The Power of Shame

Shame is a powerful thing.  It's serves as a tool to manipulate us into action against our own intrinsic values by cutting us off from human connection.  That connection is something that is innate,   however, from a spiritual standpoint, can be one of the most damaging things we experience.

How powerful is shame?  Look at how many of us are forced to lead double lives out of fear of losing personal connection.  First, we need to have connections to others.  The more open an honest our connections are, the happier we are.  If we live in shame of who we are, what our truth is, we begin to lie.  These lies begin to weave a dark web of deception around our true nature, and we forget ourselves in the process.

It's saddens me that spiritual traditions have been used as a tool of shame and control for thousands of years.  Jesus was an example of a person who lived without shame and even whent out of his way to live with society's outcasts.  We have many who are cast out of our society in the name of Christ, ironically, becoming the modern day lepers.

Where does shame start?  With the parents.  I do not have any children at this point and I do portend that I know how to raise yours, so lets look at this from our perspective.  What in your life have you done or not done because of the values your parents have instilled in you?  In Yoga, often the major samksaras we deal with relate to our parents.  For instance, my father was a big believer in the school or hard knocks.  He was abandoned by his mother and father at an early age, raised in a Catholic orphanage by abusive nuns, then did a tour of duty in Vietnam.  You could only imagined how that made him feel about life.  He was intent on setting the bar so high for me, that I could not meet his expectations.  Instead of trying harder to reach them, I gave up, rebelled, and did whatever I could to get attention by going in the opposite direction.

As we grow into early adulthood, the influence of others on who we are begins to take shape through peer groups.  In middle school and high school, we form relationships with groups of friends that can lead us down a certain direction in life.  For instance, in my case, I ended up with a group of friends that lead me down the wrong path.  They gave me the attention and validation my father never gave me.  I did a lot of things I was not proud of and when worse came to worse, many of them bolted when real friends were needed.  When I was given the opportunity to do the right thing, the thing that I knew in my soul to be right but the shame of the peer group would often win out.

How often do we see businesses shut down for having an opposing belief?  In those cases, shame is used as a weapon to coerce people to take a stand or lose their livelihood.  Technology has made it easy for us to shame others like a swarm of bees going in for the kill, shrouded behind the cloak of electronic anonymity.  

Fear, novelty and shame are used by organization and businesses to coerce money out of us.  How many of you have seen that SPCA commercial using Sarah Mclaclan's "Eyes of the Angle" song with the shaking puppies to shame you into donating?  Yoga is just as guilty.  Look at the models used to sell everything from Yoga matts to Yoga pants.   Yoga is more about fashion then actual practice. 

Don't be ashamed of yourself.  Work on your inner self to remove layers of sham imposed on you through years of conditioning.  When the real you begins to emerge, shame will naturally fall away because you will intuitively know you are doing the right thing.  A life without shame is a life of freedom, a life we are all meant to live.