By Alan Cohen
Do you suffer from guilt? Do you impose guilt on others? Nearly every religion, family, and belief system plays on guilt to keep its adherents in line. Yet there are ways to escape from the prison of guilt. Here are the top seven, along with practical applications to become free.
1. Know that guilt is not natural.
No human being is born with guilt. Guilt is entirely learned, passed down from generation to generation like a dark, heavy, ill-fitting cloak. Innocence, freedom, and inner peace are our natural state. All else is an anomaly to our true essence. Genuine happiness abides within you, you deserve it, and it is your destiny.
Take a moment to recall a time in your life, when you were very young, before you learned to feel guilty, or when you were older, and for a brief time you rose above the clouds of judgment. How did you feel? Can you remember the freedom and aliveness you experienced? If you capture even a moment of such a feeling, you have a key to your natural state. Practice such feelings as often as you can, and tilt the balance of your life from learned guilt to original innocence.
2. Identify every moment as a choice between fear and love.
Every thought you think, word you speak, and action you take proceeds from either love or fear. Peace and upset, innocence and guilt, healing and illness all spring from that one fundamental choice.
If you become upset or face a challenging situation, ask yourself, “What is the voice of fear or guilt saying to me now?” Clearly identify the words and energy of the critical voice. Then ask, “What would the voice of kindness and encouragement say to me by contrast?” When you recognize the experiential difference between the harsh demanding voice and the gentle releasing voice, you will see clearly what to do and how to live.
3. Release yourself from guilt by not casting it upon others.
When you hold someone else in the prison of your judgments, you must sit at the door of his cell to make sure he doesn’t escape. When you judge others, you become susceptible to judgments, your own and theirs. When you release others from the burden of your judgments, you release yourself.
Consider one person you judge, and identify the trait or action for which you judge that person. Notice the feelings your judgment generates within you. At such a moment you are as far from peace as you could possibly be. Now imagine releasing that person from your judgment. For a moment, suspend your upset. Notice the freedom you experience. All that you give, you give to yourself.
4. Reframe experiences in your favor.
You can choose to see any situation from a viewpoint that brings you peace rather than misery. The facts do not change, but your perspective does, along with your experience.
One night while watching a video with some friends at their home, I went into the kitchen to make some tea. Not finding a tea kettle, I poured water into a glass coffee carafe and placed it over a gas flame. I returned to the living room, and a minute later smelled something burning. We ran into the kitchen to find that the plastic handle of the carafe had caught fire. Quickly I put the fire out. Terribly embarrassed, I turned to my host and said, “Sorry about that.”
He smiled and replied, “I didn’t know you were such a good fireman!” I was judging myself for starting the fire, and my friend was complimenting me for putting it out. The same situation, an entirely different perspective, which led to an entirely different experience. While we cannot always choose the situations we encounter, we can choose whether to regard them with guilt or innocence. Therein lies our true power and freedom.
Take an experience about which you feel guilty, or one for which you consider someone else guilty, and choose another perspective that feels better. Interpret the event in your favor, rather than using it to drag you or the other person down.
5. Quit beating yourself up for your past.
The only place the past lives is in your mind. The events that occurred matter less than how you think about them now. We’ve all made mistakes. What we do with them determines our current experience. If you keep going over your mistakes, they rule your life. If you bless them for your learning, and find ways to look at them that bring you peace, they become your friend.
Consider a mistake you keep berating yourself for. What did you learn from this experience? How has it served you or others? Is there another way of looking at it that will help you move on with your life?
6. Let joy be your compass.
Your happiness does not detract from the good of others; it only adds to it. When you are at peace with yourself, you uplift everyone you meet by the energy you express. Keep choosing in harmony with your joy, and you will attract success for yourself and stimulate others to achieve theirs.
Consider a choice that would truly make you happy. How will this choice bless and serve others rather than removing their good?
7. Redefine success as inner peace.
Most of the ways we have been taught to attain success make us miserable. Yet the only real measure of success is inner peace. When you are happy inside, you fulfill your purpose in life.
Notice what you are doing in the name of success that is making you unhappy. If you were to make inner peace your top priority, what you would quit doing? What would you do more of?
We have come to the point in human evolution when we are ready to leave guilt behind and claim the gifts of our natural innocence. You can lead others to freedom by claiming your own.
Alan Cohen is the author of many inspirational books, including the new groundbreaking A Course in Miracles Made Easy: Mastering the Journey from Fear to Love. Join Alan beginning in September for his transformational Life Coach Training Program. For more information about this program, free daily inspirational quotes, and weekly radio show, visit AlanCohen.com