When we internalize shame and let it fester it can manifest externally as maladaptive and unhealthy emotional and behavior patterns. It becomes especially difficult to realize the nature of those patterns whenever society has normalized them, which raises questions on how certain socio-economic and consumer models of society devalue and hurt the human spirit. When they are valorized, perhaps it could be argued that they encourage a sort of sociopathy because in order to cope with the entrenched trauma rather than resolving it we have to numb ourselves, doing whatever it takes to succeed.
In order to vanquish our deeply entrenched sense of shame, what we call internalized toxic shame, we must be able to accept it. But in order to accept it we need the key that allows for the cognitive opening that can process it and organize it, ultimately resolving it. This key is Gratitude. Gratitude in an ultimate sense in terms of the foundation of our Being manifests in us being grateful in a particular sense relating to life experiences. So the gratitude for our various life experiences arises out of a paradigm based on that foundational state of Gratitude.
This paradigm shift happens through the practice of Detachment from the material world and attachment to the spiritual dimension of our Being in which we acquire a sort of experiential relationship with our Essence. So what is happening on a deeper level is first that there is a change in our own Essence that causes to arise a state of Gratitude, and secondly there is a mental paradigm shift that starts to assemble the world of phenomena and its events differently in the awareness of the Mind based on that state of Gratitude. The emotional effect from this change in how we perceive ourselves and also events is what gratitude feels like. It starts to flow out of that event, uncovering wisdom and lessons. An event in life is amoral, neutral, neither good nor bad. It just is. It is the Mind that determines its nature as an experience, and thus that feeling of gratitude is emanating from our own Essence.
Each painful event in life that we relive in our mind because of shame can be a means to confronting the source of shame in our Heart. Rumi says “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” When we are able to look at something that we did or that happened to us that makes us feel deeply ashamed, with the Eye of Gratitude then we will be able to move passed that event. To move passed it does not mean to forget about it or to pretend that it never happened. No matter what, it plays a role in who we are today and who we can become in the future. In some way, it is related to our Higher Self, it hints at it. And so by processing each and every one of our traumatic experiences we come closer to becoming that Higher and better version of our Self. And when we start to express that in the world, we are manifesting it, we are materializing it.
Gratitude means to sever attachment to traumatic and shameful experiences and their associated forms and images by perceiving the spiritual reality behind them. Gratitude transforms the nature of our experiences. It changes what an event means to us. It reverses it, it transmutes it. To transform the nature of a thing, its essence must be changed. Changing the essence of an experience requires our paradigm to shift. We perceive the world through a paradigm, and so for our paradigm to shift we must attain knowledge of our Essence.
The Spell of Mara – Devaluation and Shame
Shame is an internal condition, a state of the Soul. It arises out of the inversion of the concept of Love from an unconditional one to a conditional one. And with Love being conditional, we search for it outside ourselves, and thus it inverts the orientation of the Mind’s eye away from the Beauty of the Soul. Ignorant of our internal Beauty, we exist in a state of ugliness, of abandonment, of resentment, of deprivation. These are किलेस (Kilesa in Pali – Mental Defilements, unwholesome Mind-States), and they are the effects of falling under Māra’s spell, for “Mara threatens not by withholding the seasonal rains but by withholding or obscuring the knowledge of Truth.” What this means is that abundance and deprivation are internal states based on knowledge of Truth or ignorance of Truth; even if we are given all material provisions, the seasonal rains, if we exist in a state of deprivation due to ignorance then we will feel like we have nothing. And feeling like we have nothing, we will always suffer, we will always feel the shame of abandonment, causing us to neurotically grasp at validation from the world in an attempt to end our suffering. This is the foundation of the paradigm of the Devalued Self. And so, shame causes us to interpret experiences in a way that validates that internal state of deprivation, and thus, is reflected in that event. Our internal psycho-spiritual state, how we perceive our own Essence, forms the essence of the nature of our experiences and of phenomena. Now that event, when it arises even in our memory, makes us feel ashamed because we are experiencing ourselves in it. We are experiencing what is familiar, and so we develop this sick sense of comfort in seeing things negatively. This is how we develop a victim identity and confine ourselves to self-limiting comfort zones within prisons of fear.
Can the current power level of our Eye of Gratitude see through the illusion of abandonment and devaluation that Māra has cast over us through this event, through this person, through this attachment? Most likely not. The Buddha had prevailed because he had mastered his Mind, he had learned how to restrain it and how to cultivate from within an overpowering sense of gratitude and abundance. The illusions failed to devalue him to the material sphere of Being, to make him full of किलेस such as fear and anger and covetousness. We are not near that level, but we can strengthen the power of our gratitude in relation to the event by weakening the significance of the event in our life on an existential level.
To do this we must practice Detachment. Easier said than done, and I do plan on writing some techniques on this. To summarize this practice however, I would say it is to perceive all phenomena as impermanent, as illusory, to apprehend their true nature and essence of Nothingness, as lacking inherent existence or reality. It is a non-essence. That includes not only the image and memory described by sight and sound and tactile sensation, but also the thought itself, and even the feeling itself. This is experienced, and so description can only do so much. What does that mean to you? How does it affect you to try to perceive the non-essence of everything that comes into your five senses? These are loaded concepts no doubt that we have filled in with our subconscious conditioned prejudices about the essential nature of the world and of language, but dwell upon them in the context of this article and see what insights arise from within you. We must weaken our attachment to those images of pain, to those illusions that have sway over us. In my personal experience, I find that it lessens my sense of investment in the world, my sense of need for people and things, and places me into a greater state of abundance and a sense of being grounded in my own Reality and Value. It is something that nobody and nothing can give to another. It is when we think another person or a thing, a status or a career, can give this to us that we become enslaved to it.
As our attachments weaken we enter into a state of silence. In silence we become aware of our own sense of Reality. To be aware of our sense of Reality is to dwell within a state of Pure Consciousness, unhindered by distractions, images, attachments. The Buddha said “Silence is an empty space. Space is the home of the Awakened Mind.” As the Mind awakens we start to know our Self, we start to feel the presence of our Self, we become aware of our Essence that is beyond Self as separate from mental fabrications and phenomena. You acquire demonstrative experience that this event, person, situation, whatever it might be that had sway over you does not existentially define you. It is separate. And in relation to your Pure Consciousness, they are illusory mental concepts. And when you dwell within that state, you will feel a sense of completion, a sense of home. A path opens up. The key word here is path, for it is not the end of the journey.
This is the beginning of wisdom, and it teaches us the Universal Principle of Wisdom upon which all other wisdom arises; that you are greater than this event, and this teaches us experientially the transcendent nature of the human spirit. This strengthens within us the concept of the enduring sense of self, to use Eriksonian terminology of the self, that we exist regardless of how someone, something, society through its expectations, whatever it might be, has attempted to devalue us. It teaches us true confidence, that no matter what happens, I am here and I know how to return home.
There arises from within a strong sense of gratitude after experiencing the state of Pure Consciousness. When we realize that it is coming from within then we realize that gratitude is inherent to us. This positive emotion and state is inherent to us. And by dwelling within that state with mindfulness, we can grow our power of gratitude and condition our bodies in that direction to let go of its stored trauma. We will be able to breath easier, stand up straighter, and walk with confidence and strength. And when it becomes internalized then it will form the basis of our sense of Self. Our paradigm will start to shift in a way that reflects this state of Gratitude.
The Mind will automatically start to create healthy and positive narratives to frame our traumatic experiences with. The Eye of Gratitude opens and we will start to perceive the wisdom hidden in our traumatic experiences. And as we start to feel gratitude for those particular lessons, our capacity for gratitude will also expand. We now have the tools to be able to confront our traumas, and so, we will not shy away from confronting them. Gratitude is a Mind-State. It does not necessarily mean that we are thankful that we felt hurt. It means that we are aware that it has been the means by which The Divine has caused us to transcend our initial injured state. We see passed that person, that event, that situation. We don’t look at them, we look at God from within our Soul, through the dimension of our Essence.
The Mind-State of Gratitude
Gratitude, unlike shame, is an internal condition that arises out of an understanding of Love as an unconditional concept causing us to exist in a state of abundance. When that is internalized, we have the power to perceive events in life as having a purpose that is meant to benefit us. Materially, yes there is pain and loss. But is material pain and loss everything? That answer depends on our paradigm. The nature of the universe is loss. From another perspective, it has already vanished. But, if Love is unconditional, and if Love is the Essence of the Soul, then our Essence exists transcendentally and unconditionally. It is not conditional on the material, only our bodies are, which pertains to mental phenomena. Gratitude arises out of a cosmic paradigm that perceives purpose beyond the scope of the material universe. We feel a sense of transcendence in relation to the material world. It transforms painful events in life from experiences of suffering into experiences of growth, into lessons, into tests that are meant to push the human spirit higher and higher. This has manifestations in the material world in the form of strength of character shown in our capacity for true empathy and selflessness. As his last challenge to Siddhartha, Māra says, “Get up from this seat [of Enlightenment], Siddhartha. That seat does not belong to you, it belongs to me.” Siddhartha responds, “You are not striving for the welfare of the world, or for Enlightenment. This seat belongs to me.”
I am reminded of a quote by Rumi, which expresses perhaps among the highest narratives from the highest of paradigms. He says “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” This paradigm allows us to see people from a cosmic perspective, one that sees them without malice or resentment even if they were someone that injured us in the past. The Prophet Muhammad described the state of affairs of someone who has internalized this cosmic paradigm [Believer] as “Amazing…This is because there is good for them in every matter and this is not the case with anyone other than the Believer…” He said that when we are happy, we are thankful to God, and if we are harmed then we maintain patience that leads to internal goodness. These are narratives that emerge from the higher paradigm. Patience is understood as mindfulness and the restraining of the Mind from unskillful thoughts and states that would result in devaluation and attachment. Buddhism emphasizes how to cultivate the Awakened Mind initially (Bodhichitta), how to keep it – which alludes to the concept of patience in Islam, and how to strengthen it once it is cultivated.
You can’t feel threatened by learning experiences, but you can feel threatened by triggers of shame and the pain of devaluation, which is why we go to great lengths to avoid certain attachments and situations. A social situation, a voice, a smell, even those can be painful reminders of being abandoned by someone who had a place in our Heart, who had a sort of power over us, or authority figures that abused their power. An illusory power it was, a delusion of the Mind. But when you are able to enter into a state of non-attachment and exist in the Mind-State of gratitude, we can see through the world with the Eye of Gratitude where what we once perceived as threats are now understood as challenges, opportunities for empowerment and growth. Detachment normalizes our level of investment in the people that we have or had relationships with, in our careers, in our hobbies, and thereby removes from the equation of our relationships with those things unrealistic expectations and negative assumptions. It is the gift of non-attachment, as Thich Nhat Hanh says. We go into a situation or a memory with the attitude, “What can I learn from this?” It makes it easier for us to challenge ourselves to grow and to learn that we are greater than those challenges. Detachment allows us to see through Māra’s spell, and gratitude gives us the power to reverse Māra’s spell.
Māra is the demon that tried to prevent Gautama Buddha from attaining Enlightenment. Māra has been described as “the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment”, and is associated with death, rebirth and desire. Māra is analogous to the concept of the Devil.
In traditional Buddhism, four metaphorical forms of “Māra” are given:
- Kleśa-māra, or Māra as the embodiment of all unskillful emotions, such as greed, hate and delusion.
- Mṛtyu-māra, or Māra as death.
- Skandha-māra, or Māra as metaphor for the entirety of conditioned existence.
- Devaputra-māra, the deva of the sensuous realm, who tries to prevent Gautama Buddha from attaining liberation from the cycle of rebirth on the night of the Buddha´s enlightenment.