June 11, 2013

From Impure Thoughts to Thoughts of Self-Acceptance

Growing up Catholic, going to confession was a regular ritual in my family.  Once a month, my mom would drag my siblings and me to a church three towns away so we could tell a priest our sins.  Truth be told, it was equal parts humiliating, cathartic, and simply a task that was part of my Catholic upbringing.  Nevertheless, I always felt better afterward, because (a) I felt that for the 15 seconds while I did my penance in the church pew I was devoid of all human sin; and/or (b) the whole thing was over until the next month; and/or (c) we typically went out to eat afterward.

The problem with confession as I saw it was that I typically wound up confessing the same slew of sins each month, particularly the personal biggie: "impure thoughts."  When I was old enough to realize that having such impure thoughts was even a sin, I asked my mother how to confess such a thing.  My mother, being the cradle Catholic/enlightened woman that she was, had the apropos response for her precocious child:  "In that case, you say that you've had 'impure thoughts.'"  I was thankful to her for giving me the perfect catch-all for such a complex-to-me-at-the-time-kind-of-sin.

Now that I'm all grown up, I know that these "impure thoughts" are simply a fact of life that can't be erased from my mind no matter how much I try.  After all, I'm a human being with a fully functioning brain and body that are intended for making babies but which serve so many other purposes.   Now I'm not ashamed for such impure thoughts that enter my mind because it reminds me that I'm alive and thriving, and that my body is as engaged as my mind, which is a beautiful, biological thing.  

Furthermore, trying to erase thoughts of any kind only increases the potential for such thoughts to squirm back in, because that's just how the mind works.  We have an uncanny way of rebelling against ourselves, don't we?  (Well, at least I do.)  While I've evolved to know that impure thoughts are natural and acceptable, there are always other things I'm working on or striving to improve, different spiritual philosophies have taught me that self-judgment does not an enlightened mind make (a Buddhist philosphy instead of a Catholic one), which in my adulthood seem so much more logical and practicable. 

Only until we accept ourselves for our various shortcomings, weaknesses, and transgressions, et al. are we more likely to find success in changing and overcoming them, because it is upon self-acceptance that achievement in overcoming shortcomings suddenly becomes wholly and truly attainable. 

Feeling guilty about our weaknesses or failings only consumes energy that could be applied to more positive areas of our life that could by default reshape our focus away from our weak areas.  Since our bodies and minds only have so much energy, as it releases from the negative to the positive these thoughts/actions happen less often or, if you're truly a saint, not at all.  (Though who wants to have no "impure thoughts" at all?  Isn't that what makes us perhaps a little more interesting and endearing? I like to think so.)

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