the seeming size of the job.
We are conditioned to believe that it is guilt that motivates us. Actually, guilt is a lack of motivation, a stagnation. Guilt does nothing. It festers.
Sometimes we try to make others feel guilty for not doing the stuff we think they (we) should be doing. “Do the dishes!” “Save the planet” “Go feed the hungry!” “Build a hospital!”, we tell them. Of course, it is our own guilt speaking. Why are we not building a hospital in THIS moment? Why are we sitting there, just talking about action, yet in the moment being totally inactive ourselves? Go, I say! Go, live your dream! Go, now, there’s no time to waste! Do something! Don’t just talk about action, don’t just sit there trying to motivate others into action using guilt, don’t just sit there endlessly regurgitating your past achievements, live what you preach! “But I built a hospital yesterday!” Wonderful. “But I fed the sick yesterday!” Beautiful. But today is a new day. There is much more to be done. There is always much, much more to be done. What is your action NOW? Don’t just sit there talking about action, do something! Your world needs you. That is your truth, so live your own truth! NOW!
Guilt has never motivated anyone. Guilt has never done a damn thing. When you really see what’s going on, it’s clear that guilt is actually the opposite of motivation. It is stagnated, rotting creative life energy. The fresh creative urge was not honoured, it was denied, and so there was a division between ‘me’ and ‘my action’. When there is no division at all (the natural way of things), there is simply effortless action, with nobody doing it – and this is the absence of guilt, the absence of the ‘burden’ of splitting yourself from life, of pretending to be something that you are not. The universe does not need your guilt. It does not need your self-pity, nor your frustration at others lack of action – which is your own lack of action, projected. It does not need your feelings of superiority, inflated feelings about how wonderfully active you are or have been. That is all an unnecessary addition to this effortless life.
We either find ourselves doing the dishes, or totally absorbed in feeding the hungry, or out saving the pandas, building hospitals, or caring for a loved one. We have already lost ourselves in effortless action, without a story about it. This doing without doing. Doing, without a story. Doing, without a doer.
Or, we find ourselves stagnating on the sofa, feeling guilty, and lecturing at others how they should be doing more to help the world. “You don’t care!” we say to others. “You are lazy and inactive! You are doing nothing to save the world!” But whose lack of action are we really talking about in the moment? We may talk beautifully about the need to save the planet and heal the sick. But by that point, it’s all words, and we are not living what we preach in the moment.
Please don’t misunderstand – guilt a beautiful movement of life in itself, let’s not judge it either way. But it is unnecessary, and leads to suffering and inaction, and therefore is simply food for deep acceptance. For perhaps, when we have sat with our own guilt for long enough, sat with our stagnated urge to change the world, with our frustration and anger at ‘others’ who are not doing enough, met our feelings of superiority or inferiority, we may find a place of deep acceptance, a place where our guilt is deeply held, and allowed to dissolve in love. This is forgiveness at work. “The guilty one” is seen to be another dream, as is “the enlightened world saviour”. And then perhaps, creative and spontaneous action happens on its own. The universe moves to help itself – that’s all it knows. No guilt, nor trying to make others feel guilty, is ever required. And then we become living examples of what we preach to others, however we move, without ever having to prove ourselves, without the need to endlessly repeat the story of our past achievements, or making others feel guilty for their inaction. We save the universe by getting out of the way.
Don’t just sit there, do something, if that is your truth. And if you are going to just sit there, talking about others inaction (whose inaction?), constantly reminding others of your own great past works (why the need for the image?), can you find a way to deeply accept your own guilt, your own stagnation, in the moment? Facing our guilt is the key to unspeakable peace, a vibrantly alive peace inseparable from full, guilt-free engagement with life.
And without guilt, and without drama, and without any kind of need to prove yourself, life moves…