Self-Acceptance, Self-Denial & What’s in Between
In efforts to continually improve myself I find myself cutting out much of what I use to do, what I use to have, what I use to think and even what I use to enjoy. At least for things I thought I enjoyed and perhaps I still would.
I am not sure if it’s in efforts of me seeking some kind of moral victory or if it truly is ambition just to do more what is good for me so I can live a better life.
This leaves me wondering and asking questions.
Are my recent behaviours and motivations driven out of an inability to accept myself and who I am?
Do I struggle to accept what is?
Are my acts that I believe to be bringing with them more good and less suffering in my life simply acts Self-denial and deprivation?
What is in between and is there balance?
I have recently read a book by David Brooks called The Road to Character. A fascinating and insightful read. It is left me thinking about my character, who I am and who I think I am, and what is most important to living a meaningful life.
In David’s book he defines character as a development of good moral qualities that comes by not avoiding one’s weaknesses or sufferings but approaching them head-on. I feel my journey over the last few years has been characterised by this focus on the ill-Self.
As a passionate “effectiveness” enthusiast, I have always been for focusing on one’s strengths over one’s weaknesses. Why focus on that which I may never improve that greatly?
It seems like a waste of energy considering that I could focus on making what I’m already good at significantly better. Besides there are others that can bring balance to me weaknesses.
However, what has been illuminated to me is that there is a difference between skill and character and while it can be effective to focus only on skill strengths, not weaknesses, character strength is built from a focus on character weakness. And for this reason one must continue to confront their Demons.
I am also a proponent of the idea that an amazing life is lived by walking our own journey and to do this we must rely on internal guidance and avoid external dictatorship. This includes dictatorship of the egoic mind that relies on external definition. A familiar belief of mine for those who consume my works.
The greater our character the greater our journey. Those that are driven by the external elements of life seek to only brush up on skill strength in order to direct them forward. In doing so they avoid facing their weaknesses with a belief that it may disrupt their effectiveness.
If one’s weaknesses are exposed this might mean the will be less able to persuade the external elements in favour of the direction in life they seek to progress. The development of deep character is neglected.
I believe character has more powerful influence over the flow of life than skill because skill requires alignment of external elements whereas character does not. Character allows one to adapt to all situations in life, skill may not.
For this reason, I believe we must focus on character, we must seek to improve our internal weaknesses and vulnerabilities and strengthen our moral qualities. Morals are principles of right and wrong behaviour. There are certain morals partial to us and individual morals that become our rules and beliefs on how our life will be best lived.
My morals for living life are created in part by what’s important, my why, and in part by what I feel I am obligated by being part of a collective whole. I wish to improve my thoughts, beliefs and behaviours as to what is ultimately good for my well-being and what I consider good for everything else. As I learn and experience more, these morals grow and seem to become ever more consuming.
Where does it stop?
When will I just accept my Self for who I am, blemishes and all?
And in righteous efforts of Self-improvement and character building what do I deprive myself of?
As I iron out my internally weaknesses and confront those inner battles I seem to destroy older behaviours. Most haven’t disappeared entirely and they may never, but they’ve lessened. Most behaviours weren’t conducive to living a moral life as I perceive it.
Much can be said about reducing the suffering in my life. As I aim for more happiness and realise that most of my suffering is Self-caused I have attempted to gain greater Self-control in attempt to reduce my cravings, a critical component of this “self-caused” suffering.
In such attempts I confront this sense of lacking in life. Thoughts that makes me feel as though perhaps I am missing out on some simple pleasures that maybe aren’t that bad in the grand scheme of life.
As I attempt to find more peace in life maybe I’m reducing my ambitions, desires and dreams. Things that I perceive will make my life greater but without can also find and be with great content.
While in one sense desires and dreams can create suffering, when motivated by external factors, they can also give one a greater sense of meaning in life.
While denying myself of guilty pleasures that may compliment my efforts to improve my character I wonder if these new thought, beliefs and behaviours are inclined to a life of passivity. And what is my real character and what is an extension of my outer pre-conditioned definition of Self.
The roads of both journeys lead to rewards that are highly uncertain and assumptive. While on the road driven by the external guidance of skill and ambition may bring about great success, it may not.
The journey that focuses on character building, soul searching and moral victories may also allow one to live more truly, with ease and happiness and in a sense achieve success, but it too may not.
For that reason, I think there must exist a place in-between both worlds.
If I can focus on character and inner peace by confronting my weaknesses I am sure that moral character will trump all other journeys in life available. At the same time being able to accept what is and who I am so that I don’t make a total sacrifice to what may bring joy today.
Thinking, saying and doing things that on the surface aren’t bad and do not break integrity of character, or cause unnecessary suffering for the sake of pleasure are okay?
These efforts continue to assist me in making better choices around my desires and dreams. Allowing me to act more appropriately, even when driven by external motivation or reward, that still aligns with moral qualities.
Perhaps then will I enjoy an ice-cream on a hot day without feeling guilty or like I am lacking while still being able to have enough Self-control that doesn’t take away from the joys of life but only assists to make them more profound.