A family elder once remarked that it is essential that people should make a habit of self-examination and self-criticism; being careful to be aware of our fantasies of fame and fortune along with other mental distractions.
My great-uncle seemed like an “old soul”. In ancient times, a person like him would have been a scribe or a priest. He had a serious mind along with a healthy sense of humor–sprinkling in “dad jokes” at odd times to gauge whether or not he had our attention. The elder was greatly esteemed by our family and by his co-workers.
What most people take lightly or for granted, the great-uncle took with great care and consideration. His philosophy was that one’s actions should be in harmony with one’s understanding of society and the natural world. He often stressed that self-reflection is healthy mental hygiene. It is best to strive for objectivity–that is not being self-recriminating nor narcissistic. Own your successes and your errors as honestly as possible. Strive to understand how others understand you.
“Dwell not on the faults and shortcomings of others; instead, seek clarity about your own.”–Shakyamuni Buddha
He could see that I was a young buck, very full of myself, but he tempered his assessment of me by saying he was the same way when he was my age. The great-uncle said he mellowed out during middle age after suffering some personal tragedies and losses.
He set about to ask himself about his attributes, and weaknesses. How did his perceptions and interactions with other people affect their and his lives? What direction did he want his life to go towards the future? He believed that men and women become better versions of themselves when they contemplate and question why they say and do things–why they cling onto beliefs so tightly.
“Self-reflection is the gateway to freedom. It also brings greater appreciation and enjoyment. We begin to enjoy spending time with our own mind, and we enjoy reflecting on our experience of the teachings. Like the Sun emerging from behind the clouds, the teachings of the Dharma become clear.”–20th century Tibetan lama and revivalist leader of the non-sectarian movement, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Although I am not a particularly religious person, Sundays are my habitual days of philosophical study and self-reflection. Taking a few pages from the wisdom of my elders and other thoughtful people is a way of examining and evaluating my own life. Thus far, Sunday self-reflection has been helpful.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Renaissance architect, painter, and sculptor, Michelangelo. “I am still learning.”