By Jacqueline Berg
Author Bio: Jacqueline Berg is a writer and author, and the Director of the Brahma Kumaris in Holland.
Jacqueline Berg describes how we can break out of our self imposed prisons to which we have committed ourselves.
Recently I read an advertisement that said, “Be different. Be yourself.” It reminded me of a story I once heard about a lion who had been separated from his parents at birth. He grew up in a flock of sheep. Because the cub believed himself to be a sheep, he behaved like one. He was a lion in a sheep-trance.
The story of the lion is a bit like many of our stories. We too are often in a trance. We too seem to have forgotten who we really are. And because of this mistake, we have identified ourselves with different images and ideas. We have put on masks and have actually begun to believe that we are these masks. Of course it is impossible to be happy if you are a lion and live like a sheep. The secret of getting to know yourself is that there is something inside you that is totally different from what you pretend to be.
The only way to get to know this real self is through thorough research. Most people don’t have time for this. Or should I say that they don’t make time for this? That’s the beauty of time: you can make it! During my research I came up with four things that are of vital importance. The first is silence. The second is the relationship with myself. Third is the relationship with the Supreme and finally comes my relationship with those around me. It is actually important to think of them in this order. We usually approach them the other way around. We are very concerned about the relationships we have with others, some of us think about God, few think of their inner self and hardly anyone has a relationship with silence.
Before I began meditation – some twenty-five years ago—silence was not very high on my priority list. I hadn’t a clue what it was really. I was a workaholic, and workaholics don’t waste time on futile hobbies like silence. My life was active, dynamic. And it ran in the family. After she got a divorce, my mother told me why she had always been so incredibly busy. She had literally been running away from the pain she had felt because of her unfulfilling marriage. It made me aware that work can be just another addiction, a way to cover up pain, a way to avoid the things we don’t know how to deal with. So, that’s the way I was brought up: never stopping, never being, always doing.
My inner journey started with the wish to break through this vicious cycle of running around; with trying to ‘just be’ for a change. The first few years in meditation weren’t easy. I found it hard to relax and couldn’t sit still. My creative mind kept racing. It was actually my body that came to my rescue and forced me to sit—or rather lie—still. Slowly but surely my mind accepted defeat; and while the white flag was hoisted, the silence set in.
It takes time to get used to being silent and doing ’nothing’. I remember one morning sitting on the sofa —meditating—when one of the neighbors passed by the window. Before I knew it I had picked up a magazine and pretended to be reading. For so long I had lived with the idea, “I do, therefore I am.” I was afraid that the neighbors would think that I was doing nothing. But I was even more afraid of that inner voice, the Inner Critic, who had been pushing me beyond my limits for many years. Now that my mind was becoming more silent, I became more aware of this inner voice. It took me some time to understand what this inner criticism does, how destructive it is.
Many people mistake criticism for intellectualism; they think it is good to have an opinion about everything and to judge others. But I have found that it is actually a very negative habit. It hurts others, but above all you hurt yourself with this kind of negative judgment. I think it derives from the wrong notion of perfectionism. Perfectionism is not the same as perfection, in the sense of completion. ‘Being complete’ means: being whole with all powers and virtues inside the self. Perfectionism is something different. Perfectionists try to control people and situations so that nothing goes wrong. They want everything to be smooth and can’t handle a ripple in the pond. Instead of being focused on the beauty of life they are obsessed by the shortcomings and imperfections of themselves and others. They continually correct themselves and others—sometimes in words, always in thoughts.
Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to make things better and strive for perfection. After all, we all come from that state of inner harmony and wholeness. So, it is only natural that we would want to return to that state once more. But the projected anger at having lost your own perfection is not going to bring this wholeness back. In fact it creates a lot of problems in relationships. It is not easy to face, or even see, your own shortcomings. It is easier to see this in others and so the Inner Critic lashes out at others. And there is always something: the way someone dresses, talks, behaves … there’s no end to it. But what we are actually doing is criticizing our own behaviour
The way to get to know the Inner Critic is to pay attention to your feelings: how do I feel about myself? How do I feel about other people? Recently my dentist told me that if he were to remove my mercury fillings, my feelings about myself would change. Isn’t it amazing that something like that can actually change the way we feel about ourselves? Feelings can change so rapidly and there is so much influence, that the best way to look at feelings is: They are just feelings. And one feeling leads to another. When you look behind all those feelings and emotions there is still you. It is like with anger: You can feel angry, but that doesn’t make you an angry person. It is good to separate your feelings from your self.
Take fear, for instance. A few years ago I traveled in Australia. I was on a domestic flight that would only take forty-five minutes. But on the way we got caught up in a tropical storm with lots of rain. We tried to land, went up again, tried to land again. This went on seven times. The experience was terrifying, people were screaming. The thing is that I am afraid of flying anyway, so you can imagine how I felt. My fear grew and grew until I had reached the limits of the fear. I just couldn’t be more frightened. Then, suddenly, it disappeared. It was gone. I began to smile. I saw how funny the situation was and was able to calm others around me as well. When we reached out destination eleven hours later I had realized deeply: a feeling is only a feeling. It can bother you for many years, then suddenly—it can be gone. Feelings change, we don’t!
When I allow silence to enter my mind, I come to know who I am, deep down inside. I begin to understand my motivations. With myself I can be honest. I don’t need to fool myself. When I begin to listen to myself, it is possible to discover things which are different from what I was expecting to find. May be I am a very different person from whom I thought I was. May be I am a lion living in a sheep-trance. If I am, then the process of recognition and change begins. It can be a bit painful to destroy the self-created images of ourselves, but above all it is liberating. Of course people around us will say, “Hang on, that’s not who you are, that’s not how I know you.” They will try to pull you back. It takes courage to change. It can be painful to discover how little your friends and family really know you. But, actually, you can’t blame them. After all, it was you who has been misleading them by not showing your real self. You only showed them the mask.
We have identified ourselves with so many external things. People have different faces. Our identity is in the clothes we wear, the jobs we have, where we live and so on. Some people are completely different at work from at home. They show only a part of themselves at work. In a way they mislead their colleagues. In the Dutch State Prison I teach meditation to young men who are there because of drug related crimes. So, apart from their punishment, they are also addicts. Not an easy group of youngsters! They are offered psycho-therapeutic sessions to make them aware of the pain of their past. This is important, as they have tried to flee from the past by means of drug-abuse. After they are sober I get the opportunity to do meditation and positive thinking sessions with them. These boys have taught me so much about myself. They have nothing left to hang on to, nothing worth identifying with. Their friends and girlfriends don’t want to see them any more; often they have lost their teeth and hair. I talk to them about freedom imprisonment. They are always telling me, “What do you know about imprisonment? When you leave this place you are free.”
But what is freedom? Maybe I’m addicted to my work, my relationship or to negativity. These soul cages are prisons too. Some of us are locked up so tight, it’s like we have given ourselves a life sentence. I tell the inmates that I honestly don’t know who is more free, them or us outside. After all, they have all the time in the world to rethink their life. Away from the struggle of everyday life, it is a lot easier to change patterns. Some people even pay lots of money to spend time in a monastery or a private island just to get away from it all to straighten things out. When I tell those young men in prison that some people might even be a bit jealous of them, they laugh, but they understand.
They are also open to meditation. They love it. They lie down on the floor, hang in their chairs, sometimes they cry. For a few minutes they experience themselves as they really are. Sitting together in meditation makes you forget that you are in the same room with murderers or muggers. They also forget these things. We just sit together and forget the masks. We meet as souls. In therapy people often focus only on what went wrong. When I meet these boys I tell them, “Forget your past for a little while. Let’s see what qualities and specialities you still have left.” When they express some of these qualities, I remind them of these. I don’t remember their names, but I remember their qualities.
Forgiveness is a big issue to them. Only when they learn to forgive themselves can they let go of their false identity. They need to understand why they have been doing these things: not because they are bad people, but because of misunderstandings. Only then can they forgive and regain their self worth again.
Forgiving yourself means healing your heart. If you keep punishing yourself, you are still behind bars. You are still in prison. And because you are in prison, you imprison others as well. No one wants to be in prison on their own. We want company. If your identity is shame-based, you will look for others who have the same problem. You will always hurt one another. Hurt people hurt people. These projections on each other will keep going on until you heal yourself. And only when you heal yourself will you be able to heal others.
We have to understand that we are free. Souls are free. No one can encage us; we have chosen the cage ourselves. We have made ourselves into victims. And if we enjoy playing the role of victim there is always someone who is willing to play the role of victimiser—the bird and the cage. If we want to be free, my advice is: Don’t run away from your ‘cage’; don’t run away from the relationship(s) you are in, instead understand what’s going on and change yourself. To me this is honesty. And it is the only way to really free yourself. Don’t spend all your energy on trying to change others. It’s no use. All your energy will go into arguments, fights and repeating the same quarrels over and over again. Others will only change when they want to change, when they understand they have to change. Change comes from an inner motivation. But if we use our precious energy on changing ourselves, the chances are that the other will also change. It’s time to reclaim your soul.
Real relationships start with silence. Then you can begin to create a better relationship with yourself, then with the Supreme, then with others. The reason why relationships with others come last is because others never see in us what God sees in us. We often see ourselves through the eyes of others. So, if someone only sees 20 percent of who we are, we also only see that much. God sees us as we are, He sees our complete potential. If you learn to look at yourself the way God looks at you, you will begin to see your real you. If you learn to connect with the Supreme Being your pure feelings are being stimulated and enforced. It is so wonderful to be in contact with a being who is so close to your original nature. You feel so comfortable in the presence of someone who is soul conscious. You begin to relax, because you are being recognized. You don’t need to prove yourself any more.
I feel we are now in a time period in which people are beginning to understand these things. But we have to stop wasting energy and concentrate on what is really necessary. The practice of meditation is about learning to be uninfluenced, to be you, safe and protected in that pure energy. Meditation is about feeling your own soul-energy. Really feeling: this is me; that feeling that I am unique, I am special. Then the whole process is to express that energy in your daily life, in your relationships. But first you have to practice to feel it until you become stable in your true identity. When you begin to feel who you really are, there is no need to fight against addictions or people around you. In fact there is no need to fight at all. It is a very natural process. When we change our attitude, we will be able to change the world. You see, God needs help. He needs free minds.