This is the fourth in a series of articles on overcoming discouragement.
The last article looked at how the laziness of discouragement comes from ignorance. I think it can also have a strong relationship with anger directed inward.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve noticed that someone really doesn’t like you? (‘Course you have!) And you don’t really understand why they are so cross with you, but you suspect it’s because they don’t really get you. Yet their idea of you seems so fixed that there is no point in trying to change their opinion – in fact, everything you do seems to validate in their eyes what a b****y awful person you are. They don’t give you a chance. They have fixed you with the super glue of their dislike, you’re not going anywhere.
Well, that may be bad enough, but I think it is even worse when we are doing it to ourselves because then we really can’t get away! In the case of the other person who dislikes you, some projection is going on that has more to do with them than with you, but they believe it to be the truth. In the same way, when we put ourselves down with negative self-talk, “For real?! You can’t change! You’re basically an unloveable/irritating/pathetic loser”, we are projecting an image of ourselves that says way more about our delusions of ignorance and dislike than about who we actually are. But we believe it anyway and then we’re stuck.
To change, therefore, we have to drop those limited ideas of ourselves and identify entirely with our potential and pure nature instead. All our meditations need this as their starting point. See this article for how this can apply to the first 2 stages of the path meditations, for example. I’ll explain another way in which we might do this, once I’ve given you some more examples.
The only thing that seems to work when someone hates us with no apparent reason is to have patient acceptance. We can stop focusing on their faults in a problematic way and instead accept them warts and all, without judgment. We can focus on something good about them, and let this gradually melt away the negativity — changing the atmosphere to allow both of us to change. Freedom.
Likewise, a way to counteract being heavy on ourselves is also to change the atmosphere by making an effort to focus on our good qualities instead of exaggerating our faults, so we can accept and love ourselves. Even more freedom.
I started smoking at school, and was still doing it at university. I tried to give up several times, but it was too hard – as soon as someone offered me a cigarette I would take it because I thought of myself as a smoker. Smoking was my natural default — I was a smoker trying hard not to smoke. There was a disconnect there, a contradiction. It was painful! It was unnatural.
One day, however, perhaps due to some blessing, I literally just woke up thinking of myself as a non-smoker. “I’m a non-smoker! I realize this now. I’m a non-smoker who has picked up this bad habit of smoking. I’m going to pack it in.” In the student bar later that day, when a friend offered me a cigarette, I declined: “No, thanks, I’m not a smoker.” “Course you are,” they laughed, but I no longer believed them. I never smoked again.
If we identify and grasp onto ourselves as being deluded, deluded we’ll stay. “See, I’m deluded! I can’t help it. I want to give up but I can’t.” If we identify ourselves as pure, generous, full of potential, and so on, we can give up our delusions because we are no longer grasping at them as who we are. They are no longer our natural default. They are just habits, just thoughts. Let them go. Think different thoughts instead.
In the next article, how to quickly dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves with some out of the box thinking.
Wow so good .
This is exactly what I needed to read right now. I’ve been feeling filthy, without realizing that I’ve identified myself with that negative self-image. If I can focus on the good qualities of others, surely I can do that for myself. Thanks for the reminder 😊 And thank you as well for doing this without tiring. Your words and experiences have been helpful to me as I am sure it has been to many. ❤️
you can focus on how you have put a smile on my face with your generous comment, for starters 🙂
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My main practice the past weeks has been just this! How many years of practicing incorrectly! In every situation I ask myself how it would be different if I really paid attention to and really believed my nature was kind, loving, peaceful? I meditate on it, thinking about different situations that will arise during the day, trying to see how different i would approach these situations with that belief, how different interactions with others will be. When I get deluded or frustrated with my kids or deluded in any way, I remember as soon as possible that my actual nature is kind, loving, peaceful, and it saves me hours of discouragement with myself for getting angry. Its been a game changer. Thanks for the article. xo
That’s a very skillful, practical way to do it, thank you for sharing it.
Andy Murray used to really criticise himself when he made mistakes in a match, he would discourage himself by saying things like “You’re useless” or “You idiot” etc. but in the last 12 months (since wining the Olympic Gold) he has really cut down on that. The results, 2 Grand Slams (including the first British Men’s Wimbledon in 77 years. There is no way Andy could have done that if he was still putting himself down. My guess is he stopped defining himself by his weaknesses and began to tap into all tremendous strengths he has, started to believe or have “faith” in his ability and potential… Thank you once again Luna for your kind advice.
Thanks for this terrific, timely observation!
Its definitely true that its our own fixed view of ourselves which holds us back. I remember an interview with Andy Murray from last summer where he said one thing he was working on was not criticising himself in a way that was discouraging during crucial points in a match. What he tended to do was make a few bad shots and then totally blast himself, in effect putting himself down further rather than encourage himself. One thing I noticed in his Wimbledon win yesterday was that he had totally stopped doing that…. I think the win speaks volumes about how much we can limit ourselves and what we can achieve when we let go of that habbit. Thanks again Luna for this very good and kind advice.
I have a feeling you are also Lam Chung, but I didn’t want to remove this similar comment about Andy Murray because it is so pertinent that it bears a little repetition 🙂
How can we focus on our good qualities without developing pride? Did not Atisha say we should only look for good qualities in others?
Good question. Can I ask how you would answer it first?
In order to develop pride we need to exaggerate the importance of our good qualities and feel arrogant and puffed up as a result. So I think we have to be realistic about them, keep them in proportion by comparing ourself to the Bodhisattva’s and enlightened beings and remembering that any good qualities we may have are only as a result of our Spiritual Guides or our kind mothers. Does Atisha’s advice warn us not to dwell too much on our own good qualities? I guess if we recognise them as not our own good qualities, but those of our Guru, then we are protected.