I recently had a really interesting discussion with a professor, partly theological, partly philosophical and partly sociological, on the power of words, and more precisely – on how much we as human beings actually limit ourselves when we exercise our prejudice and biases towards certain concepts and words; and rather than putting in the effort to understand their essence, and then exercise greater discernment, we just say “nope” and that’s that. With five minute attention spans, endless social media scrolling and gaining knowledge from memes, and the continuous “wokeness” agendas, our ability to expand our minds and grow as individuals has diminished quite significantly. Perhaps our phones really have become portals to hell, because we imprison ourselves in ignorance. Our inability to understand the essence of something is also what I believe makes us more vulnerable to and susceptible to manipulation because we then become controlled by all that which do not truly understand.
In my practice, and in both my learning and teaching, throughout the years I’ve come across many people who felt uncomfortable with specific words. And that’s understandable because words can evoke all kinds of things in the imagination; and unless we’ve taken the time to dive deeper in our own prejudice and biases, words are just ways to awaken old thought habits, emotional experiences, and limiting beliefs. Some of these are because of our own experiences and associated with particular words, and other influences are external because of society, culture, history, media, upbringing, etc. It is as if centuries of polluted water can collect in words, and naturally, we’ll avoid these words and want to get rid of it altogether. But doing so is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
What we can do instead, is learn more, and allow ourselves an opportunity for a deepening. This is how growth occurs. This is spirituality also – for it is essentially an expansion of perception. And the more we grow, the more we expand within the walls of our selves, the more clarity we come into. And we also open a door to the beautiful possibilities underlying words – because we’ve now entered the essence of the word.
Of course a lot of words carry horrible histories – but – these histories should never be forgotten, so that we never repeat them. The work of clearing away prejudices, and making space for a new life, new awareness, deeper meaning and greater possibility, is not by erasing or eradicating the prejudices, but rather it is by simply meeting them head on, and finding out their roots. Otherwise, in my opinion, we’ll continue to repeat all prejudices and mistakes again and again, no matter the words we use or don’t use.
Today we’ll talk about the word sin. We’ll dive into what it truly means, the deeper meaning of each sin and its roots, and how to transform our emotions and “sins”. Sin, I find, is a particularly important word because it challenges our own thinking and feeling about it, since it has a long history often misused and abused and carrying within itself dogma and the punishment mentality.
When we work with the original sense of the words “sin” and “virtue”, free from their moralistic trappings, but as sharp as a thorn and as healing as honey, we can truly transform so much – and in our case today, we are essentially transforming and healing emotions and thoughts.
Art by Étienne Azambre
The meaning of sin:
Sin comes from the ancient Greek word ἁμαρτία which literally means “to miss the mark” as in aiming for a target and falling short.
Now let’s meditate on this for a moment.
I need you to let go of all you know or think you know about religion, doctrine, what a priest or pastor once told you, what your family might have told you, what media and the news might have told you – I need you to let go of all moralistic and dogmatic view points, and of all the wrong, bad, sinful, shame and all the guilt associated with this word that carries a big heavy burden on its back and within its letters – and I need you to open you mind and just consider its meaning: missing the mark. It is essentially a loss of way, a disconnection to heart, a distrust in self, a loss of faith. A loss of self.
Missing the mark.
Haven’t we all done that? We aimed at an idea of something, but perhaps the vision wavered, the paths shifted, or we missed the mark simply because we didn’t have the enough understanding, awareness, and maturity; or we didn’t pay attention to what we needed to; or we just didn’t have the right tools at the right moment, whether tools of emotional ability or clarity of thought or maturity level. We’ve all missed the mark at some point, because, well, it’s life. In these times, we just need the loving hand of someone to guide us and show the path forward – and that hand is the hand of love.
When we allow the waters of grace, love and forgiveness to wash over us, our vision is cleared, our hearts are awakened, our aim is of pure intention. When we connect back to our heart, back to love, back to higher truth, to trust and to faith, our whole life may transform.
The religion of Christianity is one of love, the life of Jesus Christ, and God is love; and naturally, anything outside of love is what is considered “sin” or missing the mark i.e. the pure intention of the soul. And that’s the essence of all mystical and spiritual teachings through history, from all parts and cultures of the world.
Think of what one traditionally says when they enter for confession: “Bless me father for I have sinned.” To bless someone means to love them; to show someone grace when they are sharing with you their deepest and most vulnerable and shameful and scary selves. This is why the greatest healer of all is love – love as compassion, grace, forgiveness, patience, generosity, non-judgment, tenderness, love in all its forms.
The more we love, the less likely we’ll miss the mark. Because love is what inspires us to be better human beings. And when we love, our hearts have no space for fear nor doubt nor judgment nor criticism nor greed nor anger nor vengeance. Love’s power and light are so strong, so bright, so immense and incomparable that nothing else can surpass its presence.
So when you are struggling with something in your life, or find yourself confused on cross roads, close your eyes and think of the one you love, think of your family, your children, whoever you love and have in your heart, whoever believed in you, think of them, see their face, and put your hand on your heart – and may clarity will begin to settle in. We also need the higher values and virtues that will guide us.
In the Christian Orthodox monasteries, monks spend part of their day in what is called obedience, which is essentially doing service to take care of the tasks of the monastery and the land etc. And these tasks are purposeful and unique to each monk depending on their own spiritual path. If a monk is struggling with pride in their life, they are usually encouraged to clean the toilets. If a monk struggles with gluttony, they may work most days in the kitchen yet not be allowed to eat or taste while cooking. These tasks are meant to align them in deeper inner harmony and inspire self autonomy.
In our every day, we can all almost awaken our inner monk and learn things about ourselves from the opportunities that life presents us. For example, if you are stuck in traffic, perhaps you can learn about being more patient and less judgmental, and just be more self aware.
Sins aren’t things we should view as imprisonment or feel ashamed of them, because we are human and it is life, and we all miss some marks sometimes. But it is important to know ourselves and be aware of our reactions and temptations, and thereby develop self-autonomy, otherwise fears and doubts and low self-esteem will take a hold on us and drive us.
We can view sin, i.e. moments of anger, greed, pride etc., as a fire to be lit from within us – it is a fire that brings the beauty of the matter. Fire is an alchemist and is powerful. It can be used to burn – burn the whole house and ourselves – or it can be used to warm us and transform us in meaningful and very beautiful ways.
The lower we perceives ourselves, the more things we’ll want to do to wash away that inner shame or perceived sinfulness. So in a way, while we may think these sins are keeping us imprisoned or punished, they are actually an opportunity for that inner fire to inspire us to grow if we choose to. If we can allow the humility that arises within us from that “sin”, we can essentially allow these flames of insight and new found wisdom turn us into something beautiful.
The healing technique:
When something unpleasant comes up, we usually want to remove the external forces. This is of course necessary when it needs to be, but I find that unless it’s been transformed within us also, the effect won’t be long-lasting. And the best way to transform anything is through an internal process. In addition to focusing on, “what kind of external thing do I need to remove”, we should also shift our eyes inward and reflect on what energies, stories, beliefs, habits, patterns and attitudes may not be of use to us anymore. By adjusting on an inner level, we will also be able to make better external choices, born of more awareness to move forward.
The following exercises are just a starting point of reflection for healing purposes; understanding that all emotions and states of being are purposeful and needed, but that we can also transform them by understanding what they are actually telling us. We do this by understanding their true essence and need. And when we create space within ourselves by removing outdated beliefs and unwanted habits or impulses, we are ultimately creating space for something new to enter – and it will enter.
I find that using the “sins” is a great approach to shift our mentality around it, and offer the first steps towards a shift of perspective – which is required for changing thought patterns and transforming emotions, all of which then transform our own behaviours. It is all about expanding our perception and moving away from extreme polarity.
To heal anything, we must experience its opposite.
In general, to heal anything, we need to experience its opposite. We must experience what is wanted, instead of what is unwanted. For example,
to heal shame – we must experience honour,
to heal anger – we must experience courage,
to heal fear – we must experience compassion,
to heal betrayal – we must experience loyalty,
to heal abandonment – we must experience commitment,
to heal loneliness – we must experience togetherness,
to heal being stuck – we must experience moving.
And all can be healed through love, for it is love and only love, that is the ultimate healer of all. Love comes in various shapes and forms, has different speeds and movements – it is tenderness, kindness, laughter, support, gratitude, appreciation, compassion, courage, hope, trust, surrender, faith, loyalty, commitment, devotion and honour.
This is why it is absolutely important to not only transform ourselves on the inside, but we also need to have the right external environment where we will be supported in our healthier selves. This means we need to surround ourselves with people who truly love us and support us.
In the following exercises, we explore the causes of the various sins and ask self-reflection questions to begin a process of a deeper understanding for transforming and healing purposes. To transform each sin, we can look into its corresponding virtue as remedy, and its real internal need, so that we understand what it is that we are truly and actually desiring. Keep in mind that this is only a general guidance. As such, the causes are unique for all of us, at different times of our life and personal experience. This is only meant to give you a starting point of reflection.
Lust and Love
In one way or another, lust usually stems from loneliness whether physical or emotional. In these moments, we are more likely to open ourselves to a lot of temptations or instant remedies so that we feel better – but what happens is essentially self-betrayal. Remember that we lower we perceive ourselves, the more things we’ll want to do to wash away that inner emptiness or shame or insecurity.
Lust is a self-betrayal because instead of responding to our true inner need in a meaningful and fulfilling way, we are only looking for instant gratification and immediate pleasure or soothing – to gain the feeling of “I am not alone now.”
Lust says, “I want to have it now, no time for devotion or dedication or trust or faith.”
In these moments you need to take a step back and be watchful – witness yourself, and why you felt that temptation, and what do you really need? Also reflect on whether it is lust for thoughts, or a person or a behaviour, because lust isn’t just about physical and sexual pleasures with a person, we can be lustful for food, things and thoughts also.
When we feel down and lonely or devastated or sad or even depressed, lust is usually the thing that almost immediately takes us out of that emotion and mental state – and who doesn’t want to feel good? But it is important to remember that this is only temporary and unfortunately, it will then bring us much further down than we were before.
When we feel empty in mind, empty in heart, and need to rekindle a fire, we usually look to the fire we can rekindle with our body, and we fall into lust because we think there’s no other way. We can’t impose thoughts, we can’t impose emotions, but we can use and give our bodies to be lit. But you cannot lit a dead candle.
So in these moments we need to resist the temptation for an easy out, and we need to just let ourselves fall in frustration, in fear, in loneliness, in emptiness, and in whatever else we feel, and slowly, but surely, a light, a fire, will begin to be lit from the inside. Once the temptation passes, you’ll get the clarity of mind and experience yourself in a new light, a new insight will emerge, a new strength. Do not fear emptiness and loneliness.
You need to respond to the real internal need that you have which isn’t sex or lust – it is love, it is connection, it is emotional true connection that you crave. Just sex will never be enough, and will only leave you feeling emptier and emptier as time passes, and you’ll fall into deeper despair and sadness. You need to have the trust, faith and self-respect that you are worth much more than just to be had, or consumed, for a passing moment.
Love is not limited to sexual experiences, and of course we don’t have to be in love with every person we are physically intimate with, but it is important to understand where we might be misleading ourselves, or another, when we are in lust versus in love, so that we are also more clear of our underlying intention, and more honest in our interpersonal connections.
Lust desires you intensely for itself; love accepts you as you are, as it be. Lust idealizes; love just feels. Lust is about distance, to sustain physical attraction; love is about closeness, to build real intimacy. Lust is temporary and selfish; love is continuous and has your best interest, because it takes you as part of itself desiring your well being.
One of the best ways to navigate through lust is to connect to devotion – and to focus on what really matters in your life, and on something that makes you feel happy, fulfilled and purposeful, whether it is your work or your soul’s calling or a beloved interest and passion such as your musical talents etc. It is also helpful to reflect on why you might be avoiding real intimacy, and needing to only have sexual pleasures; and to reflect on your self-esteem and sense of self value.
In our society, many people parade their sexuality in overt ways all over social media, and engaging in casual relationships with multiple partners, thinking it is empowering or sexually confident or free – but it is actually the opposite. If one truly is sexually confident and free, they would not be parading this externally whether through clothing or behaviour or speech. Often times it comes from a space of low self-respect, and fear of abandonment, which are what contribute to fear of intimacy and engaging only in lustful feelings. Sensuality is beautiful, and devotion towards deepening with one partner is what will balance your inner world, rather than running to extremes mentality and emotionally, and physically.
Can I feel past the lust?
Am I co-dependent on lust?
Do I use lust to avoid emotional intimacy and true bonding?
What are some of my beliefs, attitudes and experiences around sex, physical intimacy and erotic pleasure? Which ones do I need to remove from my mind?
What does sex mean to me; what does eroticism and intimacy mean to me?
What does love mean to me? How do I express love towards others, and towards myself?
What does intimacy mean to me? Where am I afraid of being truly intimate with someone (which means emotionally)? Where am I avoiding intimacy and bonding, so that I can sustain lust and distance?
Is there healing that I need in order to release some of my unhealthy habits, or impulses, or sexual addictions? If so, what does this healing look like?
Greed and Fairness
Greed does not have to be financial. We all have moments of greed when we want or desire more than what is enough. To transform greed, we need to consider how we might be stretching ourselves out of what we truly desired and what we already have. Ultimately, we need to build appreciation and reflect on reciprocity. When we are being more charitable towards others, we shift our focus towards giving – rather than taking. I sometimes describe greed as a state of chronic dissatisfaction.
Greed usually has roots in the belief system that “you don’t have enough” and that at some point in your life, your emotional needs just weren’t met. So even when you do have enough in adulthood – you just continue to perceive that you don’t, you take more than you need, you give little or nothing of yourself to others, and you always pursue more and more and more. The remedy: look within yourself where you have that lack mentality, where the roots of it are, heal your emotional wounds, and remember that you are enough; that giving someone affection does not mean you’ll have less left, even if they don’t reciprocate.
Sometimes we might feel a temporary burst of greediness, like going on a sudden shopping spree. This can be an indication that our boundaries have been crossed recently by someone, even though we’ve been very generous and giving towards them – or that we’ve been robbed of something that was ours – and that’s why we feel the need to take more than we need. What is important to understand though is that what’s ours will always be ours and nothing can empty us of our essence and love, and to focus more on establishing stronger boundaries towards others, especially those who don’t appreciate our generosity.
In spirituality, the concept of interdependence, which is incredibly important, is known as equivalent exchange of energy. This is why spiritual services are paid for, and why it is customary for people to donate some money when they enter a church or a temple. Through this exchange, whether financial, emotional or otherwise, we build a bridge to spirit, which strengthens the flow of its energy towards us. Otherwise, it is said that nothing will actually enter into the consciousness of the receiver. People who continuously read spiritual material without donating to the teachers or authors, essentially limit their own growth because nothing none of the wisdoms actually remain in their auric field. People who constantly take from others, and never give back, eventually come to a state of stagnation until life begins to take from them. This also leads to what is called “spiritual poverty”, which affects well-being.
Where do I experiences greed in my life? What does it feel like?
What do I want more of, for the sake of wanting more?
In what areas of my life am I rarely (or never) satisfied, no matter what has happened? Why? What am I really after?
What do I really want beneath the “desire” of my wanting more? How would I feel if I was satisfied in this area of my life?
How could I be more fair?
Where do I need to give more?
Where do I need to exercise more reciprocity?
Do I only give if I know it will be returned?
Where do I take more than what I need?
Gluttony and Moderation
If we expand beyond the traditional definition of gluttony, we’d find that it is anything that focuses on immediate gratification, inconsiderate of its effect (or harm) onto self and/or others. In essence, it is about excess, similar to greed. To transform this, we should consider temperance, or moderation, which walks in the middle. Nothing in excess is ever good for us, even salads. Don’t deny yourself pleasures, don’t suppress them – but don’t be enslaved by, or dependent on them.
Moderation allows us to walk the path of refusing to let short-term desires overpower us, and sway us away from our true long-term desires. Immediate gratification is a problem that causes problems in all areas of life, particularly in relationships. We must remember patience in our interactions.
In the monasteries, monks would often face their struggle of gluttony by working in the kitchen. Being around food and having to cook, yet not be allowed to eat while there, essentially tests their temptation and allows them to experience greater inner harmony once they face these excess desires. The virtue associated with gluttony, which thereby becomes its remedy is abstinence. To balance out the need for excess and overindulging in anything in life, we must practice a restraint, and be conscious of it. Being mindful and self-aware of why we do the things we do allows us greater spiritual growth – and of course remember – what is most important is to respond to the real internal need. So always ask yourself: what is my real internal need, what do I need to feel fulfilled? It isn’t about food, or sex, or anything like that. It’s must deeper, yet much simpler.
Where am I willing to harm myself and/or others in order to satisfy my appetites/desires?
Where am I abandoning long-term potential for immediate gratification?
Where am I willing to burn bridges just to get my way?
What am I really craving and desiring? What am I really hungry for?
What would happen if I held off gratifying myself in this situation?
How can I support and fulfill my long-term deeper desires?
Sloth and Hope
We might go into “sloth” because of a feeling that our efforts wouldn’t matter, so why do anything at all? Or it can appear in our lives when we falsely believe that we don’t have what it takes to make our vision a reality. The reason for these beliefs are individual, but one remedy for it is hope.
Hope is a challenge, hope is difficult but hope is absolutely necessary. Hope walks in the scary forest and whispers, “what if, maybe tomorrow?” Hope is courageous because it never gives up, and as such, we can always find it within us; because it would never give up on us. It’s like faith; it’s an organ inside of us, that is available to sing us back home, to clarity, inspiration and vision. You can read more about ways to find hope in challenging times, in my article Ways to Restore Hope.
The corresponding virtue, and thereby remedy for sloth is diligence. Diligence essentially means to keep persevering, persisting, stay dedicated and consistent. No matter how small the steps, just do one small step each day. You never know which small step will end up being the trampoline. It is easy to feel discouraged and that your work doesn’t matter because you are not yet seeing the results, but just keep going, and believe in yourself.
Where do I give up too easily? Where do I tell myself “it’s not worth it”?
Where am I afraid of failure?
Where do I don’t make a lot of effort?
What small thing can I do today towards the thing that I want?
Where do I feel inspired? When was the last time I felt happy and inspired; what was I doing? How can I replay this feeling now, through doing something else?
Where am I being too harsh or critical on myself?
What would happen if I just allowed myself to do what can be done in the moment? How would that change my understanding and outlook?
Wrath and Courage
Righteous anger is needed and purposeful. And there are absolutely situations and people who deserve to be met with anger. It is can a powerful energy when it is channeled in a healthy way, rather than onto other people. It is important to understand how to work with this powerful emotion and to control it, while also, not suppress it. For example, anger might be a sign that there is a lack of equivalent energetic exchange; maybe we’ve been giving too much to someone who rarely gives much in return. In this case, it is a great way for us to reflect on that and stop draining our own energy for those who just don’t give back. It can also be a sign that people have been crossing our boundaries for way too long; and so, it is time to work on our boundaries and just let people go who continue to disrespect them Another side of anger is when we internally feel that we are not living an authentic life; we wear masks, and then feel unseen, so we blame others.
The remedy is: be courageous enough to admit your truth, to live an authentic life, and to make the hard decisions to walk away from situations and/or people that are no longer serving you. It takes incredible amount of courage to be honest with ourselves and then make decisions, because of course decisions mean self-accountability. Rage is what happens when we get out of hand; when we want to destroy someone, when we want to harm someone, and to humiliate them, etcetera. In its essence, it is an energy that destroys us too. Courage is a virtue, and aside from love and compassion, it is courage that can meet rage. The thing is: rage is another one of the emotions where we subconsciously feel powerless, like sloth, and so we want to exercise our “power” onto others. It is a sign of powerlessness because if we were truly powerful, then we wouldn’t need to harm another to feel powerful. Courage is the ability to feel all of our feelings such as fear, sadness, pain, hopelessness, powerlessness, disappointment, rage, anger, weakness – and still make the effort anyway, no matter how small.
Where do I feel anger and rage in my life? How do I deal with it? How do I control it?
How do I feel physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually when I feel it? What is the cause of it? What is the need of it?
Why did I feel powerless? What provoked it? When did I feel that way, as a child?
What would happen if I was more compassionate and empathic?
What would happen if I replaced rage with courage?
What would happen if I forgave myself for feeling angry?
Envy and Wisdom
Envy doesn’t need much explanation. There you are minding your own business, surfing the net, scrolling through social media, until bam!: “I want that! I want her life! His life! How come they have what I want but don’t have? Are they better than me? What’s wrong with me?”
Envy is believed to be the origin of the evil eye, or at the very least, it is what the world’s belief and understanding of the evil eye is. But what is envy really? It’s a distraction. It keeps your energy and attention away from you and focused on someone else, which is of absolute detriment to your beautiful life or what your beautiful life could be. It is essentially also keeping you away from building deeper connections with the right people. The remedy? Trust. With a dose of wisdom and a lot of kindness.
Do I trust myself? Can I rely on myself that I will do what’s right for me?
Can others trust me? Can they rely on me that I will act for their best interest?
Where do I experience envy? What or who do I feel jealous of? Why?
What do they have, or what is the experience, that I desire for myself? What is stopping me from having that also?
Am I grateful for what I have now? Where do I lack gratitude?
Where do I compare myself to others? Why would I be competitive?
Do I believe that we all have our own paths, and unique roads to have?
Where in my life have I lacked in what I needed; where were my needs not met?
Pride and Faith
Over-inflated pride that is fully ego-driven, is often a great limit of self. I’ve often seen people walk away from love and potential happiness just because of pride. Pride can blind us from seeing things clearly, and from admitting our own mistakes. It’s no easy task accepting our mistakes and weaknesses, and apologizing when we’ve done something we shouldn’t have, which also refers to having self-compassion. Pride can also limit us when we hesitate to reach out, or ask for help. Have faith. In the truth that you are never alone.
The corresponding virtue, and thereby remedy, for pride is humility. In the monasteries, when monks learn to face their pride and come into greater inner balance and inner harmony, they are often assigned tasks to clean the toilets. Humility is also in the understanding that no one person knows it all, or is ever above another. The greatest spiritual teachers are those who know that they don’t know it all, that there is always the holy mystery present, and to thus leave space for the unknown, because all beneath heaven is flawed and none of us are God. No matter how much we know or think we know, the truth is that we’ll never know it all and we were never meant to know it all anyway. The humility of this deserves to be treasured.
Where has pride stopped me from following my heart; from doing something that I wanted to do but then convinced myself that I didn’t (just because I was too proud)?
Where do I have too much pride?
What weakness am I hesitant to admit?
Where does faith help me to open up to someone? How can I be more vulnerable?”
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Cover artwork by Étienne Azambre.