How to Counsel Yourself

Swami Veda Bharati holds the prestigious title of Mahamandaleshwara in the Swami order of monks.  He was also the Chancellor of HIHT University, Dehradun, which was established by Master Swami Rama. He authored approximately 18 books on Indian spirituality including a 1500 page comprehensive commentary on two of the four chapters of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras. Before taking the vows of Swamihood in 1992, Swami Veda Bharati was known as Dr. Usharbudh Arya.

This is a transcript of a lecture given at The Meditation Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, in 1983. 

The title is the principles of self-counseling.  It will be more or less a summary of numerous courses over many years – courses like Emotions as Acts of Will [Volition], Uncovering the Secrets of a Lasting Relationship, and numerous other ones.  And those who are listening to this subject for the first time may use the tapes of those previous courses as commentaries or explanations of what I will say here very briefly.

Why do we need counseling and why do we need self-counseling?   Well, for one reason, self-counseling is a lot cheaper.  Just as we like home-baked bread and home-cooked meals, there is nothing like home-done counseling, but, you see, you have to be at home with yourself.  I shared these thoughts during our annual retreat.  For a whole weekend we talked about how we bind ourselves, how we block ourselves, and how we may free ourselves.  That is also one of the courses you can listen to for details.

Well, in a nutshell to give you all the principles of self-counseling, I’m afraid that’s a tall order, but we’ll try to fill a portion of it.  Ordinarily if we feel the need for counsel in the face of a conflict, we realize that we have conflict with someone.  Your personality, your choices, your inclinations, your approach is in conflict with someone else’s personality, someone else’s choice, someone else’s inclinations, someone else’s approach, and you wish you could win all the time, and that you could have your way all the time.  And not only that, but when you have your way all the time, we think that the other party should feel happy about it all the time.  It’s very easy to get your way all the time or half of the time or twenty percent of the time, but at the same time to see the other party feeling happy about the fact that he isn’t having his way – and that is the substance of a major number of our complaints against others: that they aren’t happy that you are having your way.

Or, then, we have a conflict in ourselves.  We come to the crossroads, and we try to make a choice of some kind.  In very few instances is the question of choice purely internal – that it has to do with your internal personality: "Should I be this way or should I be that way?"  Most often some relationship is involved.  So people try to help you by helping to sort out your relationship, or they go into the history of that relationship.  And when you look closely at yourself, you find that what you really need to look at is the history of your development, the way your personality has developed, the way you are and the way you have come to be the way you are:  "Well, everybody knows I’ve come to be this way because I had the misfortune of having all the wrong kinds of people in my relationships.  I was just too naive.  Everybody made use of me – poor me, the saintly martyr.  If it wasn’t for all that world out there, I would be such a wonderful person.  I actually am, but nobody really recognizes it."  Well, that is one thing to avoid in your self-counseling. Neither blame the world nor blame yourself.  Do not try to place blame.  If you blame the world, you’re not looking at yourself.   If you blame yourself, you're putting yourself down. 

Self CounselingHowever, to be objective with oneself, to be neutral, to be a neutral observer of oneself is quite a delicate art, quite a balancing act – that you look at two conflicting sides of you, but the one who is doing the looking from inside you identifies with neither of them.  There is a third one who is above those two sides – above, not below, not on par.  There are two sides of you that are in conflict, but there is someone else within you, another, a neutral observer observing and not being involved with either one of those two, whether this one wins or that one loses.  Find that neutral one in you who is doing the counseling inside of you.

In all of us there is the surface personality.  This surface personality is the conditioned personality.  It has been conditioned to be this way.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, it drools at the sound of a bell or whatever.  There is no doubt that such a conditioned personality exists, and most of our choices, acts, reactions, are all part of that conditioned personality.  There are a million conditions that we have placed upon ourselves in this way.  And there is nothing wrong with behaviorism. But if I sound somewhat patronizing toward behaviorism in saying so, I mean to be so because apart from the behavioristic conditioning or conditioned behavior, whichever way you will have it, there is another part of you that is ever-unconditioned.  Look for that.  It is that part that is the flexible part, it is that part that is not set, that is not blocked, that takes a fresh approach, that moves on to the new grounds, that turns away from the painful poisonous memories of the past, that looks to the future, that is creative, that finds a new way to create you. 

We are constantly creating ourselves.  Every moment we are in a state of flux.  You’re not the same that you were yesterday.  You’re not the same that you were a moment ago.  A new thought has entered you, and it has immediately been amalgamated, it has immediately become part of your personality.  Right now this minute, now this sound and now this sound has all be added to your personality.  Moment to moment to moment to moment you are in a state of flux.  Don’t sit down one place, move on.

Yesterday is not valid.  Only what you are now is valid.  Only what you create for the future out of that neutral and flexible observer – that alone is valid.  Since that moment yesterday when something happened to now, a million curtains have been placed between that and the now.  And ever so imperceptibly, ever so quietly, your perception of that event has changed.  You think you recall everything the way it happened yesterday, but you don’t.  You are now interpreting it in the light of your present experience and your present being.  So don’t trust your memory of events.

Number one, be neutral.  Number two, don’t trust your memory of emotional events.  When I say “emotional events,” I don’t only mean the events that occurred between you and another person (the nice good you and the horrible terrible other) but the emotional events that occur in you.  People have a very funny system of lying to themselves, of denying to themselves the way they felt at a given time, and they remember today the way they would have liked to have felt at that time.  So don’t trust your memory of events that have occurred between you and the person with whom you had the relationship, nor do you trust the way you felt emotionally in your mind.

You would then ask, "How would I go about analyzing the past?"  Sometimes, of course, in all of the counseling techniques, analyzing the past is very important and you have to remove the layer upon layer upon layer of events, the layer upon layer upon layer of mental events, you know, to really dig out that which is lying in the actual original memory.  We constantly play the Telephone Game.   One sentence is said.  The next moment there is a slight change.  You can change one letter in the spelling.  The next time you change another letter.  It looks about the same, right?  And before you know, over one year the original sentence has vanished.  It’s not there, as though it never was there.  And reconstruction is a formidable task, and you never, never can actually decide whether you have really reconstructed the original language.

The conflicts that occur in your relationships are projections of the conflicts that exist within you.  For example, let us take these conflicting areas of our personality.  Sometimes they may not even be conflicting areas but simply many different areas which have not been recognized by other areas of our personality and have not been integrated.  Take, for example, you have a certain temperament; you were born with that temperament.  The traditions that believe in past incarnations say that you bring that temperament as a cumulative force from previous experiences.  But you’re always adding to that temperament. You’re always modifying it.  You’re always putting a trim and a lace or cutting corners and edges and shaping it and reshaping it and experimenting with it.

Now on top of that, you’re original temperament is your cultural conditioning.  Together with the cultural conditioning are the experiences of this life.  You’ve got your temperament, your natural innate temperament.  You’ve got the experiences from various relationships – the way the mother was disturbed when you were in the womb, or the mother was happy when you were in the womb – starting from that.  Now the question is which of those two is stronger, your temperament or your experiences in life? 

Strength comes from awareness.  Please remember this one point:  In a human being, all existence is awareness, and there is nothing besides awareness.  Whichever aspect you are more strongly aware of, that becomes stronger in you.  If you are more aware of your temperament, then that temperament is stronger than all the ugly experiences that occur around you.  But if you have a very peaceful temperament, a very loving temperament but you choose not to be aware of that temperament and you choose only to be aware of all the anger being thrown at you – the way your father shouted in anger, the way father and mother quarreled with each other, the way your mean elder sister always got the better of you – if you are more aware of that, if you are more intensely aware of that, then that becomes stronger in you.

So your choice of your personality is in your awareness.  The entire secret of evolution is awareness.  I said that in our last seminar on The Secrets of a Lasting Relationships.  It’s by awareness that people evolve.  It is by awareness that beings evolve.  Whatever you become aware of, in that direction you grow. 

And one principle of consciousness is will, choice of will.  So your awareness is not something that you’re helpless with.  You choose consciously, volitionally you choose what you are going to be aware of more and what you are going to be aware of less.  Are you going to be aware of love, or are you going to be aware of hate?  Are you going to be more aware of your peaceful and wiser part, or are you going to be more aware of your darker, harsher, more cruel part of your being?  Whichever one you will center on, whichever one you will brood on, whichever one you will hang on to and hold on to, that part of you will become stronger.  So you have a choice as to what to feed into your personality.

So you get a conflict between your natural temperament, with which you were born, and then the way the temperament is being shaped by your experiences and relationships.  Then there’s the entire cultural conditioning that comes through those relationships.  I see, for example, a great conflict at times in people.  There is one part of them that says, "I want to give, I want to live, I want love, I want to share, I want to give it all out, I want nothing from the world."  There are urges in you in that direction – something akin to what some European Christian traditions called pious desires.  Pious desires.  There is such a thing as pious desires.  The inclination towards piety is innate in a human being.  If you become aware of it, it becomes stronger.  If you deny it, it becomes weak – but the inclination is there. 

I was saying a few weekends ago that the desire to commit oneself is a natural desire.  Even the philanderer who has made love to a hundred women can he say that he has never said to a woman, "You and only you"?  A part of his conviction may not believe in monogamy, but that is a part of external conditioning.  But from within himself at times there arises the expression of this urge which makes him say, "You, only you."  When you recognize that and you become aware of that, you give strength to that.  "Hey, I said that.  That sentiment must be in me someplace, somewhere.  Maybe I am capable of settling down someplace."

So you have the conflict between natural urges; that's one thing.  When I speak of natural urges, I speak of these urges to give, to love – natural urges.  Then there's the temperament.  Then there's the external conditioning.  Then also some of these innate, pure urges and pious desires find their echo in the teachings of the wise men and the saints and the sages and the philosophers.  They find their echo.  So people come to pray or people come to meditate because a natural urge within them is drawing them to this innate, inward experience.  But, you see, what happens is that all of these remain apart from each other, so when you are responding to one, you are identifying with that one, and you say, "This is what I like.  This is the way I am."  But when you shift your ground – something happens and you get into a different frame of mind – now you are responding to something else; then at that moment you say, "Maybe this is the way I am."  And you can’t make up your mind as to what way you really are and what you want in life. 

So the conflicts will remain until you integrate all of these aspects of your being.  And the next principle in integrating those is to counsel yourself from strength and not from weakness.  To counsel yourself from strength and not from weakness – what does that mean?  A large number of people that I come across have this conflict between their one part of their being and the other part of their being.  One part of them, as I said before, says, "Give, love, share."  But the other part says, "But when I was in school in the sixties and the seventies, everybody said, 'Take care of yourself.  Let the other party take care of himself.  Who are you to take care of the other?'"  So there is that part.  And now if your natural urge is to love and your natural temperament is to love but your cultural conditioning has been not to love, you have created a conflict. And this has happened.

So people are taking better care of themselves than they ever did, but they are more unhappy about it.  Just like that philanderer who made love to a hundred women, but somewhere he blurted out, "You and only you," in the same way that natural divine grace in you also blurts out, "I wish there was somebody taking care of me."  Whether you were in school in the sixties or in the seventies or the forties or the fifties where you were taught to take care of yourself, walk cock sure in life and be cynical with the world, there is another part of you that is not comfortable with it.  Inside you there is this longing: "Let everybody take care of themselves for sure, but let somebody take care of me."  Do you deny that?  Anybody here will deny that?  Now this is a conflict between the natural urge and the cultural conditioning.

So when you sit down to solve your problem with your husband, you don’t know which one, which part of you to bring forth.  So you’re tossed in between, and the other party is tossed in between, and the signals are all crossed.  And when he says, "I wish there was somebody taking care of me," she thinks, "Look at this selfish brat."  Right?  But after a nice long, lovely, beautiful, outrageous fight and quarrel and that beautiful release of steam, there is still that urge to snuggle up.  Do you deny that?  So make up your mind as to which of these aspects, powers, that have been fed into you do you really consider choice worthy.  You deny to yourself: "No, I don’t want anybody taking care of me.  I can take care of myself."  But you go back to your lonely apartment, and you are too tired, so you plop down on the sofa, and you go hungry and you cry yourself to sleep.  Do you deny that? 

Then, as I said, "Awareness is strength."  Awareness alone is what strengthens any part, any aspect of your personality.  Become aware of this.  But when you become aware of this, then do unto others.  It's the same thing.  You say, "I wish there was somebody taking care of me."  Then along with that, the reverse, the opposite side of that coin is, "I would like to take care of someone."  You can’t have it just one way and say, "Let somebody take care of me, but let them take care of themselves too."  You can’t have it both ways.  See?   So the principle of awareness is the first principle. 

And then there's neutrality: that you can look at yourself and you can look at all these aspects of you without denying this [particular trait] exists and then choose – choice through volition, through will – "What do I want to be?  Where do I want to be?"  See?  Then you create that choice, and what you choose, that you cultivate through awareness. 

I said earlier that the next principle is that you counsel yourself from strength and not from weakness.  This is another way of saying the same thing that I have said here many times, for many, many years.  There is a weak part in you.  There is a strong part in you.  There is a loving, giving part in you.  There is a mean, selfish, cruel part in you.  There is a part in you that is pessimistic.  There is a part in you that is optimistic.  Sometimes your glass is half full and you rejoice, and sometimes your glass is half empty and you cry.  Sometimes you stand facing the east and you’re happy.  Sometimes you stand with your back to the west, and you feel like you're missing out everything that is in the west – one and the same thing, yet very different.  There is that optimist in you.  There is that pessimist in you.  Which one you identify with makes you weak or strong, makes you a failure or a success.

So always remember the moments of your strength.

Which one of you is really the you that you will identify yourself with?  Which one of you is really that which you will become aware of and strengthen in yourself?  You make your choice.  You make your choice willfully, and you strengthen that choice through awareness.  And when you choose the stronger in you, put no conditions on it.  Don’t dampen it with conditions: "I used to be such a nice fellow, but because of the way the world treated me, I got to be this way."  Just remember that part: "I used to be such a nice fellow."  Forget about the world and identify with that nice fellow again.  Identify with that person who gave love, who did win, who did succeed, who did feel stable, who had illumination and light on her or his face.  Cultivate your memory of that.

Now when you cultivate your memory of that, try to recapture that frame of mind that was so pleasant at that time.  What was the sentiment in you at that time?  What was the condition, what was the mood that you used to feel?  What aliveness you felt!  How elevated and light you felt!  And try to go back to that frame, to that mood, to that state of mind.  Just try to capture that.  Speak from that frame.  Speak from that mood.  Make your choice again from that mood.  You have liberated yourself from everything that happened in between.  

My Master says to identify with the divine in you.  Identify with the pure in you.  Identify with that one that still has the longing to give, not merely the longing to receive.  If you think that your true self is the selfish one but occasionally you have glimpses of unselfishness, then be untrue to yourself and be true to those glimpses.  People sometimes say, "But how?  I would like to very much, but I just don’t feel I can do it.  I just don’t seem to be able to overcome this block.  I come to the verge of it but the words don’t form.  I just can’t get myself to say it."  That’s fine, okay.  But keep becoming aware that you do come to the verge of it.  Don’t only be aware of "Oh God, these blocks, they hold me back.  I’ll never make it.  I’ll never be able to love again.  I’ll never be able to break these barriers that the world has constructed between me and them," but think, "Yes, I do come to the verge of it."  Okay, then keep coming to the verge of it, and keep becoming aware that you do come to the verge of it.   It’s like digging a new reservoir.  It’s like building a dam.  The river rises slowly.  It rises an inch, a foot, a yard.  It rises, rises, rises until it fills the entire dam, and if there is no one to control it, it bursts over the walls of the dam. 

So through your awareness of the positive, the strong, the loving, the divine, the pure, the unselfish, the alive in you, overcome that which is selfish, the cruel and the dead in you.  And let me tell you, the living are always stronger than the dead.  Denial of your strengths is death.  Awareness of your strength is the mark of aliveness.  Know that you are capable, that you are creative, and keep coming to the verge.  Keep coming to the verge of it.  Keep coming.  You don’t have to do anything more.  One day it will have so built up, the strength behind that will be such it will be over powering.  And before you know, the words will blurt out of you, will burst out of you.  You will find yourself acting that way, and there will be a dramatic transformation, and people will look at you and say, "Hey, whatever came over her?  Did you hear her say those things?  Was that her?"  "Was it him?"  "Yeah, it’s me all right.  I’ve been working at it for a long time."  And, you know, once you have done it, you're in business.  You are then all right.  You’ll say, "Hey, I did it.  It came out of me." 

But all of these things require a conscious choice.  Cultivating an awareness and a certain discipline, a certain restraint.  You say, "Well, I just don’t like restraints.  If you do not like restraints, you know what you would be?   You would be running naked and wild in the jungle.  Sitting here requires restraint.  You put on clothes the morning after your shower; that too is a restraint.  And if you join a nudist colony, not putting on clothes is also a restraint.  It depends on what you call restraint.  What you are used to is no longer a restraint, and what you are not used to, you’re just getting used to, is restraint.  You brush your teeth every morning – that’s a restraint.  You speak politely to somebody – that is a restraint.  You see?  So imagine the enormous restraint that you have practiced.  When you become aware of those restraints that you have already practiced to refine yourself and to culture yourself and to be reasonably civilized in your behavior, you recognize those.  If you become aware of those again, through that awareness your strength to restrain yourself more will grow.  It’s all there. 

What would you be without any restraint at all?  What would you be without any discipline at all?  You’ve already accepted the principle of discipline or else you would not be what you are, and you have practiced such enormous disciplines in life that you have come this far.  You wouldn’t have gone through school without that discipline.  A little more and you will be even better.

People say, "Well, that’s all well and good, but what do I do when I really feel these dreadful urges to be destructive?  Sometimes I throw all caution overboard – to heck with all this awareness! I just want to be angry."  That's fine so long as you remain aware of that also in you which is non-angry.  And through that awareness again, the strength to conquer anger will grow.  Remember the times when you were not angry with that person and how you perceived that person, and even now, no matter how angry you are, there is a part in you that has a soft spot for him.  Be aware of that soft spot also.  Remain aware of that at the same time, and your acts, your emotions, your sentiments, your words, your expressions will be balanced.  So through self-observation, through neutrality, through awareness, through conscious choice, through identification with the strong, the pure, the divine in you and through a certain restraint, you become a conqueror.  You are then the one that the Book of Revelation says: "To him who has overcome shall be given wisdom."  You learn to overcome. 

All right, enough?  Go over this in your mind.  Absorb it, assimilate it, find your own ways of implementing it.  The basic principles are there.  Find your own ways of implementing them, and as you implement them, you will gain experience, and you’ll become more and more and more skillful. 

God bless you.  Who knows, you might become a saint and never know it.  That’s my wish for you.  May you become a saint and never know it.  Bless you all.  Thank you.

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