What is Shame?


In his fascinating book, ‘When the Body Says No’, Dr Gabor Maté says, “A therapist once said to me, “If you face the choice between feeling guilt and resentment, choose the guilt every time.” It is wisdom I have passed on to many others since. If a refusal saddles you with guilt, while consent leaves resentment in its wake, opt for the guilt. Resentment is soul suicide. Negative thinking allows us to gaze unflinchingly on our own behalf at what does not work.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? Resentment puts all the focus ‘out there’, turns the other into villain and ourselves into victim and avoids any gaze whatsoever on the role of our own beliefs and behaviour in this situation. Because of this absence of inner gaze, resentment maintains everything we are most desperately trying to avoid. And Maté’s work shows over and over again the diseases that result from this on-going resistance.

So we turn the gaze inward.

We put the focus on our own emotions and actions. On the inner truth or desire that is being stifled. On full accountability for our choices and words.

And in that shift from blaming ‘the other’ to meeting whatever there is in us to be met, there might be tremendous guilt and shame.

This is preferable to resentment as Maté says.

But it is far from being the whole truth.

Shame comes entirely from the personalising of what cannot, in reality, ever be personal.

Shame comes from the idea of the chooser, the decider, the controller.

And there is no chooser, decider or controller.

There are just actions and words, coming from what was or still is believed. And there was no one doing the believing. Believing just happened. It just happened but it dictates everything – all experience, all behaviour.

No one is doing that. It is a programme running.

So where does shame come in?

Shame is also a result of belief. It comes from the idea that who I am is a separate entity controlling behaviour.

Shame is confusion. It is insanity. It is the belief that ‘I Clare’ control my beliefs and therefore control my actions.

Shame is an exit from reality. It is really the mind making everything about the illusion of the deciding ‘me’ because it looks like the more focus there is on that idea of ‘me’ the more it will be stabilised somehow. All of this just keeps the mind lost in its own self, fighting its own creations, trying to find peace where peace can never be found.

One way to attempt to deal with shame is to revert to nice spiritual language. ‘There is no self’. ‘There is no other.’ ‘There is no one doing anything to anyone’. And we bypass actually looking at our own actions and our role as the ultimate source of everything we resist. Our conditioning is maintained. Our beliefs are maintained. Our harmful actions and words continue. Because to actually look at them is beyond what our fragile ego is capable of.

There might be temporary relief in this, a transient hit but underneath the clever words, shame remains.

The only route to freedom, realism and sanity is in ‘no-self’ or ‘impersonal’ accountability as we refer to it on our courses.

Accountability as the localisation of intelligence in this body.

Accountability as the space in which that behaviour arose.

Accountability as the observer, not the chooser of the behaviour.

This is clean ownership without the descent into that endless spiral of self blame and shame that has nothing to do with reality, nothing to do with the other who has been impacted and everything to do with an intense attempt to stabilise a fragile identity.

This is recognition that the first the conscious mind knows of words and actions is the observation of them. And that, once observed, they can be owned, patterns can be understood, conditioning is made transparent.

This is healing in action. Healing which is only possible when the impersonal nature of belief and action is understood.

Full accountability. None of the insanity of shame.


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