You may be uncomfortable with some negative traits in yourself. Instead of being greedy you may wish to learn moderation, instead of being judgmental, to learn tolerance. Or maybe your archilles’ heel is self-pride or impulsiveness and you want to develop modesty and patience. Whatever your weakness, the question arises how do you change? For example you might attend a problem drinking clinic or a slimming club but don’t consistently keep to the programme.
I would suggest that to find the better person within, you will first need to battle against yourself. It is not enough to accept you need to change, you also need to have a strong resolve and put effort in to curb your impulses: to put up a fight against your demons whatever they are. This is the viewpoint of Western and Eastern religion; that one’s lower nature has to be repudiated before the higher self can properly emerge. To gain the positive, one needs to conquer the negative. But how do you do this?
Getting fighting fit
Before going into battle a soldier needs to prepare. To wear the right armour and get hold of a shield and sword. The armour protects from harm and the sword kills the bad guy. You also need to be fighting fit. It’s the same when you battle against yourself. You need protection from dangerous illusions and to be armed with right knowledge and understanding.
The enemy is within. It comes from all the negative influences around you. The allure of product-advertising that suggests an impulsive purchase. The angry and impulsive behaviour of fictitious characters in film and television who function as role models. The strident and loud voices that proclaim that you have the right to be happy no matter what the cost.
Being armed with the sword of truth is to remember alternative right ways of thinking that encourage how you ideally would like to be. What is the truth about the fantasies that sustain your negative actions?
What is the truth of your ethical code that teaches proper dealings with people? What is the truth of your higher principles that can guide you away from a selfish uncaring attitude?
“It is truth that goes into battle first, for the battle is fought from truth since it is from the truth that a person recognizes what falsity is and what evil is. Such conflicts never arise therefore until a person has been endowed with knowledge and cognitions of truth and good.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)
Running battle that goes on for a long time
Sometimes we expect immediate results and get easily disappointed by set-backs. You need to appreciate that the struggle with negative habits can go on for a long time before a clear-cut victory can emerge. This is because the problem behaviour is likely to have become entrenched within your make-up and have several facets that all need tackling.
Inside each of us, there is the seed of both good and evil. It’s a constant struggle as to which one will win. (Eric Burdon)
Although talking about the world of politics, Margaret Thatcher once observed that one may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.
One of the Bible writers bemoaned the running battle that goes on for a long time:
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalmist)
In fact the battle can feel like an uphill one with the odds against you.
The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved. (Samuel Smiles)
So don’t give up without a fight. The army commanders train the troops to obey orders. They instil disciple through drill. Likewise you need self-discipline if you are to do battle and not give up without a fight in the face of the enemy.
Happiness is dependent on self-discipline. We are the biggest obstacles to our own happiness. It is much easier to do battle with society and with others than to fight our own nature. (Dennis Prager)
Yes, having a battle with yourself can – and perhaps should – be a central issue in your life. However it is so easy to exaggerate the uphill nature of this battle. This exaggeration is another negative facet of what you are up against. It is an example of negative thinking that takes away your courage. Again the sword of truth can encourage your effort. The truth is we are the biggest obstacles to our own happiness. So try to remember the reasons for the battle with yourself. Recall why you wish to be different. And challenge the mistaken and unrealistic excuses you had made up to support your negative behaviour. You may lose one battle but live to fight another day.
When you have hit hot rock bottom you may feel you are fighting a losing battle. Perhaps wrestling with ones own nature in ones’ own strength is not enough. Alcoholics Anonymous teach that one also needs help from a higher power. Likewise religious people pray to their image of God for help.
One complaint about religion is the way fundamentalist believers take their sacred writing as sacred because of its literal truth; for example that the battles mentioned in the Old Testament justify violence against one’s foes. But an alternative approach is to take such imagery are figuratively sacred. This is to see a battle as referring to the inner battle of good versus bad within each human individual. This ties in with the idea of correspondence between natural things and spiritual qualities. Many observers—both Muslim and non-Muslim talk of jihad having two meanings. The ‘greater jihad’ is said to be an inner spiritual struggle. If only those jihadists wanting to terrorise the West would realise this.
According to this figurative view when we read the Psalmist praising God as the ‘king of glory’ ‘strong’ and ‘mighty in battle’, who ‘fights’ against those who ‘fight against’ him, we can understand the idea of an all-powerful God destroying evil thoughts and feelings within us rather than destroying people.
You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me. Psalm 18:39
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands
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