What is difficult to face is often the one thing that is staring at us. Front and center and as big as an elephant we tend somehow magically look past our own faults. I am a master at blinding myself to the reality of my own deficiencies. One of the most common reasons I hear when I ask a fellow tattooer why they do not ask for online or in person critiques of their work is “well, I don’t need that, I am already my own harshest critic”. This might be true for the few things we are willing to admit to ourselves, but as the enormous number of really shitty tattoos can attest, we are often unable to discern our own failings. I have often had the jarring experience of posting a tattoo for online critique fully aware of everything wrong with a particular piece and every single time the folks doing the review find numerous problems I didn’t think of at all. It’s not that i wasnt open to the possibility of my errors, it’s that I simply couldn’t see them. This effect is even more difficult to overcome in our lives.
It seems obvious that we don’t want to face up to our failings, who wants the soul crushing revelation that we have more areas in sore need of improvement when we already feel riddled by deficiencies? It is in the best interest of our ego to block out those things that are harming us and others, but what is best for our egos is not always actually for the best. I am a firm believer in cause and effect, that nothing and no one is beyond the fundamental law that every action causes another and that no one, no thing can exist independent of this law. Not man, not nature, not god, if you exist then your action will have effect whether you want to believe (or see) it or not. I am also a firm believer that our minds perceive this. Even if I block my faults from my conscious mind there is some part of my unconscious which perceives it, and more importantly tries to tell me about it.
One of the big ways my mind tries to smack me upside the head to wake up is when I pass judgment on someone else. Almost every single time the thing I dislike in another person or event is some part of me that I am uncomfortable with. For example; nothing gets on my nerves more than a know-it-all and as anyone who has met me will tell you, I am a terrible know-it-all. When I get fired up about some right-wing kook being prejudiced and illogical I can always find those same traits in myself, not expressed in the same way, but always there in their own forms and causing me the little uncomfortable twinge of recognition when i see it in another.
To quote the bible; “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (never thought you would see me quoting the bible didja!?) I look at the speck in someone else eye and criticize it while ignoring the enormous plank in my own.
One of the nice (or painful) things that happens in meditation is that the still quiet space gives your mind time for the dust to settle a bit and when it does many things become clear, including this one. It may be the reason so many people tell me that they are unable to meditate for even a few minutes, the simple act of sitting still and not filling or distracting their mind is a daunting prospect because when you do turn down the volume that small voice can be heard.
I didn’t like what it had to say. I still don’t.
Still, to return to the tattoo critique analogy, it wasn’t til I began getting critiques that my work began to improve. The fact was that no matter how hard on myself I was and no matter how much I desired improvement I didn’t get anywhere til a group of strangers looked at my tattoos and told me what was wrong with them. Did it hurt to hear? Fuck yes it did! My ego threw up all sorts of defense mechanisms, I told myself that the critiquers were not as good as me so weren’t ‘worthy’ to critique me, or that they were jealous, and that they disliked anyone not in their personal circle, but when the dust settled I had to admit; they were right. So if that’s how painful it was to hear about my tattoos imagine how difficult it is to accept that I am as petty, intolerant, and full of self-pity as I realized I am! It sucks!
It sucks but it’s also pretty awesome to know it, to drag these defects of character out into the open always involves a bit of discomfort but the reward is that we want to change these things once we are honest about them. We are like raw iron full of impurities and harmful flaws, once we are forged and hammered by truth and hard work we emerge strong and clean and , best of all, free of the burden of delusion. It seems hard to hear and correct our petty flaws but Its a lot harder to carry them around hiding from ourselves.