The Energetic Dynamics of Guilt and Shame

Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.

Gretchen Rubin

Fear is the greatest creator of hucha. Hucha, or heavy energy, always siphons off businessman rolling a giant stoneyour energy and so reduces your personal power. It weighs you down and keeps you from moving forward with well-being, grace, and ease.

Right up there with fear as wasteful of energy are two emotions that most of us have felt at some point and probably still carry with us in our poq’pos as hucha: shame and guilt.

Shame is what you feel when you have violated your own standards or hurt yourself. Guilt is how you feel when you have harmed someone else.

In the Andean tradition, your capacity to act is called your personal power. Personal power is equivalent to personal freedom and even wisdom. You can have strong or weak personal power. If you have strong personal power, you have a larger degree of personal freedom because your capacities allow you greater choices for action. The greater your personal power, the greater your capacity to influence the kawsay pacha on behalf of yourself and others. The more personal power, the more clearly you see “reality as it really is” and so the more wisely you can act and speak. If your personal power is weak, the opposite is true.

We all can look back at our lives and see when we have acted with diminished personal power and from clouded perception. We all have things that we feel guilty or shameful about—things we have thought, said, and done that keep us bound to the past because they created hucha for ourselves or others. But the Andean tradition asks that we release that guilt or shame (or, more pointedly, that we not rope binding mans handscreate hucha for ourselves because of guilt or shame). The Andean tradition would say that we should not feel guilty or shameful about things we did not have the capacity to do differently at that time. This is qawaq—being clear-seeing and perceiving reality as it really is (or was).

Usually feelings of guilt or shame come with hindsight. With the clarity of distance from the event and the passage of time, you can see the impact of your words or deeds and so judge that impact as helpful or harmful. Then you feel guilt or shame, or you don’t.  While it is valuable to admit your mistakes and shift your behavior, not forgiving yourself for them just creates more hucha.

When you judge yourself, you necessarily do so from the present, when some time has passed and you have likely developed greater capacities and so expect more from yourself. But you can’t judge your past self according to the personal power of your present self. If you do, you are failing to look back asking, “What was I capable of at the time of the event?” If you are clear-seeing, you might admit that you did the best you could at that time, even as you see now, looking back, that what you did was not beneficial to yourself or others. The Andean tradition gives you the benefit of the doubt. Should you do any less for yourself?

One way to discern whether guilt or shame is a justifiable feeling or not is to tease out from past events how much of the situation was due to your personal power (your will) and how much was due to your intention (state of your consciousness). Sometimes we are unconscious to the motivation for our actions. All the more reason not to torture yourself now for what you did then. But if, for example, you had the personal power for a large degree of choice and action, but willfully and intentionally did that which decreased the sami for yourself or someone else, well . . . then, yes . . . you might rightfully feel guilt or shame. You can then take responsibility for your lapse. You can probe to see what motivated your intention. You can learn from your mistakes and take responsibility, making no excuses for yourself. But don’t waste energy beating yourself up!

The point of self-analysis and self-revelation is not to punish yourself but to learn and grow. Long-term feelings of guilt and shame are a clue that you are stuck and here there green road signnot growing. Stuck energy is always hucha.

The path from “there” to “here” and from “then” to “now” is the path of energy flow. To move your energy in productive ways, use the two core practices of saminchakuy (to cleanse your bubble of hucha) and saiwachakuy (to empower your bubble with sami).

Consciously and energetically initiating beneficial change is a powerful way to increase your personal power and well-being.  So if you find yourself trapped in the past, feeling persistent guilt or shame or some other energy-draining emotion, use your Andean practices to begin to get the stuck energy flowing again. In the interest of integrity, make amends if you can—both with the recipient of your hurtful behavior and with yourself. But no matter what, always, always use your practices. Don’t wallow in the past, shift it by turning hucha into sami.

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