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Distortion and Reflection

Originally written: May 10, 1995
Last Revised: Sept. 17, 2009

I’ve been enquiring into the question, “Why is it so hard to do the right thing?” Here is an incident that occurred in the midst of that enquiry. This is a sharing of noticeings and awarenesses.

Remember that its object is to record the very difficult process of raising an awareness to realization rather than the easier process of mentally knowing or conceptually understanding.

I accept as an axiom that Father/Mother God made Heaven and Earth. S/he made the absolute and the relative, the macrocosm and the microcosm. But S/he gave us a limited amount of free play on Earth, just as a tethered cow has a limited amount of room to move around in.

Things on the Earth, the things of the senses, the phenomena of the relative plane, if made by God without man’s “value added” efforts, more or less reflect His Will and Intention.

When we practise our limited ability to create, or perhaps we should say to “modify” them, more often than not we ordinary mortals distort God’s pure and original design.

I don’t say this as a criticism. We’re gods in training. Our mistakes and what we learn from them are as they should be. Nonetheless, the more we let God work through us, the more we reflect and the less we distort.

My life being a workshop and a laboratory, and my behavior being the experiment I run and observe, I noticed an instance of this reflection/distortion phenomenon the other day. It had to do with dharma or “righteousness.” I was having a disagreement with a colleague at work and was trying to act up to what I conceived to be righteousness.

But I wasn’t. My colleague was upset. I felt strange. I felt ways I couldn’t typify, but I knew they didn’t reflect dharma. When I looked, those ways were: pride, self justification, gloating. I also felt lethargic and knew that was thamas (1) calling. What was going wrong? If I wasn’t being righteous, what was I being?

Inquiring with the help of the interior God, it became clear to me that my behavior distorted dharma. It was not divine righteousness. It was self righteousness. The difference between the two was showing up in my behavior.

I was being legalistic; I hadn’t broken a law of the firm or a law of the land, I assured myself. But I was breaking a law of the universe. I was not speaking pleasantly, telling my harsh truths, tearing her face off.

Then I observed myself rushing to my own rescue: but of course! I was justified. She had done this and now I was doing that. Doing that was a natural link in the whole chain. No one could fault me.

And yet I felt dismayed with myself. Why? Self righteousness was leading me to win at her expense. She was backed into a corner fending off defeat. I was going to be the winner and she was going to be the loser. Our conversation was antagonistic, though veiled. None of this reflected anything I had learned from sacred study; it distorted it.

Therefore, self righteousness was not a reflection of righteousness; it was a distortion. Just as being wise in one’s own conceit is not a reflection of wisdom, but a distortion. I saw how self encapsulated it left me.

No love here. Nothing but pride and vindictiveness. The same could be said for self love instead of love, self-servingness instead of selfless service, and all the responses to life aimed at seeing one’s self comes out on top.

None of them exposed to me our fundamental relatedness, or helped me drop the ego, or led me towards the expanded outlook in which I could realize the oneness of humanity, universe, and God. None was a step along the path to God.

Again, we all know this. But how hard it was to see it in the moment. I had to shake myself from the concrete dullness, the drowsy lethargy of thamas, so palpable, so thick, so dulling. And even when I did, thamas lifted for that moment, like a crow in the trees, before settling back on the branches again.

Righteousness leads to sathwa; (2) self righteousness to thamas. One points to heaven; the other to a living hell. One reflects our holy and pure intentions and the other hides and distorts them.

Why was it so hard to do the right thing? Years of gloating over interpersonal victories. Conditioned patterns of vindictiveness. Self encapsulation and the blindness that accompanies it. A desire to have my own way, no matter what.

There I was behind thick walls of my own creation, alone, cut off from love, and totally ignorant of how I got there or where I was.


(1) “Thamas” is the Hindu word for the guna or quality of sluggishness, torpor.

(2) “Sattwa” is the Hindu word for the guna or quality of balance, gentleness, centerdness.

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