We are all involved in a life long struggle against our sinful tendencies. Our greatest challenge is to recognize the weaknesses in our character, to gain a clear view of our defects and failings so we can overcome them. Normally this is done through inner introspection. Sometimes others will point our weaknesses out to us and in this case we must be careful not to react badly, but to accept this information as a gift from God.
A disciple of Elder Paisios asked him if it was possible to try and see oneself as he really is, but be unable to actually do so. He answered "Yes, if his attempt to do so contains pride, he will not be able to see the real self." We need a bit of humility to begin to see our true self so we can begin the work to grow spiritually. We can use a good mirror.
Elder Paisios advises us that until we are able to uproot our defects we should mirror ourselves in the defects of others. He says that other people are a mirror in which we can see ourselves.
Do you find that you can easily spot the failings of others, but find it difficult to see your own failings? This is a most common condition. When Elder Paisios was asked about this condition he pointed out that we see the illness in others when we cannot see them in ourselves.
If you knew you own illness, you wouldn't know the illness of others. I am not saying you shouldn't be concerned with their pain and suffering, but you mustn't preoccupy yourself with other's faults. If a person is not concerned with his self, the tempter devil will lead him to be concerned with other's faults. If we work on ourselves, then we know ourselves and come to know others as well. Otherwise, we judge others by the wrong assumptions we make about ourselves.There are two important points here. One is that we can see our own faults in others if we are not blocked from seeing them because of our pride. Our efforts to focus on others' defects can block us from seeing our own defects because of our pride. Second, once we recognize the failings of others in ourselves, we will no longer judge them because we will know the true assumptions about them. We now know them in ourselves are now focused on our own defects and not theirs.
Next time you catch yourself judging others, or being critical of their behavior, stop and reflect on what you have in yourself that mirrors this behavior. When you find that weakness in yourself, see if that does not change your view of the one you were about condemn. Most likely you will find that you now do not have time for such speculation as you are busy working on your own perfection.
When you do find a weakness in yourself all you need is willpower to make changes, according to Elder Paisios. It's just like with a physical illness. We must accept the treatment to get well and carry it out.
This is why the starting point is for one not to be embarrassed, but gladly aware of his illness, his faults. From that point, he must accept the necessary treatment, the appropriate medicines, and be grateful to his physicians - the spiritual father or the elder - and not resist them.When you catch yourself judging others, stop and seek to find the weakness in yourself. Pretend you are looking into a mirror. By using others as a mirror in this way you can begin to dig deeper into your true self. With the help of your spiritual father you will find cures for what you find and you will also find your relations with others and God changes as you change.
Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels III: Spiritual Struggle, pp157-164