"There Is Nothing Wrong With Us," cont.
(From Fabric of the Future: Women Visionaries Illuminate the Path to Tomorrow)
Other Helpful Practices
In pursuing the work of self-acceptance, there are many helpful practices.
Treat yourself as if you were someone you love. Think of a person or a pet you hold dear. Imagine that this dear one is having a problem and needs your help. How would you respond? Feel the caring and generosity you have for this being. Now give that to yourself. (That voice in your head telling you this is self-indulgent is the voice of self-hate. Don't believe it!)
Focus on your breath. When you become aware of an urgent, judgmental, stressful, fearful, hateful thought or situation, simply bring your attention to your breathing. This practice can very quickly bring us up against a mountain of resistance. Our self-hateour belief that we are inadequate, that we must control lifegoes berserk when we begin to practice dropping whatever urgent, stressful, life-and-death thing has us in its clutches today. "That's crazy! That's just flatout irresponsible! Everything is going to fall apart around me if I don't keep my mind on what needs to be done." Focusing on the breath brings up our deeply held belief that we make life happen, and that we must be tense in the process. But if we are resolute in the face of this fear, if we maintain the practice of bringing the attention back to the breath even though the voices in our heads are screaming, we begin to see that nothing bad happens. Our lives don't fall apart, no one dies, we don't lose our jobsnothing happens except the urgency of egocentric conditioning begins to be less believable. We begin to be free of the tyrant who runs our lives, the taskmaster who cracks a whip over our heads.
Notice self-hate. People say to me that the term self-hate seems extreme. "But Cheri," they say, "I don't exactly hate myself. Disapprove sometimes, maybe, but not hate." To know that "self-hate" is not an overstatement, attune very closely to how you talk to yourself when you don't meet your standards. Notice the choice of words, the tone of voice, and the undercurrent of judgment. Notice how often you don't meet your standards. Notice how seldom, if ever, you do meet your standards and how short-lived the satisfaction is. Notice how your standards constantly change, how the ante is always upped just before you begin to feel really successful. Do this for a week. The awareness may change your life.
Challenge yourself. Enjoy doing something you currently believe you can't enjoynot to change, not to improve, but to see through the beliefs and assumptions that control your life. Learn to enjoy doing the dishes, spending time with your mother-in-law, commuting in rush hour traffic, or eating healthy foods. Do this, not because it will make you a better person, but because it will help you be free of the conditioning that says you can't possibly enjoy those things.
Stop watching television. I compare sitting in front of a television to being hooked up to an intravenous infusion of toxic waste. Madison Avenue knows that if it can make us feel inadequate, which it can, it will have us in its back pocket, which it does. The thin, savvy, beautiful people have the world by the tail. Are you one of them? No? Buy this product, act this way, do this thing, feel this feeling, and you will be. The obvious message is that how you are now could be improved. The not so obvious message is being thin, savvy, etc. makes you right, and being anything else makes you wrong.
Watch your projections. "Projection" is the notion that everything mirrors who we are. We always see ourselves when we look out at the world and other people. It is not possible to see something that is not a part of ourselves.
When sitting in meditation and facing a blank white wall, it is relatively easy to see projection at work. As stated earlier, everything we do in our lives we do while just sitting there. With no one else participating, it becomes clear that we are seeing ourselves. In daily life, recognizing projection is not as easy, there are so many distractions, but it is no less revealing than seeing it in meditation. Accepting that what we see is who we are is, to me, the most powerful tool for awareness practice.
Discover your "identities." A helpful construct to consider in developing self-awareness is that of "identities." Identities are the various parts of ourselves, the different roles we play as we go through the day. The terms roles, personae, and subpersonalities are often used to point to the same thing.
In Zen it is said that we live in the world of duality. Simply put, this means that everything has an opposite. Up/down, good/bad, right/wrong are examples of pairs of opposites. One cannot exist without the other. Most identities also exist in inseparable pairs. Examples of pairs of identities are miser/spendthrift; athlete/couch potato; devoted spouse-parent-family member/desperate individualist. Sometimes we are identified with one side of a pair, sometimes with the other. Our conditioned belief that we must be consistent is challenged by this. This is confusing, a problem to be solved, an improvement to be made. "I can't be changing my mind like this all the time. I have to make a decision and stick with it. That's how strong, capable people operate." Conditioning, self-hate, self-improvement kicks in and goes on its campaign to get rid of the side it judges to be the wrong one. You can see the futility of this.
The practice of noticing our identities, and how we move back and forth between them, gives us enormous freedom. Not identifying with either side in fact, disidentifyingand observing from a larger perspective, brings us to an awareness of how the world of duality works. Once we see that of course we are inconsistent, and that we will never hate one side out of existence, we can relax and stop trying to improve. Accepting that we are sometimes this, sometimes that, is the only change we need.
Learn to disidentify. Disidentification is the action of "stepping back" from whatever identity we are in and viewing ourselves from a larger perspective. Almost all of us know the experience of suddenly realizing we are no longer caught up in the drama of a situation but are observing it and ourselves from a place that feels "outside" or "above" what is going on. With practice we can learn to do this at will. Why? Disidentification enables us to begin to see the universality of experience. When we see that we are one of six billion people, that we all have our "stuff," and that we are all trying to get the best deal for ourselves (in Zen, "seeking better accommodation"), we can begin to take our own stuff less personally. We see ourselves caught in the illusion of separation, struggling and suffering, and we can have compassion.
Write it all down. Write down every judgment, of yourself or anyone else, you hear go through your head. Get them outside of you. Expose them to the light of day. Many people tell me they are afraid doing this will make the "horrible things" they judge themselves for more powerful and real. I tell them no, the power of these judgments lies in their covert operations. They whisper a self-hating thought in your ear just beneath the level of conscious awareness, stir an emotional response, and you are caught in the illusion once again. It never occurs to us to question this conditioning. So when we practice writing down everything it says, every time it says it, we begin to take back the power it has had since we were children. We discover its repetitious nature is rather boring. We begin to take it less personally.
There is nothing wrong with us. We are the loved and loving beings we seek to be. But don't take my word for it; don't believe it because I say so. Begin, or continue, the practice of aware self-acceptance and experience it, know it, for yourself. Meditation and awareness are simple because they don't require fancy techniques or expensive equipment. They are difficult because they require the willingness to challenge a lifetime of conditioning. They are powerful and transforming, changing us through compassionate acceptance of what is.
(This article is from Fabric of the Future: Women Visionaries Illuminate the Path to Tomorrow. For information about the book and how to order, please visit the Zen Center's site http://www.thezencenter.org/fabric.html)
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