Today I went for a walk with my mate Jim and his dog Billy. Billy was dressed in what Jim proudly announced was a £100 coat. Billy himself has pristine fur, unlimited energy and a constant grin on his face.
In short he is a very well looked after dog.
Jim, has sallow skin, a washed out look, is about 20 kilos overweight, wears clothes which look like they’ve come from a rag market and hasn’t seen the inside of a gym or salad bar for about 20 years.
As we walked Billy caught a squirrel. He then brought the carcass back to us and dropped it at our feet. He wasn’t going to eat it, he had just murdered it.
Jims eyes rolled in a “here we go again” expression, as he laughed, patted Billy on the head and gave a quick “tut”, more for effect than because he really believed Billy had done anything wrong. To be honest I was a little more shocked than Jim, but mainly because a dog had actually caught a squirrel than at Billy’s actions upon doing so.
Billy was not to be chastised for killing the squirrel. There was no question of imagining for one second that the dog may be evil or should feel guilt for doing what it was born to do.
It’s just its nature.
If I did the same thing I would be cast as one of the most evil people on the planet.
So am I saying all dogs are evil incarnate…
But the reason we did not chastise the dog but would most certainly chastise another human (and doubly so if that human was ourselves) for such an act, goes to the heart of why Billy looks like he does and Jim looks like he does.
It all comes back to this thing called self consciousness. The greatest gift and the most terrible curse we humans possess.
It’s something which affects many more aspects of our lives than we care to recognise.
Even been in a situation where you’ve said something out of line to a friend?
If you’re like me (and we are generally all alike on this basic level) I’ll bet you felt extreme guilt, then spent hours dissecting the conversation and chastising yourselves for not being more caring or more tolerant. The conclusion often reached after hours of heartache is that you are just not a very good person.
It’s our self consciousness which allows (if not forces) us to constantly notice these small flaws in ourselves:
- The fact that we once many moons failed to stand up to a bully who was picking on a friend of ours,
- We lied about something to make ourselves look good,
- We allowed something bad to happen even though we knew it was wrong.
These little transgressions stack up and up in our psyche adding weight to an argument taking place in our soul.
Consciousness like no other tool in nature acts as a lens and a focus for our own inadequacies, our own little evils. It allows us to see and analyse in painstaking detail all the times we’ve failed to live up to our values. It forces us to question our actions and then if we find no answers it condemns us to feel guilt and a lack of worth over them.
This is the idea of Original Sin as taken from the book of Genesis. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden apple God said…
“Now these human beings have become like one of us and have knowledge of what is good and what is bad.”
It is consciousness God was referring to.
No other animal (that we currently know of) possesses this ability and, left unchecked, it’s responsible for our most devastating neuroticism’s.
This deep-rooted self-awareness doesn’t just affect our interactions; it profoundly influences our personal health choices too.
What Does Any Of This Have To Do With Your Waistline?
Most of us are so acutely aware of our own failings and feel so guilty about them…
…that we simply don’t think we deserve anything but misery.
Now this will sound extreme and most of you are probably rejecting this out of hand…so did I when I first uncovered this.
Let it sit a while and you’ll slowly realise it’s true.
Just as Billy’s health is a priority for Jim, reflecting on our own health choices through the lens of self-consciousness reveals surprising truths.
For example, when it comes to eating pizza or ordering a salad, we think…
“But Billy here, my trusty squirrel chasing companion, he’s never had an evil thought in his life so I’ll buy some of that really expensive dog food for him as I swing by the off license on my way home.”
“Well bugger it, I need the pizza to make me feel better about all this guilt and I don’t deserve to feel good anyway, because i‘m such an inherently nasty piece of work, in fact the world would be a better place without me, so I’ll take the pizza.”
Ok, so I imagine you’re still having trouble with this, but humour me (I’ve a feeling for most of you it’ll take a while for this one to really land), if this were true, what could we do about it? How could we overcome and move past it?
By integrating our dark side.
But what does that even mean?
It means accepting it is there, that it is just our nature and then use it as a force for good.
By allowing our consciousness to spot these flaws and then, rather than beating ourselves up over them, asking ourselves,
“What is something I could do do tomorrow, that I would do, which can make this a little better?”
So going back to our example of pizza, maybe the next day you say, “Well actually I could, alongside the pizza, get a single serving from the salad bar and leave one slice of pizza.” That would allow you to feel a bit better about yourself.
Remember while you do this that Rome wasn’t built in a day and learning to feed yourself right (or any of the habits you choose to practice) is a skill, and skills take time to master.
Done every day you can turn consciousness, your greatest curse, handed down by God himself as he cast us out of Paradise, into the most powerful force for good in the Universe.
By understanding this, by overcoming these flaws, by fighting daily against them, by striving each day to be just a little better than you were the day before you can make massive leaps forward over time.
Think about this:
I remember reading a statistic saying that if 8 people were given a year to live unless they changed one aspect of their life (like give up smoking, drinking or saturated fats) 7 of them wouldn’t change and just die. At the time I thought there was no way this could be true…having worked in the health and fitness industry for 20 years now, I think it’s possibly being a little generous.
It never made sense and used to frustrate the hell out of me, until I realised that most people simple don’t want to be saved. They don’t think they deserve it.
To make matters worse most people are walking around totally unaware of the fact they despise themselves, simply because they’ve never stopped to think about it.
And this brings me to my last point…
The biggest reason you’re overweight, you’re unhealthy, you’re not in the shape you want to be in isn’t not knowing what to do…it’s a lack of understanding as to why you’re not doing it.
Look, health is actually pretty straight forward…you know you should be eating more salad and less pizza, more veg and less red meat…you even really want to. You don’t because you believe you deserve less.
You need to understand that you are actually doing this to yourself, that on a deep subliminal level your body is a reflection of what you think you deserve, of your self worth.
Your conscious mind tells you it’s because it’s too hard, too inconvenient, that you’re too lazy or undisciplined. Never letting you know, because it would be far too painful, that it’s really because on a subliminal level you don’t believe you deserve to be healthy and happy.
The ironic and tragically beautiful thing is that, despite all this suffering, humans are capable of some of the most extreme acts of love imaginable (though generally to one another rather than to ourselves).
If someone else is in need of your help and you love them and are responsible for looking after them, unless you are a psychopath, I imagine you will do everything in your power to help them. Is that the action of an evil person?
You will generally focus on the good in them whilst either refusing to see their dark side or else you’re able to see past it.
And you do this whilst at the same time being acutely aware of your own numerous failings and certainly not about to forgive yourself for these transgressions.
That is real strength and don’t ever doubt yours.
To love someone else in the face of all this self inflicted suffering is an astounding show of force.
So how about you give yourself a break?
How about you decide to treat yourself as if you were someone you were responsible for helping or, even better, like you would your faithful companion Billy?