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Question: Can character and true strength ever really be taught?

Answer: The only higher facts that can transform our lives are those that have been made our own through firsthand experience. Until a child learns to walk for himself, he cannot move from place to place on his own, regardless of how many people he has seen walk. In the same way, memorized ideas woven into a person's thinking without any true understanding will be of no help during a crisis. Surface ideas that have not taken hold in a person's heart cannot grow and mature so that they touch all of a person's life with guidance and wisdom. Parroted ideas do not provide real strength any more than the word "sugar" painted on a lemon makes it sweet.

When you see a truth from yourself, however, through your own experience, it becomes a part of you. It proves itself to you again and again through more wide-ranging examples that you yourself discover, and it attracts other truths to it. With time your clarity of vision grows, and because it is based on Truth, it cannot be shaken. What starts as one right idea - a single drop of refreshing water - grows to a generously flowing fountain that nourishes and sustains you for life.

Most people want very much to be strong, but do not seem to be able to find the real strength they yearn for. Instead, they find qualities that pass themselves off as strength, but secretly leave these people feeling weak. Here are some examples of false strength:

  • lashing out in anger when frustrated

  • demanding that we are right

  • blaming someone else for causing the problem

  • being loud and intimidating, or cold and critical

  • feeling confident because of any contrived appearance

By contrast, here are some examples of real strength:

  • remaining calm in a crisis

  • never feeling the need to prove ourselves to anyone

  • seeking to solve the problem rather than placing blame

  • enjoying self-command regardless of uncertain circumstances

  • seeing all setbacks as necessary steps to Higher success

Study these two lists and try to see their great difference, not only in the individual areas of strength, but also with regard to the whole human character from which they arise. What a different kind of life would be led by someone who displayed the qualities in the second list as compared to the first. It is possible for any of us to achieve that different kind of life, but only in proportion to our willingness to see the difference between real and false strength. Our growing understanding of the difference is key, for it brings about an inner change that puts us in an entirely new relationship with life.

Question: What are the recognizable aspects of true character?

Answer: Our true nature can never really be defined, only realized in varying degrees depending upon the individual's receptivity, but let's consider just a few characteristics of this True Nature as an awakened person might experience them. They include an abiding sense of the Eternal, which is never apart from one's own self; the direct knowledge that 'you‰ are somehow situated in the center of the universe and, as such, that everything in life is not only created just for you, but waits for you to claim it; and certainly not last, and by no means least, a deep awareness of participating in a great purpose and plan to life, coupled with an unshakable confidence that nothing can interfere with its success.

Question: Do we develop character by working to eliminate bad habits, or is it only by creating good habits in the first place that character is built?

Here is a short poem:

"Thoughts turn to acts and habits are born;
from habits the shape of character is formed."

We drop self-defeating behavior by coming awake to the fact that each negative act to which we give our life is first a bit of life stolen from us. It is not well understood, but before it is possible to defeat ourselves, we are in unconscious relationship with a defeated nature that is not our own. By working to be awake to ourselves in the moment, our awareness of these destructive energies permits us to actually experience their dark nature before that nature has a chance to deceive us. And how does it deceive us? With its promise of relief from the very pain its presence within us has produced! Once you can see this truth, you will also see that all self-defeating acts are the effects of our unawareness. Awareness ends this downhill relationship and sets us upon the Upper Path where our developing True Character ensures that our dark days are put behind us.

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