According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of hypocrisy is “the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.” I can only speak for myself, but I think it is very difficult to avoid being a hypocrite! Imagine a world where everyone claimed that their standard of behavior or belief was only as lofty as their actual behavior. I like the idea that we claim higher ideals than we’re able to accomplish. It makes me think of one of my favorite words, aspiration.
When I think of the way I would like to be as a person I am considering my aspirational self. That version of me is quite wonderful! He is thoughtful, generous, kind, amusing, erudite, well read: in other words, quite perfect! But I fail over and over again to live up to this aspirational image as I go about the business of each ordinary day. I fail over and over again, and regret that I cannot quite meet these standards I set for myself. And I’m in good company. No less of a man that Saul of Tarsus, St. Paul to Christians, said “for I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans, 7:15).
I have a theory on this that I believe makes sense. I think that the root of hypocrisy begins, ironically, with aspirational thinking. I have come to believe that in general people are kindhearted and have a motivation toward “the good.” At our best we have a strong knowing, maybe even a felt experience, of who we can be at our best, and we want to be at our best, especially with the people we most love. But we fail for so many reasons. I think the most common reason is simply fatigue. We get tired physically and emotionally, and fail to meet our standards. We get discouraged by life and its many setbacks, sometimes of our own making and sometimes seemingly at random. And, again, we fail to live up to our own standards. The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous cites an acronym associated with addiction relapse: HALT, or H(ungry), A(ngry), L(onely), T(ired). Indeed, when any of these conditions are present, we are more likely to fail to live up to our aspirational self.
But we absolutely should set aspirations! For in the setting of an aspiration we may fail repeatedly, but the intention to live in a loftier way alone lifts the level of our lived experience. For it is my aspirations that inspire me to be kind, generous, and thoughtful. It is my aspirations that give me the extra energy at the end of a long day to make one more phone call to offer comfort to someone suffering or advice to someone who feels lost. My aspirations alone help me to be a better man. Those same aspirations that sound like accusations in the midst of my failure are the same voices whispering in my ear to persevere in hard times, go the distance, be the best man I can possibly be.
Which brings me back to your mindfulness practice. If mindfulness is new to you, and you are struggling to find the time and the place to practice mindfulness, do not despair because of your failure to do so. Continue to aspire to be mindful! The aspiration alone lifts you up, makes you aware that you could, perhaps should, be engaging the practice, and those thoughts will linger and remind you to take advantage of every opportunity, no matter how small, to reengage the practice. The intention to be mindful alone will change your way of being. If you aspire to have a strong mind and gentle heart the pain of your hypocrisy as you fail to be strong and gentle will bring you back to your practice over and over again. Don’t be afraid to be a hypocrite in the best sense of the word: it is simply your way of living your aspirations.