by Glen Ford
Character: the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing. In relation to people it often is thought of as positive. Being a person of character is thought of as a good thing. Character assassination is perceived as a bad thing. That is not necessarily true, it hinges on reputation and point of reference. What does it mean if it is said, to “assassinate Adolf Hitler’s character?”
Character can refer to a role in a book or movie that displays a set of values for our entertainment or edification. In the everyday world role playing is the robe our personality dons to present for and relate to others in the family, at work and in community environments. It is said that living through hard times is good for you. What does not kill you makes you stronger. Trials and tribulations have value in that they build character. Sad to say, from my point of view, the challenges I face do not build character they merely unveil it.
Character, I think of it as two words, Care Actor. Just like a character in a movie, my actions display a set of values, my values, what I care about is what determines my actions. Building character is an addition burden. There are things that need to be done. Mindfulness is needed. It requires questioning, who, what, why, when, and where. It requires of me the need to slow down and look around, become aware of my surroundings, what I am doing, and why I am doing it. Who am I doing it to or for? What is the root cause of this behavior? Where and when do I act this way? I need to ask myself, “What do my actions reveal about my character – what I care about?”.
Finally, I need to decide if I am satisfied with it. If the answer is yes, then okay let it ride, maybe. I am talking about building character, growing. Do I care to take action to reinforce or expand the value exposed? If the answer is no, the question becomes “What am I willing to do to change it?”. Do I care enough about it to take action? The key is awareness. If I do not recognize an error, I cannot fix it. For example, if I eat too much and gain weight, I care more about food than being slim and healthy. If I desire to change that, it is simple, I know what to do. All that is required is to burn up more calories than I take in. Being simple does not make it easy.
I have been sending the wrong messages to my subconscious mind for years. It does not reason. It does not make judgments. It works diligently to manifest what I tell it I desire. My ego strives to keep me here, to maintain the status quo. It likes the comfort and security of the known. It knows how to behave here. It does not want to risk the discomfort and uncertainty of change. There is a tremendous amount of inertia to overcome. Inertia, the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest, or an object in motion to remain in motion, unless acted on by an outside force. So what force is there apart from ego and sub-conscious mind? Enter the self-conscious mind, which is a tool of the soul to have experiences in the manifest world.
I need to wake up the self-conscious mind. It has been asleep at the wheel. I have been running on automatic pilot, going on a course that was input long ago. If it is the way I always did it, even if was right at the start, it probably not right anymore. If I always do what I have always done, I will always get what I have always gotten. It would behoove me to start sending better messages to ego and sub-conscious mind. Shut off the auto-pilot and tell ego and personality it is my (self-conscious) turn to drive. My soul has had enough of this experience. Time to move on. Time to eat a better diet, more nutritious, less calories. Time to get more active, out walking or at the gym. I accept that it will take some time to break the cycle and develop new habits. I accept that there will be discomfort and likely some pain. The weight thing is a simple personal example in the mundane realm. The principles and agencies that can make changes in conditions are the same for all the circumstances of life, to know, to will, to dare.
Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth’s soliloquy:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Macbeth was a tragedy. It is a tragedy because Macbeth’s character acted out of ego seeking only power rather than self-conscious soul seeking to express love. This Character was very much self-centered. His actions revealed he did not care about others. Macbeth was speaking to himself describing his ultimate demise, though he did not realize there was an option or was unwilling to exercise the choice. He failed in this journey along the path of return to unity.
I aspire to better roles. I am seeking awareness. What role am I playing? Who is the director (ego, soul)? Where is this play going for me, for me, for me? It is hard not to be self-centered when considering my actions. If I take anything from Macbeth, it is that it would benefit me to act out of love for others on this journey. There is an apparent paradox here. It is in my own best interests to care about others. How is it then that acts of caring about others is not self-centered?
A clue might be found in The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, verse 5:
Lift up the self by the Self
and don’t let the self droop down,
For the Self is the self’s only friend
and the self is the Self’s only foe.
In this quote, the self (lower case s) represents the ego or personality, the Self (upper case S) being the soul or higher Self. This does not solve the paradox completely, but provides me a point of contemplation. This is not a linear or rational train of thought. Carl Jung said of paradox. “The paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions.”1 He went on further to say that, “The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives us a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”2
When my ego is allowed to run amuck seeking only what benefits me me me, to the exclusion of all others, I can never seem to get enough. There is no satisfaction, no sense of self-esteem and it appears that others are always conspiring against me. On the other hand, when I treat others with respect, taking their interests into consideration, I feel better about myself and gain a sense of personal value while receiving the cooperation and regard of those individuals, in most cases. For example, I worked some 39 years in surgery as a cardiovascular perfusionist. I ran the heart lung machine in open heart programs. I maintained relationships with people from physicians to nurses to technicians to housekeepers. Over that time, I gradually developed the habit of going out of my way to help others when they were having trouble whenever I could, again, in most cases.
This is because I came to realize, if I did that, when I ran into trouble, I rarely would have to ask for help. An extra pair of hands would just show up. The paradox is, did I develop this from an altruistic desire to help others, or a tool for self-preservation. Well it is not the nature of paradox to be black or white. It resides in shades of gray.
To stay in this mode of operation and develop and maintain character I can be proud of requires me to work at it. Remaining mindful, residing in the moment, being frequently vigilant is needed. Returning to the questions; who? what? why? when? and where? on a regular basis.
Character growth in the Spiritual Garden is clearly a tough row to hoe. If I do not keep after it, the weedy stuff creeps back in. I have varying degrees of success and at times become frustrated. I believe though that if I keep returning to the work it will pay great dividends come my harvest time.
I wish you all a green thumb.
Copyright © 2016 by Institute of Spiritual Climate LLC
- Jung, Carl, Collected Works 12, ¶18 (1944), Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences. Accessed October 19, 2016. http://jungian298.rssing.com/chan-9129819/all_p3.html
- Jung, Carl, Collected Works 11, ¶417 (1954), Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences. Accessed October 19, 2016. http://jungian298.rssing.com/chan-9129819/all_p3.html