Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Tolerance

All of us who deem ourselves “good” people, consider ourselves to be tolerant. Scratch a little below the surface, however, and we may discover less tolerance than we had imagined. Perhaps our version of tolerance involves outwardly saying nothing, while inwardly we recoil or grit our teeth and fume. Tolerance means allowing, both inwardly and outwardly, others to be themselves, to be different from us, to have beliefs and practices that conflict with our own. We often hear calls for tolerance. Usually, though, it takes the form of one person exhorting another to be more tolerant, perhaps justifiably. In the spiritual path, we look first to put our own house in order.

Intolerance manifests our egoism, our self-centeredness. So reducing our own intolerance lightens our spiritual burden and removes inner obstacles to our path. As with all issues of how we relate to people, we work from the inside out, beginning with ourselves, then our family and loved ones, then others toward whom we are neutral, and finally those toward whom we bear antipathy. And as with all sources of inner disharmony, the healing of intolerance comes gradually through clear seeing. We cannot shed intolerant attitudes without effective preparation, which consists of noticing intolerance operating in us.

We begin with ourselves, with our own “warts.” To what extent can I tolerate my own limitations of mind, emotion, and body? Tolerance toward myself does not prevent me from trying to improve. But some things cannot be improved, for example, the basic structure and limitations of my body. As long as I do not accept my unchangeable aspects, I will not accept other people. Certain aspects of myself may be amenable to change, but is it really worth the time and effort to change them? The answer varies. Even with those aspects that can and should be changed, an attitude of tolerance makes the changes more possible. Intolerance simply adds another layer to the problem, a layer that perversely serves to prevent any change in the thing I cannot tolerate in myself. For example, if I need to lose weight and have an attitude of disgust toward my overweight body, the disgust itself may drive me to eat more than necessary. If I can truly tolerate, accept, and embrace the whole of myself, I may then grow more tolerant of others.

To what extent do we give space to, do we truly tolerate our family and loved ones? Can we let our children be themselves and train them properly, while accepting their differences with us? Can we let our spouse be himself or herself, without pushing a program of reform onto them?

Intolerance breeds hatred and violence. Milder forms merely waste our precious energies and keep us mired in its poison. Giving up an intolerant attitude toward others is actually a great gift to ourselves. Intolerance toward individuals or groups, whether of another religion or race, or just someone who has bad manners, saps our spiritual strength. But we cannot simply decide to be tolerant of others. We need to see intolerance whenever it rears its head in us. See it clearly. See its effects on us. See that it is just a feeling or thought passing through, a passing attitude. See that I am more than this ego-centered rejection, this visitor to my consciousness. See, however, how it claims to be me, how it says within me: “I hate …” See how it says “I,” when it is not I, but merely an intolerant attitude pretending to speak for the whole of me.

Why does tolerance matter to our spiritual path? Simply put, one cannot enter heaven while harboring venomous and intolerant attitudes. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This describes the structure of the higher world: purity of heart is a necessary condition for entry. Whether from individual egoism or borrowed from a group egoism, intolerance blocks the spirit.

 

     

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