We should always be a little wary of our minds, especially of our default, automatic feelings, thoughts and responses.

Left to their own devices, our minds can be great troublemakers. The ego is concerned for self only. It does not live for others. It lives for safety and gratification, not love and fulfillment. It generates greed and anger. It acts selfishly, even at the expense of others. The ego lacks humility. It runs on fear, not love.

Vigilance is called for, even when we feel we are acting virtuously. Virtue, if taken too far, can lead to vice. We need to be aware of the following tendencies.

To act rightly invites self-righteousness.

To succeed invites smugness or complacency.

To fight for the right invites viciousness.

To attempt to influence others invites a dogmatic and simplistic approach.

To appreciate our talents invites vanity.

To witness evil invites hatred.

To exercise power invites corruption.

To achieve invites selfish pride.

To expect what is due us invites entitlement and can poison gratitude.

To be self-confident invites arrogance.

Even when we are able to be channels of the love and compassion that make up our true nature, we live under great temptation. To guard our humility and our capacity to love, we need to practice watching the mind carefully, lovingly, acceptingly, with a half-smile. We need to recognize that we are not our automatic attitudes, thoughts and feelings — these are all just phenomena that arise in our awareness. This is mindfulness. We practice loving awareness of that which is unskillful or destructive (some might say evil) within others and ourselves. Paradoxically, practicing loving acceptance of our mind frees us to act with humility and love.

Mindfulness enables us to love freely, as seeing is freeing. In mindfulness, we are silently asking, “What is this?” There is a certain wariness of motive; a loving mistrust of what may at the surface seem noble intentions. We are never as virtuous as we think we are. All of us suffer from some degree of self-delusion. Our motives are almost always mixed. Rarely are they pure. We do well to have an abiding sense of self-doubt and self-suspicion, so that we can be attuned to the arising of self-delusion.

Mindfulness coupled with caution and restraint requires gentle, persistent discipline over a lifetime. It’s a way of being throughout the days of our lives. It’s a life practice. We should couple mindfulness with the natural desire that then arises to do the next right thing. This practice protects us from living reflexively — and potentially destructively — out of our default modes. Then we surely will experience the joy and fulfillment of being channels for our true selves.

Michael McGee drmichaelmcgee.com/doctor-mcgee/

Author's Bio: 

Michael D. McGee, M.D.

Michael McGee is currently the Chief Medical Officer of The Haven, a psychiatric treatment facility specializing in the treatment of addictions, located on California’s Central Coast. He also has a private practice in San Luis Obispo, where his approach combines psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. He includes psychospiritual interventions to compliment biological, psychodynamic, interpersonal and cognitive-behavioral interventions.

Graduating with distinction from Stanford University with a degree in biology, he received his M.D. from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed his residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is board certified in general psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine. He has extensive experience in general adult psychiatry and addiction treatment, and is the author of The Joy of Recovery: a comprehensive guide to healing from addiction (2018).

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