How do we forgive ourselves?

Oftentimes, our worst critic is ourselves. And in our bid to be better, we sometimes notice all the little wrongs and sins that we commit regardless of how others perceive us.

I’d like to relate my reflection to the topic of self-realization, which was discussed in the critical realism online study space held awhile ago. What stood out to me is the definition of a “transcendentally real self”, which is a mixture of ego, embodied personality, and an unlimited transcendentally real being. (I know, it’s hard to understand!)

In a way, we are able to objectively define our “self” based on our past and consistent behaviors, thoughts, and tendencies. But at the same time, our sense of self cannot be reduced to these patterns and personality. Just as a caterpillar can be a butterfly and a seed can be a gigantic tree, we have the infinite (uncountable) potential to evolve and prosper.

There is a kind of peace in accepting our tendencies to do wrong; to acknowledge that we may tend to be impatient, irritable, or judgemental. This kind of self-awareness allows us to choose how we desire to grow and flourish.

For the religious, only God can grant full forgiveness for the truly repenting person. But practically for us, to authentically repent and forgive ourselves is simultaneous (I think). And what makes it easier is the knowledge that there are countless ways we can repent and do our penance.

And hopefully, we don’t repeat the same mistakes in a relatively similar context. When that happens, we’re just fooling ourselves.

Matthew 9:1-8. Your sins are forgiven


Foundations need not be perfect, but predisposed to excellence

The mortal enemy of the overthinker and a perfectionist is not starting at all. In a way, the choice of Jesus to build His Church with St. Peter as the rock can provide insights on how we should view excellence and perfection.

Overthinking perfection can paralyze a person. But the wisdom we need is to determine when a certain work or action is sufficient to be called good or even high quality, as well as designing work or action or a system in a way that it could be corrected.

The comforting thing about excellence is that it is not about getting it right right away. Excellence is a journey. And as I begin to grade my students’ works, I reflect again on the meaning of “4.0” or being excellent and exemplary.

Hopefully the learning activities in my courses have become opportunities for me and my students to reflect and rethink and experiment. So that when I give 4.0, it does not suppose to mean “I think you’re perfect already”, but rather, “you’ve demonstrated excellence through iteratively correcting your work, and hence, I’m confident you can do it again outside the course”.

Ever since my birthday, I have been more fixated with what “becoming” means. It is uncomfortable to think that no human state is permanent, therefore, there’s no such thing as “perfection”. But there are infinite opportunities to self-correct, to experiment, to try again.

Isn’t that more romantic and more attainable to think about? The infinite opportunities to be a better version. The infinite opportunities for rebirth.

Matthew 16:13-19. Upon this rock I will build my Church


A droplet of faith

It is natural to be afraid if it is rooted in being self-aware of our weaknesses and limitations. In the greater scheme of things, there are so many forces outside of our control, and that the unknown can feel very paralyzing to even try comprehending.

Thus, in a sense, even a droplet of faith can make us feel sane, or even “wiser”, because we arrive at a better understanding of ourselves, the world, and a glimpse of the spiritual.

When a leap feels too much, there is solace that a droplet of faith may be enough. And we, together with the angels and saints and God, will have a good laugh, like how we look back to the mistakes we did when we were young.

Matthew 8:23-27. O you of little faith


Complying with versus following the leader

If we define spirituality in terms of acknowledging the meaning and purpose that transcend us, then our practice of spirituality is in essence a sharing of ourselves with others. Self-with-others.

Thus, to follow a leader out of fear is merely compliance, and is not fully authentic.

But to follow a leader because we are inspired is not merely compliance. Rather, it points to a sense of meaning, purpose, and spirituality, where we realize that our mission is not selfish but self-with-others.

In this way, a full and authentic performance of “followership” is as meaningful as “leadership”. To follow does not mean to be a slave to a dictator nor a fanatic to a cultic god. Rather, it is an exercise of our personal responsibility towards flourishing – that we commit to supporting a role model who spiritually inspires us.

Matthew 8:18-22. Follow me


Help it be

“Speaking words of wisdom, let it be!”

This weekend, I was fortunate to find a bit of rest and staycation with the family and my wife for my birthday. Although some would consider my birthday a “milestone” one in terms of age, I am really not the type to arrange something with all the bells and whistles.

My wife surprised me with a birthday cake that if scanned via a smartphone, Spotify will play a song. And Mika chose the song Let It Be as a theme song for this birthday. Great choice! Haha!

During my formative years, I have been enamored with shonen hero stories like Dragon Ball Z, Japanese RPGs and the individualistic hero ball basketball of Michael Jordan. There is such appeal to feeling powerful enough, almost a messianic complex, to be a savior or one-man team. “Make it happen!” Maybe because as an awkward introverted boy in an all-boys grade school, I did not want to be perceived as weak nor useless by my peers. I also did not want to be someone who just “let things happen” passively.

But as I become more mature and carry more responsibilities as a professor, a ninong, as a man, I realize that it is important to “help things happen”. I got this insight during Dr. Hilary Bradbury’s discussion on action research for transformations, and this seemed to be a great theme as I claim to enter my prime.

Helping things happen demands that a person is self-aware and also others-aware, such that we can find synergies and harmonies. “Self-with-others”. This means I should lean into who I am based on the strengths and tendencies I have consistently demonstrated in my life, while also entangling myself with others to pursue our missions in career and life. This is more akin to Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Stephen Curry in basketball; Luffy (One Piece) in terms of manga and anime.

Maybe the invitation for me in the next stage of my life is to embrace authenticity in a technical and meaningful way; to honor who I was and help myself in becoming. In doing so, hopefully I will be able to authentically help those I love and those around me; flourishing together.

To end, I dare revise Paul McCartney’s beautiful lyric:

“Speaking words of wisdom, help it be!”

Luke 9:51-62. I will follow you


Never entitled and always in the process of earning and becoming

The moment we feel we are entitled is the moment we pause from flourishing. Isn’t it a better mindset that we are always earning another’s trust or respect?

The greatest leaders are those who think they are always in a process of becoming a leader, never taking their peers or followers for granted. And maybe to be a great human is not to think one has “arrived”, but rather, to think that one is always in a process of becoming, arriving, and flourishing.

Matthew 8:5-17. I am not worthy to have you under my roof…


One repenting sinner and the ninety-nine righteous people

In the parable of the prodigal son, the righteous brother felt slighted that the father threw a celebration to welcome back the lost son. In a way, this is very understandable.

But at the same time, this may be the final roadblock for the truly righteous or virtuous: removing envy and insecurities, and rejoicing when a truly repenting fellow comes back and commits to being better.

In a way, this is the burden of a person who truly seeks to be virtuous or righteous: how can we transcend the pursuit of external rewards for our good behavior? How can we better internalize that the purity of our good actions and the peace it brings are the ultimate rewards in themselves, not external incentives?

The temptation of the devil is for the ninety-nine righteous people to become a mob that chooses to cancel the lost but repentant sinner.

Maybe, the invitation is to embrace not “self-over-others” nor “self-for-others” (because practically we need to retain a piece of ourselves for ourselves). It is to embrace “self-with-others”; being secure with who we are while finding how our natural gifts can be a means of accompaniment for repenting people committing to find their way.

Luke 15:3-7. Finding one lost sheep


We all play roles in each other’s world-building stories

I have been integrating One Piece and other world-building stories in my reflections lately, maybe because re-reading the gospels can feel like “world-building” too. It’s very typical to look at the story’s main character or lead protagonist, who is in a sense, the one who receives more “air time” as arbitrarily framed by the narrator.

What I like about world-building kinds of stories is that the context allows for multiple characters to be developed and more opportunities for the readers to relate with characters aside from the supposed lead protagonist. More over, if we think about it, it’s harder to relate with the main protagonist because they are usually protected by plot armor, or in the case of Jesus, a literal deus ex machina!

This is why we can unlock more meaning in learning more about other characters in the story, like John the Baptist being the “precursor”; or “supporting characters” having their own dreams and aspirations.

This humbles the reader and even the main protagonist of the story; we all have a purpose in life and various roles to play for each other. Our stories can infinitely overlap with each other’s stories… So how should we choose the roles we play?

Do we insist on hogging the spotlight?

Do we insist on finding an antagonist to hate?

Or do we reflect on the context that surrounds us, find our niche, and help let be a beautiful world that is being co-created?

Maybe it’s time to re-read our favorite stories and go beyond the main protagonist. Maybe we can learn how we can better play various roles in each other’s world-building stories.

Luke 1:57-66, 80. John the Baptist in the desert


Unknowingly becoming a false prophet

We tend to characterize “false prophets” as maliciously pretending to be good and expressing words that sound good, but are ultimately false or evil.

But if we (over)think about it, isn’t it possible to inadvertently become false prophets ourselves?

Especially for us teachers, we claim to know more about certain things compared with others. The challenge is that knowledge is constantly updating. What we may have previously learned as timeless principles can turn out to be myths that must be busted today or in the future.

Think about the gravity of this: we may give out advice that we believe to be “sound”, but may turn out to be detrimental for the person’s flourishing.

This is why it is a red flag for an expert to not scope one’s level of awareness and intelligence; to claim that “I know more about this so shut up and listen!” A true expert or a true prophet acknowledges the bounds of one’s knowledge. A true expert’s confidence is not built on a shaky fluff of hubris, but rather, it is rooted in a solid rock of humility.

Thus, we are compelled to examine ourselves. Especially those who teach, “influence”, or “create content”. We may think sharing our views and messages is harmless fun, but if left unchecked or not examined, we may inadvertently become false prophets that we claim to reject.

Matthew 7:15-20. Beware of false prophets


More about the means and less about the ends

“It is the journey, not the destination.”

In the grand scheme of things, we are always in a process of becoming. Seldom, if at all, do we really have “ultimate destinations” in this world. There is always, “what’s next?”

Maybe the paradox is hyperfocusing on outcomes is short-term thinking; while paying attention to the present and our relationship with others is ultimately long-term and sustainability-oriented thinking.

When I find myself wanting to manifest certain goals, I feel more pressure to find shortcuts and cut corners. But there are also those transcendent flow moments like finding that groove in a band or chemistry in team sports that seems to be the pinnacle of being in the present and being one with others. Ultimately, this leads to more meaning-making and long-term flourishing.

One Piece and the recent NBA Finals have been welcome escapes from my busy academic life, but they also echo timeless lessons.

One Piece is less about finding treasures and being “Pirate King” at the soonest possible time; it is about being free to relate with others and align goals with our loved ones.

The 2022 ring of the Warriors seem to be sweeter compared with the all-star 2017 and 2018 ones, precisely because of the process. It felt more earned, rather than something an all-star team is entitled to.

Vision, desired outcomes, goals and ends – they are important. But they are not everything. In the grand scheme of things, they serve to be guideposts and milestones to be celebrated. Achieving goals provide opportunities for us to check how far we have become, but more importantly, how long we can still go in our process of becoming and flourishing.

Thus, it really is more about the means and less about the ends. Maybe a well-lived life is not about how many milestones and awards we share in our social media platforms, but more on the almost-infinite amount of meaning we’ve made along the way.

Matthew 7:6, 12-14. Do to others what you would have them do to you