Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On Guilt

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Feeling a little guilty about something? Something small, like that extra peanut butter cookie? Or something large, like  ... oh, I dunno. It's you, not me, who's riddled with guilt!

Sin, sin, sin. It's everywhere. Gosh, sometimes I feel bad just stepping on my lawn. It must hurt the grass to be beaten into the dust by feet.

There was a time when I felt guilty about things. I guess. Well, I used to take communion, which is all about shedding guilt once a month, so you can stack it up again for next month.

Don't know when exactly it happened, but my views on guilt changed. Not to the point where I'm going to run down some dear old granny and speed away laughing into the rearview. But just enough that I worry a lot less. Sorry, grass. I've gotta walk over you. Deal with it.

See if you follow me on this. Guilt happens when we strive to be like a deity and fail to do so. What the heck? We're people! We're not deities! People make mistakes. They do stupid, hurtful things. We try not to, but damn. There we go being human again.

I've found the Pagan rule on this to be so completely impossible to follow that it leaps into absurdity. "An thou harm none, do what thou wilt." Exactly what can I do that will harm none? If I eat a carrot, it harms the carrot. If I drive to work, it harms the glaciers. If I eat a peanut butter cookie, I'm harming peanuts, wheat, cows (butter), the tropical environment (cane sugar and those who harvest it), and the glaciers (baked in the oven). Not to mention my arteries.

If I wanted to harm none, I would have to starve to death in a desert. And who's to say that all the Advil I've taken over the years wouldn't kill the vultures who ate my carcass? Wait a minute. If I died, it would harm my daughters -- they still need me! Aaaaghghghgh! See what I mean?

Therefore, once again I fall back on the good ol' tried-and-true big, broad, flexible outlook. Like I said, I'm not going to rob a bank or flatten a granny, but when push comes to shove I'll try to judge the relative level of harm by human, not superhuman, standards.

Perfection happens only with upholstery ... all hale the percale!


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Thanks, Anne! I'm going to pig out on peanut butter cookies now!

yellowdoggranny said...

I have a lot of aaww shit moments..but no guilt..its done.get over it.

Dalesings said...

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." ~ Rumi

Rick Loftus, M.D. said...

Anne, what a great post today! And probably timely for people rushing around dealing with family around the holidays (Catholic and Jewish moms esp. seem adept at pushing the guilt buttons). Buddhist teacher Cheri Huber talks a lot about what she calls "egocentric karmic conditioning" and L. Ron Hubbard called "the reactive mind" and there's probably dozens of other terms for it. It's that little chattery voice in our heads that alternately criticizes us ("You're a no good gluttonous peanut butter cookie gobbler") or chatters a story defending our actions ("But I had to eat that last cookie, because..."). None of what that guilt-inflicting voice says is really true, but the energy we expend listening to it keeps us from actually addressing what we want to do, e.g. limit our cookie intake. Cheri's book _When You're Falling, Dive_ talks about the virtue of acceptance, meaning, we accept that we're not perfect, and rather than getting caught up in flogging ourselves or defending ourselves, we just note it, and move on (e.g. "Sorry, grass...".) Byron Katie's Inquiry technique is another way to help us catch ourselves getting caught up in the guilt game. Once we see ourselves doing it, we no longer get caught up in the agita, and are free.

Alex Pendragon said...

I never interpreted the rede to demand that I ABSOLUTELY harm NONE, because like you pointed out, that is relatively impossible, unless you happen to be Southern Baptist, who, according to everything they tell me, never hurt anyone (accept those that God has said are fine to hurt). However, I DO accept the intent of the rede in that we simply have to weigh our actions in context rather than trying to adhere to a strict rulebook which can't possibly immunize us or our loved ones from harm or can actually cause it due to inflexibility or misdirected or worn out ethics. So, no, I do not suffer guilt unless I did something against my better judgement and then I assign it to ME rather some hapless diety.

Lori F - MN said...

Only you can make you feel guilty.
My mom was a councelor. Once I learned this lesson, her attempts at guilt trips were pointless.
Regret is a different thing all together.

Hecate said...

I was raised Catholic. I breathed in guilt like other kids breathed fresh air.

Pom said...

I'm trying to work my mother in law through some horrible guilt she's feeling now because her husband's recently passed (last Thurs). She prayed for the past year for her god to help her out of her debt and now believes, because her SSI benefits will increase as a direct result of her husband passing, that she basically prayed her husband into an "early" grave. Of course this is following a 15 year illness so I'm unsure how "early" the grave is. I think some people just like their guilt.

On another note, since you brought up vultures, I have to tell you that I've been forced to confront these people in Colorado for their abusive use of the word "buzzard" as a substitute for the word "bastard" because they are loathe to swear. You've ruined me with your dedicated reverence for the vulture and I cannot stand to hear their nature demeaned so carelessly by those so misinformed and naive!

Anonymous said...
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kimc said...

Wouldn't it be nice if spammers somehow left their home eddress so we could spam them back?