Do you ever feel like there’s always more to do – that however much you’re doing, it’s still not enough? And find yourself identifying with that sinking feeling, “I am not enough. I am not good enough.”?
This could be a sign that we need to take a few minutes to rejoice in our good qualities and good deeds.
Carrying on from this article: Get rich quick: how to create good karma with little effort.
I wager that anyone reading this deserves to rest on their laurels from time to time – pausing to feel happy about what we’ve already accomplished without feeling that we are constantly running behind the bus. Enjoying our achievements or rejoicing in our own virtue is a really important and sometimes over-looked practice in overcoming burn out, guilt, self-criticism, and feelings of inadequacy. There’s no need to worry that this will make us complacent, inefficient, or lazy, for in fact it overcomes the laziness of discouragement and is part of our joyful effort.
As Ven Geshe Kelsang says in Joyful Path of Good Fortune:
If we also rejoice in our own virtuous actions we shall increase their power and overcome depression and discouragement.
How often do you do that, as a matter of interest?
Are you happy go-lucky?
A couple of weeks ago I realized that I had been feeling uncharacteristically inadequate to all I have on my plate and/or getting enough done every day to make this precious human life truly worthwhile before I drop dead (despite the desperate need). I saw that I was under the self-imposed impression that there was always something I could be doing, but wasn’t; and that my occasional fantasies of escaping all responsibilities to spend the rest of my life on retreat in a cave was basically a reaction to this. Also, given that a cave isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, I saw how I needed to learn to be on my own in a cave whilst at the same time doing all this other stuff.
Do I really have more burdens these days or have I just gotten into the habit of laboring under that perception? I think it’s the latter. That old saying that if you enjoy what you’re doing you don’t have to work a day in your life held true for me for years and could easily hold true for me again. I used to be happy-go-lucky, satisfied for the most part with all the things I was doing every day – knowing there was always more to do but not worried about it. I was a stranger to pangs of inadequacy or guilt, even when not working particularly hard. Then, ironically, at a time when by my standards I am working pretty hard, I found myself in a bit of a habit of thinking that I’m not doing enough, that I’m pulled in too many directions, that too many people “need” me, that I’m only as good as my next performance.
One antidote for me against busyness is not to make myself too busy to do a regular meditation practice – absorbing into the truth of Dharma – because this is what brings real purpose and space into the day. Perhaps a little retreat would be a good idea … and luckily January retreat season is around the corner.
But, in addition, when analyzing this particular sensation of deficiency, I figured out that I was forgetting to rejoice in myself.
Rejoicing in ourselves
This common belief that we’re not doing enough – that we are not enough – may be true if we’re lolling around all day aimlessly surfing the internet, but is just as likely to be deceptive. I decided to see what would happen if I contemplated all the good and good-enough things I’ve done in this life and, most likely, previous lives; and soon I was feeling pleased with myself, in a good way, not in a proud way. This energized me to do more. It overcame the incipient feelings of discouragement and demoralizing guilt. It worked so well that I haven’t felt that way since.
Venerable Geshe-la talks about this:
We sometimes make ourselves depressed by dwelling on the thought “I have been practicing for a long time but I do not seem to have achieved anything.
Substitute also “I have been trying to help XYZ or get this job done for a long time but I do not seem to have achieved anything.”
By indulging in such thoughts we can become so discouraged that we feel like abandoning our practice.
Substitute also “that we feel like abandoning our responsibilities and running away to a cave.”
That’s a good word for it, “indulging”. We can be more disciplined in not allowing our self-critical thoughts to take over. Feeling bad about ourselves is an indulgence if you think about it. There are so many other more positive thoughts we could be having if we wanted – including feeling good about ourselves. (There are a bunch of articles about that here, starting with this one: Silencing the inner critic.)
At times like this we should meditate on our own virtue. There is no doubt that we have practiced virtue in the past because we now have a precious human life with all the necessary freedoms and endowments and we have the opportunity to learn and practice Dharma. This good fortune comes only as a result of practicing moral discipline, patience, and stainless prayer.
So, we did that. We have done innumerable good actions in our past lives. And we have done a lot in this life as well. As Geshe-la encourages us:
We can recall how many times we have listened to Dharma or read Dharma books, how many times we have practiced meditation, or how many virtuous actions we have performed. If we remember these and appreciate them without pride, we shall be able to rejoice purely and thus greatly increase our virtue.
Well on our way
We need to identify with our Buddha potential every day, for sure – but we also need to identify and rejoice in all the things we’ve already done to ripen that potential. That way it doesn’t feel as though all that work is still in the future, that we’ve barely gotten started, that we’ll never get around to it, that we are just wasting all that potential.
We can itemize all the times we’ve already helped friends, family, and others, been really kind, developed happy minds of love and compassion, thought about emptiness, developed faith, etc – why not take five or ten minutes to feel happy with all of this, happy with ourselves? There is no pride here because there is no exaggeration; we are simply acknowledging the truth. We don’t need to feel special, just lucky, and identify with being a good, kind person who is in actual fact doing a lot.
Don’t worry that rejoicing in your own virtues will increase your self-cherishing – it won’t. We’re not thinking about how gorgeous we look (although we inhabit a meat suit) or how much money we make (although money can’t buy happiness). We are thinking about our virtuous actions etc – and these are all pretty much about ripening our spiritual potential and/or helping others. We are not focusing on a self-important self.
District nurse Lumy, aged around 40, told me yesterday while visiting my Mom that she worked in finance and then trained as an engineer back in her own country. But although she was rich, these careers never sat well with her because she had too much empathy and wanted to help others. So, she trained as a nurse. She now works long hours, ten days in a row before a day off, and is exhausted and broke – but interiorly, she said, she feels rich and peaceful and that her life is meaningful. She said she sometimes questioned if making her own life meaningful is why she is helping all these people, and if that was somehow cheating. (Which kind of makes her doubly commendable.) I replied that her life was meaningful because of her care for others vs just herself, and this was simply an acknowledgment of the truth – so she didn’t need to overthink it. She liked that.
Although there’s always going to be more to do while there are suffering beings left in samsara, if we do it from the standpoint of being happy with ourselves we can keep going indefinitely. We don’t even need others’ praise or validation. If we are not happy with ourselves, rejoicing in our own good qualities and deeds can effectively get us out of that rut.
Please try it if you need it! And report back.
Next article, overcoming mom guilt … is on its way.