How can one balance self acceptance with self improvement?
Our egos tell us that without focusing on our faults and shortcomings, improvements to our character can never be made.
But that depressing conclusion is only valid when we forget an incredibly important distinction:
We wield direct control only over our behavior, not over our thought process. Trying to stamp out every unwanted thought is as hopeless as fighting Hydra; as soon as one head is cut off, another appears. It’s a hopeless, frustrating, self-defeating battle.
Attempting to fight off an emotion as it arises is akin to time travel, because to truly prevent an emotion, you would have to eliminate the pre-existing mental conditions that allowed the emotion to arise. But we aren’t time travelers. Our awareness exists only in the present moment. When the emotion is there, its there. Every moment we spend wrestling with it only strengthens and lengthens its life span.
But as rational adults, we have a responsibility, a right, and a moral imperative to control our own behavior. A thought or a feeling that impels us to hurt someone need not be acted out. We’ve all felt that before, and by some method prevented ourselves from enacting the emotion. It is this capacity to regulate what internal conditions are expressed in the external world that “self improvement” helps us to cultivate. Through that ability to control our own actions, we create conditions that help us to experience favorable emotions and healthy thought patterns.
This combination of behavioral regulation with the improvement of external conditions acts upon the principle of compounding interest. As one gets better, the other in turns improves by a greater degree, and so on until incredible, almost unthinkable things are achieved.
Accept what your mind is at the present moment. No fight against yourself can ever end in victory. Only by right action can external conditions improve, an only by observance of external conditions can right actions be defined.
As for the internal…
Observe the good thoughts and the bad. Watch what frightens you as well as what gives you hope.
What is the difference between them?
Where do they go once you’ve already thought them?
And if you’re the one observing, who do those thoughts belong to?