Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Summer in Alaska

          I am bringing you today two quotes by a wonderful, perceptive lady who also happens to be a Buddhist monk. Last I remember, she was writing from an abbey in Nova Scotia. She addresses the issue of self-improvement and loving kindness towards oneself in a way that is insightful and necessary.  Her basic premise in these quotes is that positive change cannot come out of self hate.
            Now you and I know that self-hate can be an impetus for change – if you’ve ever looked into the mirror and not liked what you’ve seen, you know what I mean. But being an impetus and being a method of change are two different things. Self-hate is a poison, causing us to focus on what is bad, instead of where we want to go. Besides, who are you to be knocking God’s magnificent creation like that?
            Um, that’s you we’re talking about, by the way.
            We all have times we’re unhappy with ourselves, yet there is a better way to improve ourselves than self-hate, not just in my opinion, but in the view of many, many others. As Pema Chodron says in “The Pocket Pema Chodron,”           

            “The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself.  The other problem is that our hang-ups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth. Our neuroses and our wisdom are made out of the same material…the idea isn’t to get rid of the problem but to make friends with it, to see it clearly with precision and honesty, and also to see it with gentleness. That means not judging yourself as a bad person, but also not bolstering yourself up by saying, “Its good that I’m this way”...and learning how, once you’ve experienced it fully, to let go.”

            What is she talking about when she says “our neuroses and our wisdom are made out of the same material?”  I think she is saying that there were reasons we were the way we were, that some form of self-protection kicked in that enabled us to survive, to deal with situations in the past, perhaps learned as very small children… and now, once we understand that, and we feel how it has shown up inside of us, we can let go if it no longer serves us.
            That is a very brief description of something that can take some real effort to understand, particularly the mechanism of how our habit or neuroses protected us in the past…I found therapy helpful, particularly hypnotherapy. I also found deep meditation with the intent to see and feel the behavior also successful, though I had to be very perceptive about the images that arose, and not just dismiss them as random thoughts.
            Most of all, I have found that I am not my history, and I won’t be chained to it. My future lies with loving myself in the present enough to let go of behavior that no longer serves me. I love myself enough to understand, forgive, and let go, not just of my behaviors, “sins,” etc., but of those around me as well.  My future lies with a positive, self-actualizing image of myself.
            I’ve talked about this from my point of view, so lets change this around to yours and see how it fits:  You are not your history, and you won’t be chained to it if you don’t want to be. Your future lies with loving yourself enough to understand, forgive, and let go.  Your future springs from your self-love.

              “The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness, is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. Instead, there’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy. That is the innocent, naïve misunderstanding that we all share, which keeps us unhappy.”  Pema Chodron, “Awakening Loving-Kindness.

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