Becoming More Awake, Enlightened, and Conscientious
We do not become enlightened by avoiding what is unpleasant and difficult to look at and acknowledge about ourselves; rather we become enlightened by becoming more honest and aware of our own weaknesses and darkness.
As Jung put it (paraphrasing): “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter alternative, however, is extremely disagreeable and difficult and therefore very unpopular.”
Genuine personal development and growth requires courage—real courage—real moral courage. It takes incredible grit and inner resolve to genuinely transform oneself, fess up to and face our own fears and anxieties, and cease the nonsense of habitually and unconsciously always reflexively acting out on them and loosing them upon others and the world.
Personal growth is a moral issue. How much we will grow as persons is inexorably tied not only to our level of thinking and the amount of clarity we have (“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”—Einstein), it is also inexorably tied to our level of moral development—how refined and developed our conscience is. If we are underdeveloped or too conventional morally, we will lack the internal impetus that will prompt us to become the best or near-best version of ourselves that we can be.
So much so-called “personal growth” and so many so-called “gurus” and “life-coaches” and self-help authors ignore this fact and try to affect deep and lasting change without addressing their client’s or student’s or readership’s level of moral development and personal integrity and trying to increase this.
Which is why the change is always short-lived and superficial and never sticks.
Unless a person changes deeply and fundamentally morally and in terms of their level of conscience, a person will not be able to grow deeply and fundamentally as a person. Everything will be water down the drain—seed thrown on rocky arid soil.
“Absolutely Clear” – Hafiz
Don’t surrender your loneliness
Let it cut more deeply into you.
Let it ferment and season you as few
human or divine ingredients can. . . .
Something’s missing in my heart tonight
and that something has made
my eyes so soft,
my voice more tender,
and my need of God
Suffering some sort of personal loss or setback is just the beginning. It is only the first impetus for us to either awaken or to dig in and try to entrench ourselves even more deeply and fervently in a life of even greater avoidance and escapism and comfort.
We need some sort of pain to get us off our butts and off our buts. It is essential. We need some sort of personal setback or tragedy to rouse and jar us from our respective dogmatic slumbers. We need some sort of personal loss or some great defeat to get us off the sidelines and get us into the game and start living more passionately, honestly, sincerely, and authentically.
As Rumi put it: “Organs and capacities respond to necessity, so therefore increase your necessity.” Without the impetus of great psychological pain we would just stay content in wasting away in our respective little comfort zones, craving more and more comforts and pleasures and escapes and distractions.
So some sort of pain or great loss is the essential and inescapable first step.
The second and equally inescapable and essential step is developing our conscience.
Without the accompanying awakening and development of our conscience and taking our level of moral development to the next level (Kohlberg’s stages 5 and 6 of moral development), we will never grow as persons. We will never increase in the virtue, increase in integrity, increase in courage, increase in patience and endurance and perseverance. We will never develop a genuine inner work ethic.
As James Hollis put it—paraphrasing:
“The capacity for personal growth depends on one’s ability to internalize and to take personal responsibility. If we forever scapegoat, blame others, see our life as a problem caused by others, no change will occur. If we are deficient in courage, no real growth can occur. As Jung wrote:
‘[Personal growth] consists of three parts: insight, endurance, and action. Psychology is needed only in the first part, but in the second and third parts moral strength plays the predominant role. . . . The Shadow side of ourselves represents a moral problem that challenges the whole of the ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the Shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark and anxious aspects of the personality as present and real.’
“What is not made conscious in us will continue to haunt our lives—and the world. The tendency for each of us to privilege our own position, be biased in favor of ourselves, fail to see consequences, and be unaware of hidden motives, is fundamental in us each. It takes a strong sense of self and a lot of courage to be able to examine and take responsibility for the darker parts of ourselves when they turn up. It is much, much easier to deny, scapegoat, blame others, project elsewhere, absolve ourselves, and or just bury it and keep on rolling.
“It is these moments of human frailty and inner stress and strain when we are most dangerous to ourselves, our families, our society.
“Examining this material when it comes up (or soon after it does) is an act of great moral importance, for it brings the possibility of lifting our stuff off of others, which is surely the most ethical and useful thing we can do for those around us.
“What do we each the owe the world? Simple: respect, ethical behavior, and the gift of one’s own best self.
“Our capacity to deliver on this—as well as our quality of life—will ultimately be a direct function of the level of awareness and moral courage and clarity we bring to our daily choices.”
Amen to that.