Time to unlock our infinite potential

6 mins read.

We need to develop a healthy sense of self based on something genuine. Fame won’t crack it, as this example from The Week shows, and nor, probably, will any other worldly concern, such as fortune or worldly enjoyments:

Maisie Williams says fame has had a negative effect on her mental health and self-esteem. Williams, who was 13 years old when she was cast as Arya Stark (in Game of Thrones) said there was a period of time where she was sad after becoming overwhelmed by the criticism on social media.

“It gets to a point where you’re almost craving something negative, so you can just sit in a hole of sadness,” Williams said.

While she has tried to move past what people have said online, Williams, 22, said she still thinks about comments that hurt her.

“I still lie in bed at, like, 11 o’clock at night telling myself all the things I hate about myself,” Williams said. 

This is the last of this series of articles on overcoming self-hatred and toxic self-criticism. It follows straight on from this article, which looked at the first step for overcoming these delusions once and for all = changing our experience.

Step 2 ~ New improved sense of self

Allowing ourselves to feel even the slightest peace, we are changing our experience. We know too that this is the tip of the iceberg, from which we can deduce that there is a lot more peace where this comes from. Identifying with this peaceful experience is how our experience will grow. So we think:

This is me. I am peaceful! And there is a lot more where this comes from. I really do have boundless potential.

We are experiencing a new view or a new sense of self based on different feelings — feeling good about ourselves.

And on this legit foundation we can build – positive, wise states of mind, all the stages of the path to enlightenment of both Sutra and Tantra.

Another tip: Whenever we sit down to meditate, it’s always a good idea to start by tuning into a positive and happy mind that we’re already familiar with, so that our experiences are rooted in something we are already experiencing. We can use something or someone that we already find it easy to feel good about, such as affection for a pet or gratitude for a kindness. Anything that can move our mind quickly to peace and happiness will do, for we can then smoothly seguey from that into fully-fledged Dharma minds. We are not, in other words, obliged to start from scratch. More on that in this article, Start where you are.

It makes all the difference also to remember that whenever our mind is peaceful or positive in any way, we are already connected to the blessings of all enlightened beings, to enlightenment itself. We can develop refuge: 

This peaceful mind, however slight, is my Buddha nature. It is already mixed with the peaceful non-deluded reality of my Spiritual Guide (Buddha’s) mind — love and enlightenment. It is me.

This open us up to even more blessings, with which we feel our minds fuse even more fully with positivity.

Step 3 ~ New improved intentions

If we are genuinely feeling, “I am a happy peaceful person, I have boundless Buddha nature,” what wishes and intentions will naturally arise from that? We will want to do well, we will want to share this with others, we will have more patient acceptance of ourselves and others. In other words, this new improved sense of self will now naturally lead to new improved intentions.

Step 4 ~ New improved actions

This in turn will lead to new improved actions or behavior, as we always follow our wishes or intentions. We will naturally try to fulfill this destiny. If we think we are peaceful, we will engage in peaceful actions. If we think we have boundless potential for love, wisdom, and compassion, we will be acting to realize those qualities, as well as enjoying the daily challenges that allow us to improve.

Step 5 ~ New improved life

And this will lead to a new improved life and experiences, in a virtuous cycle. Because our karma has also improved, this leads to longer-term good results as well.

Summary

To summarize, just telling ourselves we’re great doesn’t work. Nor does attempting to change our intentions or our actions while still identifying with being an inherently limited person. If we miss out on the changing of our experience, none of this is sustainable.

So, to those of you who have been meditating for years — if you find you are not changing as fast as you’d like, do check to see if this is because you are not changing what you are actually imputing yourself on/identifying yourself with. If we do change our experience — our basis of imputation — the rest will follow.

No one can give us freedom. We have to claim it. And thanks to meeting these Buddhist psychological and spiritual insights, we can get started right away.

“Look within you to find peace”

At any time we feel unpeaceful, including self-critical, we can ask ourself:

What version of myself am I relating to? And does it even exist?

We can dissolve that limited self away with breathing meditation or something stronger (as explained here for example), and identify with the resulting peace, freedom, and potential. Only THEN should we do our meditations.

As Arya Starck (Williams) puts it:

“Honestly, I want a normal life,” she said. “I don’t want any of this crazy, crazy world because it’s not worth it.”

Williams said the first step to finding her happiness is to stop trying to be who people want her to be, and instead, focus on being herself.

“It sounds really hippy-dippy and like ‘look within you to find peace’, but it is true,” she said. “At the end of your day, you’re making yourself feel this way for a reason.”

Just one last thing

When we impute ourselves on our pure potential, we can’t find that self either; which means we are not inherently pure. However, there are two good reasons for doing it anyway:

  1. This basis of imputation is more valid because we can’t ever destroy our pure potential whereas we can completely eradicate our delusions.
  2. It works a lot better – it leads to better intentions, actions, and results, which propel us toward growing freedom and the happiness of enlightenment.

And, if we want to make it even more effective, we can recognize that we are merely imputing this self on the basis of our pure potential. This self is mere name, not solid, real, or findable — but it functions very well.

That’s it, folks

In these last 7 articles we looked at the inner critic, where it comes from, and what’s wrong with it. We looked at how our whole life depends on our actions, intentions, sense of self, and experience. We saw first how NOT to break that cycle, and then HOW to break that cycle by getting in touch with our pure and kind nature, identifying with it, and building upon that experience. All this can start with the simplest skillful breathing meditation.

Thanks for reading! I hope you have found these 7 articles on overcoming self-criticism helpful — I have enjoyed writing them 😄 I’d love your feedback and comments.

Related articles

The meditation game changer 

How much can a person really change?

All the articles on overcoming discouragement and self-criticism in one place 

Giving up self-hatred once and for all

5.5 mins read.

Kadampa Buddha 4Call me biased, but I can’t help thinking that Buddha Shakyamuni is the best psychologist who ever walked the earth. Yet he is also transcendent, visionary. His vision is not just about us all feeling better, but about us all being our very best self, which just happens to be enlightened.

Following directly on from this article, How to stop being so down on ourselves.

A friend of mind recently went through the stuff of nightmares, a hellish trauma. This only happened in November, but she feels that with Dharma she should have “got over it by now,” and is upset with herself for feeling constant flashes of anger, fear, and sadness. Instead of accepting these unpleasant thoughts as entirely normal post-traumatic weather in a sky-like mind, she is buying into them and feeling they define her; and therefore she feels she is failing at being a “good Buddhist.” It will be hard for her to move beyond this horror if she keeps beating herself up, and her Buddhist practices and meditations will just be overlayed onto a sense of an inadequate self. I am glad we had a chance to talk yesterday because this is exactly the kind of problem we are dealing with here.

The last 4 articles have been about toxic self-criticism or self-hatred, what’s wrong with it, and where it comes from, including the relationship between our experience, sense of self, intentions, actions, and life. Now, with all this practical insight, we’re ready to give it up once and for all.

So how do we? First it might be helpful to see how NOT to.

Option 1. Change my view of self?

pep talk in mirrorMaybe we think the first step to overcoming self-hatred is changing our sense of self by telling ourselves we are great?

But this doesn’t work, any more than it works for someone else to tell us we’re great if we’re not feeling it. Maybe we talk to ourselves in the mirror: “You’re wonderful! You can do anything!” But our experience tells us otherwise. Affirmations or pep talks in the mirror won’t work if we’re feeling crummy inside.

Option 2. Change my intentions?

So maybe I should change my intentions or wishes?

But that doesn’t work while we are holding onto a limited view of self because what we want depends on whom we think we are, our sense of identity. So, for example, if we feel we’re a really hopeless person, we cannot help but have underwhelming wishes that hold us back from realizing our potential. This in turn makes us feel even more hopeless.

Option 3. Change my actions?

Often we try to change our actions through sheer will power, for example by forcing ourselves to do things outside our comfort zone, things that are supposed to be good for us. However, this is a stretch and not sustainable because there is a gulf between our head and our heart. It generally winds up with us having to control or suppress our actual wishes, which can make us feel hypocritical or more conflicted. For example, if we feel we need to be on a diet but are identifying ourself as an overweight loser whose only comfort is food, we may lock the fridge door but then give in and stuff ourselves later.

To summarize, what we do depends upon what we want, which in turn depends upon who we think we are.

So what CAN I change?!

No-one-can-make-you-feel-inferior-withoutGiven this, what do we need to change in order to get rid of self-hatred and other delusions? We have to change our EXPERIENCE. And this starts by getting in touch with our peaceful, pure, and boundless nature. It is not a case of, “Whatever! I can’t do this, it’s not me!”, believing that our lack of peace and incompetence is our very nature. Look what that leads too! We need to know our real nature or potential versus doubting it.

In How to Transform Your Life (free here), Geshe Kelsang explains:

Buddha compared our Buddha nature to a gold nugget in dirt, for no matter how disgusting a person’s delusions may be, the real nature of their mind remains undefiled, like pure gold. In the heart of even the cruelest and most degenerate person exists the potential for limitless love, compassion, and wisdom.

We need to discover who we truly are. This can be as simple at first as doing a short breathing meditation and giving ourselves some moments to identify with the result. When we disconnect from the external world and the internal chatter, we discover an innate peace of mind and goodness. We have changed our experience to one of relative happiness and contentment. We start to get what Buddha means about our mind being like a limitless sky.

hero inside 2If we sit with this for long enough (as a guest writer explained beautifully here and I plan on exploring more in the next article), we come to realize we have developed a new view of ourself. We have changed our basis of imputation. And we can build upon this with many virtuous and wise states of mind, all the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra if we so desire.

A conversation

 Just as I was writing all this, I overheard a conversation at the next table in this Denver café – a young woman was sharing with her friend how she hadn’t been invited to a social occasion: “I don’t like it; it makes me feel small. Who does she think she is?!” The other commiserated animatedly with some swear words and distasteful “facts” about the unfriendly person; and they both laughed.

To serve and protect our unworthy small self, to try and make ourselves feel bigger, one strategy is to be down on somebody else and ideally get other people to agree with us.

feeling small 2The dissing and laughter seems to have solved the problem temporarily! But, no, after a brief relief they are back on the subject – “What I want to say but can’t is ‘I’m tired of you being so b****.”

What her friend could usefully say to empower her is, “Look at the limited self you’re holding onto right now. It’s not actually you. It is a fake sense of self. Just let it go. You can be the master of your own moods.” But instead they are both now pinning all the frustration about the way she feels on the b**** friend who didn’t invite her; and that person of course is out of their control so there is no solution there.

As mentioned all over the place, there are two problems here. The inner problem can be solved by dissolving away the limited self by realizing it’s not actually there, and identifying with her natural self-contained happiness and boundless potential instead. On that basis, maybe she can find the courage to talk to her b**** friend, making an attempt to solve the outer problem, but in a calm way, without feeling on the defensive. If she does that, her friend is also more likely to listen.

The next installment is here.

Comments welcome!

Related articles

Body image: a Buddhist perspective

Meditation in the pursuit of happiness

Overcoming stress at work

What would a Buddhist do? 

How to stop being so down on ourselves

I was thinking the other day that perhaps it is no wonder self-hatred is a thing — if we have the inner poison of anger and spend 24/7 with ourselves, we are bound to get angry with ourselves sooner or later! self-hate 1

Someone I know, who btw is fabulous and has literally nothing wrong with them, wrote this to me:

Wow, self hatred, it is what it all comes down to! I make some headway, blessings get in here and there, but that is always what I slap back too. Of course, this blocks everything! I always feel like there is just this huge block to my creativity, imagination, like a numbness that I am increasingly aware of. It’s this, it’s self hatred. When I perceive anything as going wrong, or I say something I wish I hadn’t, or I perceive someone in a way that is not in the best light, I catch myself saying to myself, “I hate myself.” It’s fast, it’s constant. Keep these articles coming.

So, carrying on from Toward an empowered sense of self, I am keeping these articles coming.

To effectively get rid of self-dislike and indeed all delusions, we need to see how our sense of self changes entirely in dependence upon our thoughts. For this purpose it is very helpful to understand the relationship between our experience, view (or sense) of self, intentions, actions, and results/life.

A talented guest writer just wrote about this dependent relationship in this incredibly  helpful article, The meditation game changer. Please read it if you get a chance! I will now attempt to apply the same principles specifically to overcoming being so hard on ourselves.

Stack of pebbles in shallow water with blue sky background

  1. Experience

Our sense of self is shifting constantly, depending on what parts of the body or mind we are identifying our self with, or, to use a technical phrase, imputing our self on.

A person’s so called “basis of imputation” is in general their body and mind or, usually (at any given moment) parts of their body and mind. As my teacher Geshe Kelsang says:

We normally refer to our body and mind as “my body” and “my mind,” in the same way as we refer to our other possessions. This indicates that they are different from our I. The body and mind are the basis upon which we establish our I, not the I itself. ~ How to Transform Your Life (download the free ebook)

We have a body and we have a mind, but we are not a body and we are not a mind. However, even though they are not the same, we make the mistake of identifying our self as our body and mind, conflating the imputed object (the self) with its basis of imputation (the body and mind). For example, if my stomach hurts I may believe, “I am stick-figure-and-clouds-vector-14506555in pain”; and when unhappy experiences occur I may believe “I am unhappy.” This as opposed to “My stomach aches” or “Unhappy cloud-like feelings are arising in my sky-like mind.” 

Maybe this’d be fine and dandy if it didn’t lead to all our physical and mental suffering, over and over again, in lifetime after lifetime. As it is, imputing ourselves on painful experiences is not fine at all. It is the main thing standing in the way between us and inner peace and freedom.

For example, applying this to our sense of a never-good-enough-self, this self or Me is imputed on the basis of self-critical thoughts, which usually have two things in common: they’re very painful, and they’re founded on a feeling or experience that we’re not good enough. They may sound like: “I’ll never amount to anything,” “I’m so lazy,” “I always ruin relationships,” “I should have achieved a lot more by this stage in my life!”, “Look at me compared to so and so, no wonder I keep being passed over!”, “I’m a lousy cook/mom/dad/friend/worker/person.” Etc.

Also the disconnect between the self-imposed pressure to be impossibly perfect (from a worldly point of view) but feeling crummy inside can start at any age. As someone said to me the other day: self-critism 2

In these times, even when I observe my children and their friends (they are about 18 years old), there is so much self-hatred, doubts, and a very strong pressure to make everything PERFECT, to look perfect … sometimes it is overwhelming to observe that tendency. Maybe it’s because of all these Internet platforms, where everything looks perfect… I don’t know.

  1. Sense of self

Identifying ourselves with this painful limited experience/feeling/thought (of not being good enough) leads to a painful limited sense of self. So we need to stop doing it.

First we can check to see what we are holding onto or believing to be our “self”? What is Me? Who is Me? We have this so-called self-grasping ignorance where we hold our me, I, or self to be a fixed limited entity, independent of anything. As Geshe Kelsang puts it in How to Transform Your Life: “The object we grasp at most strongly is our self or I.” We have this sense of me or I somehow lurking IN our body or mind, findable in its basis of imputation. As Geshe Kelsang goes onto say:

This I appears to be completely solid and real, existing from its own side without depending upon the body or the mind.

This self is appearing solid and real, plus it is the only real me and the center of my known universe, so of course I have to serve and protect it.

But am I as solid and real as I appear? That’s the trillion-dollar question. The answer is priceless, in fact, because it will set us free after aeons of mental bondage.

grand canyon

Our sense of self changes all the time. Here’s an example. I was walking down the Grand Canyon last year on a narrow path with a ridiculously steep drop on one side. One moment I was all relaxed, chatting with friends – that was happy-Me, it felt real enough. The next moment a tourist brushed past me with his large rucksack and I found myself about to lose my footing … my sense of me suddenly changed, and that about-to-fall-to-my-death-Me also felt pretty darned real. Then I regained my footing and my sense of me changed into relieved-Me. Also real.

What does that say about our Me? In each of those 3 cases, that is who I thought I was. But if the Me that appeared so solid, fixed, and real actually existed as it appeared, ie, solid, fixed, and real, how could it change? Where did it go? If it existed from its own side, independent of body and mind, how could it vanish from one minute to the next?

But my sense of self did vanish and change — in dependence upon what? My thoughts. The self I thought I saw existing from its own side, independent of thought, was just the product of thought – relaxed thoughts, terrified thoughts, then relieved thoughts. This shows that the fixed or real me was never there to begin with. The self we normally see is a mental image – if we look for a real self that corresponds to the image, or is behind the image, it cannot be found anywhere.

(Meanwhile, everyone else also sees a completely different person when they look at us. My companions on the cliff edge could not see any of those 3 Me’s, which also indicates that those Me’s did not exist outside my view of them.) who are we

So if the self or ego cannot be found anywhere, who are we? Who we are depends on who we think we are which is, as mentioned, changing all the time. Because our thoughts change, who we are changes. Far from being independent or inherently existent, it is the opposite – our self is 100% dependent. Take away the thoughts and it disappears.

Which means we are not fixed. Which is really very good news. We can validly think, “There is nothing solid or intrinsic about me at all. I can and do change in dependence on my thoughts.”

Take away our deluded thoughts, such as our self-loathing, and our deluded suffering self will disappear.

  1. Intentions

Have you noticed how who we think we are determines what we want? If we wake up with negative thoughts about ourself, thinking we’re a waste of space, what do we want to do all day? Nothing edifying! But if we think we are kind, or grateful, or a Bodhisattva, we intend and act accordingly.

Therefore, for as long as we grasp onto a intrinsically limited painful unworthy self, our intentions or wishes will follow suit.

Because we always want to be happy and free from suffering, we feel that the way to do that is by serving and protecting this limited self. So we won’t, for example, attempt things in case we fail, or we crack the whip on ourself for fear that, if we don’t, the disapproval and rejection that seems imminent will become our reality.

  1. Actions

We always try to do what we want. Everything we do depends on what we want or intend. Therefore, these intentions or wishes to serve or protect this limited self in turn lead to actions such as self-sabotage or criticizing others, which may sometimes lead to brief relief, but no release. we do what we want

Even when we do something well, we won’t jump for joy but merely breathe a sigh of relief: we’ve escaped from being criticized or censored. But that relief lasts only until the next expectation presents itself. It’s the perfect setup for anxiety and depression. We are engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy, a vicious cycle, in which the stress is unremitting.

People with a strong inner critic tend to have one thing in common: however great their success, they don’t feel it’s genuine. The inner critic won’t let them see their past achievements as ‘real’ for fear that, if they do, they’ll slack off and end up failing. So they may push themselves more, with diminishing returns, driven more by fear of failure or judgment than by inspiration.

We really don’t need to be hard on ourselves — our delusions are already doing a fabulous job at that. It’s one reason we still feel so stuck in samsara, even though we have everything we need right now to get out.

  1. Results/Life

 self-hateThese actions in turn create our life. We are reinforced in our lack of self-esteem, believing that self to be limited, in pain, and in need. It is a vicious cycle and, if we’re not careful, our whole life can go by like that.

Not to mention that each of our mental actions or intentions leaves a karmic potential in our root mind for similar experiences and tendencies in the future, leading to a longer-term and even more vicious cycle.

 Summary

 To summarize, this is all stemming from a painful experience that, because we identify with it, leads to a limited painful sense of self. This self doesn’t actually exist, there is just a mental image of it; but, believing that it does exist, we wish to serve and protect it, and then we act upon those wishes or intentions. Because we act upon them, we get the same results, the same underwhelming life, which in turn brings us more painful experiences and reinforces our limited sense of self.

We need to step out from under the dark shadow of these ignorant, self-destructive thoughts and actions. How? By shining the light of wisdom, wherein these dark shadows will have no choice but to disappear. More in this next installment, Giving up self-hatred once and for all.

Over to you … have you suffered from self-doubt or self-criticism? Do you recognize this process? Your feedback is very welcome.

Related articles

Saying bye bye to the painful limited self

Feel free to change your mind

Change our thoughts, change our world

 

 

 

How to be enlightened right now per Tantra

4.5 mins read

Vajrayogini is a female enlightened Deity of Highest Yoga Tantra who is the manifestation of the wisdom of all the Buddhas. By engaging in the Tantric practice of Vajrayogini under the guidance of a qualified Spiritual Guide, sincere practitioners can completely purify their body, speech, and mind and attain the state of full enlightenment.

Vajrayogini at festival

I didn’t make that up — I just got it from the back cover of The New Guide to Dakini Land. It seems like a good time to talk about Buddha Vajrayogini and Buddha Heruka seeing as thousands of people are about to receive these Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments in Mexico and/or are intent on doing so in England this summer. If you have these empowerments already, or are getting them soon, please read on. Otherwise, you may prefer to wait

Bringing the result into the path

In Tantra, we bring the result of our future spiritual practice into the present by generating ourselves as a Deity, ie, a Tantric Buddha or enlightened being. This is based on renunciation, bodhichitta, and the wisdom realizing emptiness, all explained in Buddha’s Sutra teachings. These so-called “three principal aspects of the path” are said to be like the runway, and Tantra the airplane that flies us non-stop from samsara to the city of enlightenment.

I want to be free right now

Heruka and VajrayoginiIn general, therefore, we generate ourself as a Buddha out of renunciation. For as long as we impute ourselves upon, or identify with, a samsaric body and mind, thinking “me” — which we don’t need to do, by the way, if we understand that self is mere name with nothing behind it — we have no choice but to inhabit all the sufferings thrown up by a meaty body and a deluded mind.

So what is it like to be a Buddha instead? To have a body made of wisdom light instead of this painful crunchy old bag of bones? To have an omniscient blissful loving mind completely free from ignorance, mistaken perceptions, and suffering?

I want others to be free right now

And we self-generate as a Buddha especially out of compassion. We cannot bear kind living beings to suffer for even one more day — dawdling along the spiritual path is not an option. So we have to get enlightened, and quickly. We are thinking, “I can do this. I am already arising as a Buddha in an enlightened Pure Land, with pure enjoyments, helping all living beings.”

radiating light

As soon as we can already imagine doing this, that is the point when it starts becoming a reality. And everything is speeded up. We can go around all day blasting blessings from our heart, giving everyone peace and bliss. 

I can do it right now

And we CAN self-generate to become the embodiment of renunciation, bodhichitta, and all other good qualities because everything lacks existence from its own side and is mere projection of the mind. We dissolve ourselves and all other phenomena into the clear light of bliss and emptiness — the mere absence of all the things we normally perceive — and, like a rainbow appearing in an empty sky, arise from that as a Buddha in a Pure Land full of pure beings and enjoyments.

Our main basis of imputation for “me” is bliss mixed inseparably with the mere absence of all the things we normally see — the absence of all those real things that usually draw us in, bog us down, and make us develop self-grasping and other delusions. We are now vast, omniscient, and effortlessly all-compassionate, able to emanate or appear whatever people need whenever and wherever they need it.

So this is what we are aiming for! This is what it will be like to be a Buddha. So this is who we imagine we are now.

Everything is imagination

rainbow lightAs I explain more in this article, this so called “correct imagination” is based on the wisdom realizing that nothing is fixed, everything is mere imputation or conceptual label. It is just as “realistic,” indeed far more so, than the limited, hallucinatory sense of self projected and fixed by the ignorance of our self-grasping. It also works a great deal better. Regarding ourselves as stuck, ordinary, useless, and suffering keeps us exactly that way, whereas every moment of regarding ourselves as free, enlightened, powerful, and blissful draws us into liberation and enlightenment for our own and others’ sake.

Self-generation is not as hard as you may think

By the way, generating or identifying ourselves as Vajrayogini or Heruka is not as hard as we sometimes make out. And far from being abstract, irrelevant to “real life”, or fantastical, it is an immensely practical and realistic way to overcome daily run-of-the-mill delusions and effortlessly help others.

In degenerate times, when discouragement and low self-image abound, I think the practice of Tantra is essential not just for attaining enlightenment but for making any real headway against our delusions and sustaining the energy and confidence needed to help others.

So I plan to share some tips and tricks on this shortly 😊 Starting with this.

Related articles

Becoming Wonderwoman 

Some articles on Tantra 

Rewriting the story of my life 

Body image: a Buddhist perspective

Apparently, “body image” is how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror or when we picture ourselves in our mind. And how we think others see us. That sounds about right, as does flowersthe common notion that body image is related to self-esteem at all ages.

No surprises, really, considering we impute or label our sense of self on our body an absurd amount given that we have minds as well – thinking “I am ugly”, “Cor, I’m gorgeous”, “What must they think of my jowls?” And we limit others by identifying them with their bodies too, as explained here, even though all of us are infinitely more deep and interesting than a meaty pile of gristle and sloshing liquids could ever be.

If we are identifying our body as the cornerstone of who we are, basing our worth and value on our physical appearance, we are highly susceptible to insecurity, depression, emotional pain, and lack of self-confidence. And, at whatever age, this in turn interferes with our ability to live a happy, healthy, and productive life.

Selfie faces

I learned a new expression this weekend in Los Angeles – when someone took a photo of a beautiful young woman and me, she yanked the phone right out of his hands and said, “Hey, let me see that, you can’t post it, I need to make it Facebook-ready.” And she wasn’t talking about me, even though I needed a lot more photoshopping than she did. Obsession with the perfect body image has apparently reached epidemic proportions – girls everywhere are doing that duck face and fishy gape thing with their mouths and then photoshopping the image to lose ten pounds before they can possibly release it to their friends, even though their friends see them all the time and presumably aren’t fooled for a second.

Rigpa in Griffith Park.JPG

It’s not just my teenage nieces (who are already perfectly gorgeous without all that make-up if you ask me) – some studies say up to 91% of women are dissatisfied with how they look. (So, well done if you are in the remaining 9%, you’re doing something right 😄 ) Apparently it may be just as many men too, but they don’t want to talk about it – though I have spotted at least a few glancing covertly at themselves in shop windows and sucking in their stomachs. Not that they’ll probably ever do much about that extra weight around the midriff other than feel disappointed, any more than most of the 91% of women. But at least it looks like we are all feeling silently self-disgusted together 😉

Disclaimer aka embarassing story: I’m not even overweight, technically, but I recently found myself drinking only Nutribullet smoothies for several days in an attempt to dislodge some pounds so I could once again zip up the ex-jeans of an impossibly skinny friend, and just generally be more lean and mean. With the result that (1) I was ravenous and light-headed, (2) my smoothies were nowhere near as delicious, let alone filling, as they looked on the box (my carrot juice — how hard is carrot juice?! — was the consistency of cardboard and had to go straight down the sink), and (3) worst of all I found myself unusually preoccupied with the scales. Then one day last week I decided: “To heck with this! What a horrible waste of my energy. I’m just going to eat healthy (hey, lucky I’ve got a Nutribullet!), think about others instead, and let the rest take care of itself.” And then I thought, “I’m going to write an article about this body image thing.”

leonard-cohen-1
RIP Leonard Cohen

Interesting, isn’t it, that we (me) spend almost no time worrying about anyone else’s food intake or weight?! That when someone else (other than my dad) puts on fifteen pounds it’s like, “Meh, you can lose that if you want, no big deal, I can’t even tell”, whereas when we put on five pounds it’s like a freaking catastrophe. The hours thinking about our own physical flaws can add up fast, but we are rarely so concerned about others’. No wonder Geshe Kelsang says that our body is one of the biggest objects of our self-cherishing. This is even when it is healthy, let alone when it is sick or ageing or dying.

So-called “distorted” or “negative body image” is a distorted perception of our shape, leading us to feeling self-conscious or awkward in our own body, and to a greater likelihood of depression, low self-esteem, and an unhealthy relationship with food.

(Sometimes this becomes extreme, as in the case of body dysmorphia and anorexia, in which case professional support is advisable until it is back to manageable levels. Just in case you are listening: You need your body to be healthy to help yourself and others, you are by no means alone in the struggle to get better, you are completely wonderful and wanted and needed, so please, please ask for help.)leonard cohen 2.jpg

In general, with meditation we can learn to dissolve negative thoughts and feelings away, and power up the mind with positive, affirming, and accepting ideas of who we are instead. We can understand that a person’s physical appearance says zero about their real worth, and that the beauty and kindness of the mind is so much more important and fulfilling. This’ll help us feel comfortable and confident in our own body, and not to lose all those fruitless hours to worrying uncontrollably about food or weight or how others are judging us. It’ll also save a ton of time spent on photoshopping, looking in the mirror, and over-the-top diets.

But sometimes we need to loosen our grip on our body first, undermine the bad habit we have of identifying with it so persistently. So, since an exaggerated preoccupation with our body is part of our ignorance that can and does cause a lot of us a lot of problems, it is really helpful to use the meditation on the true nature — the emptiness — of the body to get rid of it.

So, here is the next article: There is nothing out there, out there.

Meantime, comments welcome! What helpful thoughts do you use if you notice you are spending too much time worrying about how you look? If you have never been bothered about it, what is your secret?!

Related articles:

What do you see when you look at a stranger?

Oh woe is me! How to stop distracting ourselves from happiness

Who do you want to be when you die?

What would a Buddhist do?

change mindWhen asked to sum up his lifetime’s teachings, Buddha managed with his typical genius to condense all 84,000 of them into one short verse:

Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good,
Control the mind.
This is the teaching of Buddha. ~ Vinaya Sutras

In Transform Your Life, in the section “A Daily Practice”, Geshe Kelsang explains how we can do this with 6 daily practices, 2 of them being sense of shame and consideration for others, which are both characterized by a determination to refrain from negative actions. These enable us to live a kind, ethical life.

Raising our standards ~ sense of shame

Sense of shame helps us avoid negative actions by appealing to our Jiminy Cricket-type conscience, avoiding inappropriate actions for reasons that concern ourself, eg, because we’re a dad, a Buddhist, a Christian, a teacher, etc. You know that old saying: “What would a [fill in the gap] do?!”

“Shame” in Buddhism, by the way, has nothing whatsoever to do with guilt. It is more of a sense of conscience.

So what kind of conscience we have depends on whom we are identifying ourselves with. If we feel pretty worthless, we won’t care much about our behavior, there won’t seem to be much point – and some studies on poor prison sense of shamebehavior bear this out. If we identify with being a spiritual practitioner, for example, or a teacher, an adult, a doctor, a social worker, or even just a decent human being, we will care that our actions are in keeping with that.

As we are not fixed, we can identify with being what is most beneficial (without grasping at it.)

Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander

I read a study somewhere once on behavior around the water cooler at the office, where apparently 90% of the conversation revolves around other’s moral failings 🙂 “Ooh, guess what so and so did … left the lights on all night, don’t they care about global warming! Didn’t pick up after their dog, so gross and selfish. Ran off with someone else’s partner, how could they!” etc.

These double standards are interesting and utterly in keeping with our tendency to externalize all faults, many of them in fact just projections of our own faults. Do we love rummaging around in the garbage cans of others’ faults or strolling in the sweet-smelling meadows of their good qualities?! Without sense of shame, we might agree with the principles of ethical behavior and be quite happy to have others abide by them, yet, when we are tempted by attachment, we might also leave the lights on all night and think it doesn’t matter because we are some kind of exception and the planet won’t mind. We might not pick up after our dog if we are in a hurry because we have better things to do. We might run off with other people’s partners because this is true love. We stonesmight not, in other words, remove the plank from our own eyes before attempting to remove the mote from the eyes of others. As Atisha says in a well-known Buddhist saying:

Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.

The same goes for our behavior. Moral outrage is fine when we actually have a leg to stand on, so that is what we need to check — do we?! Why be judgmental, high and mighty, or goody two shoes? We need to be genuine and humble in our wish to be better. As it says in Advice from Atisha’s Heart (the whole text of which is available here!)

Do not look for the faults of others, but look for faults in yourself, and purge them like bad blood.

Do not contemplate your own good qualities, but contemplate the good qualities of others, and respect everyone as a servant would.

An ex’s father was fond of saying that he’d read a study which found that, when questioned, each member of a couple always said they did 70% of the housework. (And this is no different if you question anyone in any shared living arrangement, where people often complain that they are doing more than their fair share.) You gotta wonder why the math doesn’t add up — and the article said it is because we are keenly aware of all the work we do as we are with ourselves all the time, whereas we only see a fraction of what others are doing. Thinking of our own good qualities and others faults, perhaps, rather than the other way round …!?

Rationalizations, justifications …

moral ethicsWhen we are under the influence of delusions we rarely think we are wrong at the time — we can justify and rationalize almost any behavior. We almost always have the perfect excuse (even though no one else has any excuse.) This is why sense of shame comes in handy because all the time we are identified with being, for example, an adult, we’ll naturally not behave like a four-year old. While we are identified with being a doctor or social worker or a teacher — when that is our basis of imputation for our sense of self, when that is who we think we are — we’ll naturally avoid actions that seem out of keeping or inappropriate. While we are identified with being even just a decent human being, we are far less likely to do something un-decent, even if no one is watching us.

What goes around, comes around

MartyWith sense of shame, we also consider karma – we avoid a negative action because we don’t want to experience its negative result, a bad experience. If you are wondering what is with this mention of dog poop, I just looked after a big black Labrador called Marty for 3 weeks, and learned far more than I ever needed or wanted to know about dog poop on the streets of New York. So, for example, when  I’m about to leave the dog poop because it is inconvenient to wade through a foot of snow with the wrong shoes, and, besides, no one is looking, I can remember that I am creating the cause to tread in dog poop myself down the road. And because karma increases, if I don’t purify this action I could end up treading in dog poop, or worse, hundreds of times. So better just to pick up in the first place.

Next time, consideration for others.