Mea Culpa – A Bold Statement in Modern Times

31 August 2022

What is a fear of living? It’s being pre-eminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself – for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.”

– Maya Angelou

It takes courage to assume responsibility in life.  As children, parents usually take the weight of our actions and behaviour, but at some moment in our life, usually post teens, as part of a harmonious process of maturation, we must take on this responsibility. However, in today’s modern society ‘taking responsibility’ seems to have become confused, even lost as we encounter a culture of blame, complaints, hypersensitivity, and even in some cases leading to a kind of grown-up infantility, as we run away from assuming adulthood.

In ancient cultures and traditions, the transition into adulthood was marked by an initiatory process. Boys, for example, were sent into the forest to fend for themselves in an initiatory rite of passage, or girls were accepted into the Red Tent when they were ready to begin the process of womanhood. These moments are marked less clearly in modern society, and this transition is not given the same importance. Likewise, the process of maturation which occurs when we assume responsibility for ourselves is not given as much emphasis these days.

This is ironic because many dearly want to be someone, to be seen, to be accepted, and yet they don’t accept responsibility for themselves. The responsibility that comes through assuming life’s lessons and maturing is largely being ignored.

In the same way, modern society speaks a great deal about freedom and yet the type of freedom that is encouraged is not freedom in its truest sense. We speak about freedom to do what we want, dress as we want, act as we want, but do we truly understand what freedom is? Do we understand that freedom is the choice we make to liberate ourselves from our enchaining patterns and ideas, to make the changes in ourselves so we can become wise and masterful beings?

Many want to be someone, to be seen, to be accepted, and yet they don’t accept responsibility for themselves.

Freedom is something many believe they want, but underneath this, freedom is something many are quietly fearful of. Why is this? How many times have we wished not to have to carry a burden or deal with an issue in life? But then, can we say that we have looked with a magnifying glass at the core of the problem and tried to understand the issue at its roots? To be ‘free’ we must liberate ourselves from the chains that keep us stuck where we are, from past experiences that chain us to emotional patterns, mindsets, and repetitive behaviours. This means we need to take responsibility for our lives, our experiences and even our thoughts. This is something many are scared to take on.

It is harder to look at ourselves and to take each event or the feedback we receive from a situation as a moment of reflection, and ultimately, transformation. It can be really hard to go within and really ask ourselves, ‘Why?’ And so, we develop a subconscious avoidance of meeting the situation deeply. We can literally run away from ourselves and often point the finger in the other direction.

The statement, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ seems to have aged and maybe retired in our modern society. Fewer people these days seem to take on the challenges like warriors and heroines did, and see each moment as a chance to overcome limitations and to grow.

People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.

In Yoga and Tantra, we speak about the Yamas and Niyamas. The morals and ethics of the spiritual path, which form the very backbone of a spiritual existence. Morality does not need to be a boring subject, it is imbued with great wisdom, and is the shining light of a good, vertical and honest life. The Yamas are Satya (truthfulness), Ahimsa (non-violence), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacarya (perfect control of energies).

The Niyamas are Santosha (contentment), Saucha (purification), Tapas (austerity), Svadyaya (self-knowledge) and Iswarapranidhana (continuous aspiration for God). By applying these in our actions, speech and even thoughts, we see how our life starts to be shaped into a meaningful one, and we seek to do the best we can in the world. 

Here we can see how the Latin phrase ‘Mea Culpa’, meaning ‘my fault’ or ‘my mistake’, originating from prayers of confession, is firmly placed within living a righteous life. When we take responsibility for our existence, we see how, through the choices that we make, we can start to shape our existence into something admirable – through the conscious application of the Yamas and Niyamas for example.

When we truly forgive someone, we say, ‘mea culpa’, because we acknowledge that there is a lesson for us in the situation and each person has some part to play. When we forgive, being a ‘victim’ no longer exists, as we are empowered and freed to take a higher perspective that unchains us from the event or person in question. Thus, we create space for a new way of being.

In today’s modern society, is true responsibility encouraged?  For example, how easily do people put aside their own values and truths for someone else’s without fully considering the whole picture? We are very willing to embrace so many alternatives, options, perspectives, and yet it can be the hardest thing to look at ourselves and go deep within.

But it is in responsibility that we find the meaning that drives us through life. By taking responsibility to look deeply at ourselves, we put ourselves on the ‘highway’ of Transformation. Running from responsibility, blaming others will only take us further from a true self-knowledge, and the fulfilment of our unique path in life.

What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny. One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements.

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