To make spiritual progress, certain qualities are indispensable. It is not enough to buy a few books and find the right spiritual path. You can surround yourself with the best wisdom and enlightened souls, but if we cling to our pride, stubbornness or a distorted view of reality, our progress can be worse than useless.
These are some Qualities essential for Self Improvement.
Honesty With Yourself.
There is a saying ‘The Truth Hurts’. In one sense the truth will hurt our ego or pride. But, to make progress it is essential we can be honest with ourselves. This means we are perfectly clear on our own inner motives. We may be able to fool other people we are acting selflessly, we may even be able to fool ourselves, but, if we can fool ourselves how can we make progress?
“Try to make yourself honest. If you become honest, then rest assured there will be one rascal less in the world.”
– Thomas Carlyle
For example, maybe we are unhappy with someone close to us. If we are honest, we will recognise that part of us is jealous of their success and / or feel insecure that we are no longer so valuable. However, the nature of our mind is that we tend to ignore our own emotions of jealousy and concentrate on justifying why they are bad and holding us back. We might not like to admit we are jealous because we know we shouldn’t harbour such feelings. But, until we admit we are feeling jealous we will be unable to overcome it.
Don’t Practise Endless Self-Justification
Self Justification is an almost endless habit of human nature. It stems from the desire to protect our status, social recognition and ego. When things are going wrong, we try to blame other people, external situations, anything but take responsibility for our own mistakes or wrong attitude.
If there is a real misunderstanding, then clearing it up can be helpful. The problem comes when we expend so much energy on justifying our wrong actions we almost come to believe we haven’t done anything wrong and so we effectively perpetuate our wrong attitudes and thoughts.
I am at once a fool and a rogue
When I blame others
For my own misdeeds.
– Sri Chinmoy (1)
This is closely related to being honest with ourselves.
Willingness to Change.
The nature of the mind is that it always likes to think it is right. Whatever idea / thoughts come into the mind, we always think we are right and everyone else is wrong. This can also breed a sense of self-righteousness and moral superiority.
We have to be very careful with out mental judgements. When we judge a situation or other people, we have to be aware we are only seeing part of the situation / part of the problem. The mind latches onto a few mistakes, but we need to remember the good qualities of the person. If we use our heart more we would be much less judgemental.
We also have to bear in mind, we may be wrong, or at least partly wrong. And where we are wrong, we have to be willing to change. To cling to misplaced ideas just because we don’t like to admit we are wrong, may have a place in the political world, but, in the spiritual world, it is just self-defeating.
“The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.”
Be Careful of the Ego.
One of the main aspects of self-improvement is diminishing the importance of our egoism. At the start we cannot eliminate our ego completely. But, we can be aware of the ego’s demands for name and fame. We try to be less influenced by the ego and be more humble. But, the ego is tricky, instead of being proud of worldly accomplishments, the ego can subtly become proud of its spiritual achievements – ‘O how spiritual I am! We may not say it outwardly, but, part of us is feeling that. In a way a the spiritual ego is much worse than an ordinary ego. When we become proud of our spirituality / religion, we become self-righteousness with a subtle feeling of moral superiority. We have to be very careful of the ego’s emotions and intentions and make sure it doesn’t sneak in an unexpected guise.
Patience and Persistence.
For thousands of years, man has been trying to perfect his human nature. Some spiritual paths suggest the cycle of perfection can take hundreds or thousands of human incarnations. Whether we believe in reincarnation or not, we have to admit that transforming human nature is a long and gradual path. Of course, it is not all difficulty and problems; it can be very rewarding to make progress, but at the same time we have to have patience and a steady perseverance. There is nothing to be gained by an impatient desire to expect instant perfection.
When we are happy we can make progress. If we cling to unhappiness and dissatisfaction, progress will remain a far cry. Cheerfulness requires a good balance in life. It involves having a childlike attitude. Sometimes, part of us feels attracted to suffering; we subtly hold onto a feeling of being wronged, suffering. This can be very pervasive and difficult to get rid of. But, we need to be cheerful.
“For joy and not for sorrow earth was made.”
– Sri Aurobindo, Savitri
(1) Excerpt from Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 222 by Sri Chinmoy