At some point in our lives, most of us wake up with the thought: this is it. This face, this conglomerate of bad and good traits, this animal with too much hair here and too little there, this being with all its flaws and positive traits is me and I’m going to have to live with myself forever. Especially nearing middle age, the truth that each day brings another wrinkle, another grey hair, is especially hard to ignore. Yet aging has a secret gift: you can finally learn to love and accept yourself.
Self-Hate, What on Earth is THAT?
It’s a well-told and famous story that the Dali Lama, in a meeting with Western teachers of meditation, could not understand the concept of self-hate. Western students were suffering with self-hate, and the master of mindfulness himself couldn’t begin to wrap his Tibetan mind this unique affliction. Self-hate seems to be something that most Westerners deal with constantly. To many of us, it’s like the air we breathe. Yet the cultural rift revealed in this famous meeting of spiritual minds of East and West reveals that self-hate is not natural, it’s learned. Whether more mild in the form of chronic dissatisfaction and bad habits, to more destructive patterns of self-harm like addiction, self-hate is rampant in our lives today, but it doesn’t need to be so.
But what is self-love? We are taught that self-love is the equivalent of self-aggrandizement, selfishness, or arrogance, yet in reality, it is the opposite of these traits.
We typically associate narcissism with self-aggrandizement, but believing your are decidedly worse than most is also a form of narcissism. If you regularly focus on how terrible you are, you are still focusing on yourself! Yet those who have low self-esteem use this realization as yet another way to bludgeon themselves, which keeps the cycle alive. It traps you in lie; it keeps you from being free.
Break The Cycle
The Dali Lama, finally gaining some understanding of what was being expressed to him, decried this “self-hate” in a rare display of bluntness: you (self-hater) are fooling yourself. If you are engaged in self-hate you are, simply put, wrong. And while most of us would admit we’d never speak to another the way we speak to ourselves, and know, on some level, it is irrational and unhelpful, we still do it.
To put an end to this cycle the first step is to simply notice to what degree you participate in the ranking of individuals, including yourself. Notice how you feel when cutting yourself or others down (or envying others). The mind is wild and unruly, you don’t have to hold onto every thought that comes into your mind as part of you. However, you DO need to take note of the thoughts you have and notice their effect. What makes you feel bigger toward yourself and others? Evaluative thoughts or thoughts that are inclusive? What makes you feel buoyant and big, what makes you feel small and mean?
Write it down. Start catching those seemingly random thoughts. Don’t be ashamed if you think “terrible” things, or pat yourself on the back if you think glorious, generous thoughts. Just notice, with curiosity, what you think. You don’t have to change. You don’t need to think more positive, you will change naturally by simply noticing. The alternative, to not notice, means you are a slave to the endless stream of the mind. You aren’t a mind. You are a mixture of phenomena that includes a mind. The mind is a wonderful tool, a terrible master.
Re-imagining the “Mediocre” (it’s incredible)
In a culture that seems to push us toward extremes, re-imagining the mediocre can be a spiritual practice. To simply find your place among other equals, other sentient beings seeking exactly what you seek: happiness, freedom from pain, is humbling and heart-opening. Every living thing wants to grow and succeed. Every living thing moves away from pain or unhappiness and toward happiness. You are no more, no less than a part of this great miracle of life.
You are no more. You are no less.
To be a conscious being is a great miracle, a great gift. The problem is that we forget this and devise complicated, neurotic pathways away from the simple truth of our being. Love is beautiful.
Come take your place in the stream of life, a brother or sister with the rest of creation. Finally relax the evaluative muscle, at least for a part of each day. Notice if you feel joy. Spoiler: you will, you do.
SpiritQuest offers custom private retreats and a variety of group retreats. If you’d like to focus on inner healing, our healing group retreat might be perfect for you.