Confronting our harmful thoughts, words and actions, then taking steps to remedy them, is part of the spiritual path. Even in New Age spirituality, where positive psychology abounds, a practitioner cannot avoid the deep and painful work of repentance. Before we can replace our "negative thoughts" with "positive affirmations" à la Louise Hay, we must first identify our negative thought patterns, see them for what they are, and purge them from our thinking. In this process, we experience contrition.
Embracing contrition is painful. Yet, we can experience pain without turning it into chronic suffering. Pain refines us. Pain is inextricable with the human experience. Suffering is a phenomenon born of holding onto pain until it defines us. Contrition is a phenomenon which uses pain to extricate us from suffering.
For Christians who practice Lent, turning away from our sin (harmful thoughts, words and actions) is inescapable. Lent always comes with healthy side of contrition. Lent is not a feel-good experience. I have historically shied away from it, especially in my more New Age phases of development.
Through my yoga practice, I developed a new appreciation for Lent. In reading the accounts of the saints and sages from the Yoga tradition, I recognize many of the teachings from the Christian Bible on the value of humility and developing an unrelenting awareness of our harmful tendencies. Yogis regularly engage in practices to clear out all of their destructive habits and behaviors. One of the most healing and transformational experiences of my life came from being corrected and punished by two of my teachers. I was fortunate enough to experience the same treatment from both a Yoga teacher and a Christian teacher. In my quest for undying self-love and approval, I had become blind to my sins. The pain of being rebuked and rejected helped me more than any self-help could have.
When we think back to those painful experiences in our history when we have been forced to face our faults, when we have hit the wall of our own iniquity, we will invariably see a turning point at those junctures. Either we improved or we deteriorated. We had to make a choice at that juncture, "will I continue on this road with these same behaviors, or will I choose a new road?"
The process of choosing a new road involves contrition, which is "sincere penitence or remorse," and theologically speaking it is "sorrow for and detestation of sin with a true purpose of amendment" (dictionary.com).
The only way beyond our pain is through it:
"Having overcome the impervious gloom of ignorance, by the force of the purity of thy nature; you may pursue the course of the yoga, with the contrition of your inner soul, and belief in the sàstras, and in the dictates of your spiritual guide" (v.36, The Yoga-vásishtha-mahárámáyana of Válmiki, Volume 3, Issue 2). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). "He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3).
Divine assistance and favor come to us when we embrace our contrite hearts in our human experience. God's grace can become manifest to us without repentance and contrition, because God can do anything, but for our own peace, happiness and spiritual maturity we must experience contrition.