You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
Have you ever practiced the spiritual discipline of observing your thoughts and feelings as you go through a day? This practice takes a lot of courage and fortitude, humility and love. It is like turning over a rock and seeing all the crawly things that live there . . . and loving them along with everything else in the garden.
We like to think that we are aware all the time of what is going on in us, but this is not true. Usually we are focused outward – on what we are reading, making or doing, or on the conversation we are having, on what we will say next or on what the other person’s point is. We do not really examine our own thoughts, except maybe in the split second before we tell ourselves, “Don’t think that.”
The discipline is really simple. Notice your thoughts and feelings without trying to change them. It’s like noticing your breathing without taking conscious control of it. Notice the idle thoughts you have while you are alone in your car at a stoplight or walking along a public street or doing the dishes; the feelings that assail you just as you come in to coffee hour or into line at the grocery store; the thoughts that accompany you as you sit at your desk first thing in the morning. Just let yourself see what they are. They are really shy beasts, so you will need to be quiet and accepting or you will drive them back into the dark.
You might wonder what is the purpose of this discipline. Aren’t we supposed to think and feel only lovingly toward our neighbor? What’s the point of noticing when we don’t? Shouldn’t we be telling ourselves, “Don’t think that?”
We have to know what is really going on. Jesus, canny psychologist that he was, knew that we tend not to focus on what is actually transpiring in our own hearts and that this unconsciousness skews our perception of others. It is easy for me when I am not paying attention to my hidden thoughts and feelings to imagine that I am a magnanimous being. I believe that I am generous, kind, willing to reach out and help others – in other words, that I have no problems in my ability to love. It is those other people who have the problems. From this point of view I really believe that discord happens because others are not as well-adjusted or loving as I am. And the terrible ills in my life as well as in the world are because of somebody else. If only they would change! Perhaps I could help (or force) them to change!
The more awake I become to what actually goes on in my head the more I realize that I am largely fearful, petty, judgmental, self-focused, protective of my turf and critical of others. Both my motives and the actions that stem from them are often questionable. In other words I am just like everybody else, and they are just like me.
“Remove the log from your own eye,” Jesus tells us. And by this he does not mean “try to see past it.” He means “see in a different way, from a different perspective.” What hope is there for us to be able to do this? There is the hope of resting in God.
It is only when I sink into that place where we are all one, the place where God shines forth within me, that the log comes free and floats away. My fears, compulsions and needs fall away as I rest in my Beloved. There I am like my teacher. There is where the good treasure of my heart produces good fruit.
The discipline of self-awareness helps us see the real people that we are. Then we truly understand that we cannot by ourselves see clearly enough to judge others. The perspective of truth rests in and springs forth only from God.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.