When you look in the mirror and criticize parts of your body…you are at war with yourself.
When a part of you says: “I’m tired I can’t keep going like this”, but another part of you keeps pushing yourself beyond your limits… you are at war within yourself.
Similarly, when a part of you is really excited about a project you dream of doing, and another part of you keeps procrastinating about getting started, or doubts you’ll be able to complete it, you are at war within yourself.
When you are at war with or within yourself, then you will somehow end up at war with others around you.
The extra weight you don’t like about yourself will manifest as criticism towards your daughter’s eating habits, looks or performance. Your need to push yourself, will result in high expectations of other family members or your employees, and your inability to complete projects will manifest as criticism or lack of support towards others.
If we want to stop the war in the world out there, we need to stop the war within ourselves and with our loved ones first.
When I was in college, I read Krishnamurti and the age-old dilemma of whether the individual creates society or does society create the individual was resolved in my mind once and for all. I recognized that although we are all affected and influenced by society, in order for the world to change, each one of us need to change ourselves from within. The popular words of Gandhi summarizes it beautifully: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
War starts within. It starts with the self-cruelty that manifests as the incessant struggle within us to be “good enough”, the inner conflicts between different voices or aspects of ourselves, the mercilessness of our unrealistic expectations and most importantly the war between “the reality of life ‘as it is’ and life as ‘I would like it to be’”. All of this fuels our suffering, frustration, need for control, resentment and retaliation.
The war in our minds is constant. As long as we can’t live as ‘who we are’ and continue to live as “who we think we should be” – in order to win approval or avoid conflict – we’ll never stop the war out there. We may not take up arms out there but daily we take up weapons of mass destruction in our own mind.
When we can begin to see and admit to how unloving our mind can be… without judging it…then we stop the war within. Most of us never want to see what is in our own mind, and so instead we project it on others. We blame others – go to war with them – for what they do and who they are, rather than seeing that we are just as guilty.
The hardest work we will ever do in this world, and in my own humble opinion, the only work worth living for, is coming to terms with the war within and finding inner peace. This is the work we took birth for. We do this by first seeing clearly what we are doing to ourselves, and making space for that suffering. Staying curious about how we relate to ourselves, and opening our hearts and minds to all aspects of ourselves. This is the power of counselling, of meditation, of introspection.
One of my favourite books is the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu Scripture. It’s a story about a war that happened many thousands of years ago on the field of Kurushetra, between two opposing members of the same family. This story acts as an allegory to depict our daily human struggles – the war that happens daily within humankind, the ethical and moral struggles of human life. The war between the side of me that knows what is right, and the other side that is caught in compulsions and reactions of anger, fear, and greed.
The Bhagavad Gita, brilliantly interweaves historical facts with psychological and spiritual truths to help us understand the daily inner battles between the good tendencies of our conscience inherent in each one of us, and the unproductive negative habits we’ve acquired, between the “little angel and the little devil on each shoulder”.
It is in my opinion one of the most comprehensive psychological treatise I have ever read, and a timeless message that not only describes our daily human struggles but offers a blueprint of moral standards to achieve inner harmony and achieve a fuller expression of the soul’s wisdom.
Stopping the war within doesn’t mean we sit as helpless bystanders to the needs of others in trouble or become complacent to any call to action. It means, we understand that we need to do both the outer and the inner work to create lasting change.
Claire Maisonneuve, MA,
Registered Clinical Counsellor
Director, Alpine Counselling Clinic