Q:  Sometimes I suspect that my gratefulness is ‘phoney’ – that I use it as a screen to avoid facing up to things in my life that are wrong and need tackling. I find it hard to stand up for my own needs, and lack courage to fight my corner. How do I develop ‘wisdom to know the difference’ and then act? — RS, England

A:  Dear RS,

Your question brings to mind Kabir’s words, translated by Robert Bly, “We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.” For most of us, becoming authentic takes a lifetime. Sometimes the task seems overwhelming and we wonder where to begin.

Your own perceptive question offers plenty of clues. You have found that you use a façade of gratefulness to avoid tackling problems. In order to recognize phoniness, you must already have made progress; you know somewhere within yourself what is notfake.

There’s your starting point. You can take a little time every day to look back over the past 24 hours and see which actions rang true for you and which seemed “put on.” The quiet of early morning or late evening – when you’re least likely to be disturbed — often work best for this inner inventory.

Once you set aside time for reflection, you’ll find that during the rest of the day, you’ll feel less comfortable with actions which do not fit your truest inner values. You’ll become more aware of what your heart asks of you, and more inclined to follow. Some days this “wisdom to know the difference” will come completely naturally.

Other days, though, you’ll feel blocked: confused, unwilling, or frightened about an action you know you need to take. Don’t come down hard on yourself in those moments. Just observe and remember. Then when you return to your quiet inventory time, gently tease apart the strands of what happened. What stood in your way? What do you need in order to strengthen your own resolve? A friend’s caring counsel? Healing of an emotional wound? A more creative understanding of your options? An inner surrender to Divine help? Or perhaps you need a chance to write out all the details of a situation, see clearly for yourself which way to go, and then simply move forward by sheer power of your will, no matter how difficult. Once you recognize where the blockage lies, envision yourself making full use of resources around and within you to move aside the rocks that obstruct the smooth flow of your energy.

The beauty of this method lies in its twofold benefit. Your quiet reflections help you see more clearly. And these reflections demand courageous honesty on your part. By slowly building up your courage, a little each day, you become increasingly capable of applying courage: at first to somewhat challenging situations, and eventually to major problems. As a result, you gain incomparable treasure: You become more and more your own truest Self.

The philosopher Plotinus exquisitely describes this refinement: “Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: s/he cuts away here, s/he smoothes there, s/he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon this work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one glow of beauty and never case chiseling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendor of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.”

All best wishes,
Patricia Campbell Carlson