On Shame

This piece continues themes from the last blog, Loving from Wholeness, but can also stand alone.

Often, there are both general and specific inner barriers which may prevent us from being able to acknowledge our wholeness or embrace the love at our core. These may sometimes come in the form of deep feelings of shame or inadequacy.

No matter what we have accomplished or how many people love us, we may secretly feel that we are not good enough. We may feel embarrassed about who we are, afraid to show too much of ourselves, for fear that others will find out that inside we feel fragile, unsure, or unlovable.

Sufi mystic Inayat Khan suggested that from the mystical point of view, shame is not the outcome of our childhood and environmental conditioning, as modern psychology would suggest. It is instead the recognition of a fundamental lack in ourselves.

"The human soul by nature is perfect and the life of limitation on earth is imperfection; therefore the soul continually sees wanting in itself and want in others, and becomes unhappy over it"(Gathas, 290).

Said in another way, there is a place in us that experiences perfection, that knows utter wholeness, and yet looking upon ourselves in our limited lives, we do not see that reflected back, and we feel ashamed. This feeling can be further reinforced by life experiences.

Regardless of one's conceptions of soul, it is possible to see that shame emerges from a sense of how we feel we do not match up to our inner ideal. We have a sense of what we imagine we should be, or what God intended us to be, and feel we fall short of this.

Inayat Khan offered that, instead of further impressing upon ourselves a sense of somehow being wrong, we might instead channel this to achieve greatness.

"Often people have done great things, beyond their ordinary power, taken hold of by their sense of shame. They get such a desire to amend that they are awakened from a sense of death, they make superhuman efforts and they live again" (Gathas, 291).

We can let the gap between what we are and what we feel we are meant to become be a powerful motivator.

This point of view helps us understand that shame is not something we have to root out or get rid of to more fully love ourselves and all of life. It is part of who are, as long as we are human. We can let our sense of shame guide us to be more compassionate and more tolerant, and help us develop a loving character.

We can understand that the quiet inner sense of shame or inadequacy we may feel is also in the heart of our parent, our partner, our teacher, our friend. Each carries his/her own sense of lack before God or personal ideal.

Rather than pointing this out in another, we can take this as invitation to be kind, knowing that same ache is in the heart of all. In this way, our experience of shame can be a gateway to compassion for ourselves and for everyone, and thus a deepening toward that very ideal which we seek.