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Lions Roar : May 2017
ADVICE FOR DIFFICULT TIMES Is It OK to Feel Good about Myself? Buddhists are allowed to have a healthy and positive sense of self, says SYLVIA BOORSTEIN. The teachings on nonself aren’t about that. Question: I had a difficult childhood and have always felt bad about myself. I’ve been working hard with my therapist to develop a positive sense of self, but now I read that Buddhism says I should give up the self altogether. Can I be a Buddhist and still feel good about myself as a person? Answer: Yes, it is possible to feel good about yourself as a person and be a Bud- dhist. The insight into selflessness that is a result of Buddhist meditation practice is unrelated to the sense of personal worth and competence that is part of a healthy, psychological self-esteem. “Sense of self ” is a modern psy- chological term describing a normal, developmental ego capacity. People who experience difficult, unpleasant, or frightening childhoods often become adults who lack a sense of worthiness and confidence in their own strengths. They sometimes imagine, “Had I pleased my parents more, or been more able to communicate my needs, my parents would have taken better care of me.” They uncon- sciously make themselves respon- sible for their own diminished sense of autonomy in order to preserve whatever positive connection they have with their parents. When this insight is explored in psychotherapy, reclaiming (and acting with) a sense of personal potency will emerge. The “sense of self ” that can be over- come with Buddhist practice is different. It is the misconception of separation, the frightening feeling that life is happening to me in a way that is not connected to others. Buddhism teaches that while the details of “my life” may be unique, our lives are all unfolding together. They are influenced by everything and everyone— now and historically—and all are subject to the same truths of impermanence, contingency, and suffering. When my mind can hold this aware- ness, the joys and the woes of my life story still matter to me, but meeting them is supported by knowing that I am not doing this alone. I share my expe- rience of being human with all other people. My false sense of a separate self disappears into a sense of shared human- ity, and I am deeply touched. ♦ ©MICHELARAVASIO/STOCKSYUNITED SYLVIA BOORSTEIN is a PhD psychologist and leading teacher of Insight Meditation. Send your question to