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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 72 and hope he’ll go away, nor can you talk him out of it, no matter how brilliant your rea- soning. You just be there with him. Difficult emotions can be dealt with in the same way. You can be this way with yourself. When you clear away the judg- ments, criticisms, assumptions, and beliefs about your internal experi- ence, you discover that what is left is tenderness and the ability to feel things deeply. You can be kind to yourself, not because you earned it by achieving goals or living up to an ideal, but because you possess a hu- man heart that, when left to its own devices, comes back over and over to its natural state. Who are we harder on than our- selves? Deep down, we’re not con- vinced we’re good enough at any- thing. Self-doubt is our constant companion. Often, we don’t know where this harsh self-criticism comes from. Our own mind? Parents? Teach- ers? Lifestyle magazines? We con our- selves into believing thoughts, such as I’m too needy, I’m not clever, I’m ugly/fat/old, I’m a loser, and I’m sure it’s all my fault (my personal favorite). How does one suddenly become gentle without faking it, with- out using gentleness itself as just another device for self-improvement? In 1990, the Dalai Lama met with a group of Western researchers and Buddhist teachers at the third Mind and Life conference in Dharamsala, India. Sharon Salzberg, a teacher from the Insight Meditation Society, asked him how to help her students with their feelings of worthlessness and shame. The other Western participants eagerly awaited His Holiness’ response because they had all encountered this issue among their own students. The Dalai Lama turned to his translator for an explanation of the question. They began a lengthy, increasingly rapid conversation in Tibetan. Finally, it seemed the translator was successful. When he understood the question, the Dalai Lama was sur- prised; he had never heard of such a condition. He asked the participants if they were certain their students and their patients really suffered from this problem. They assured him that they did. They saw it in the people they worked with, and even in themselves. Incredulous, he pointed to each one and asked, “Do you experience this? You? And you?” They all nodded yes. He seemed genuinely shocked. Why would you dislike your self ? But most of us understand Salzberg’s question perfectly. Our ideas of self-worth go up and down, up and down, all day long. Personally, I’m as good as my last phone call. If I had a pleasant or valu- able interaction, I feel optimistic. If things didn’t go so well, if there was contention or distance, I think my world might be falling apart. Most people have their own measures of self-worth or worthlessness: the car they drive, the school they attended, their job titles, or even what they ate for lunch. Gentleness arises when you recognize your in- nate, limitless, and extremely powerful goodness. When you remember how basically good you are, you can stop pushing and pulling yourself toward perfection, struggling for acceptable proof of your value—the perfect job, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect body/mass index, the perfect sofa, the per- fect what-have-you. You are already so totally be- yond good enough. How do I know that you possess this goodness? We all do. Even if you can’t identify it in yourself, it’s easy to recall a time when you saw goodness in others. Per- haps you felt this way while reading the story of a saint, a hero, or even a regular human being who gave his or her all in the name of generosity or kindness. Seeing how people greet each other or say goodbye at the airport, overhearing a particularly sweet exchange between lovers, or watching television and seeing victims of disaster being rescued can bring tears to your eyes. Noticing a flock of birds move together in perfect connection or listening to an extraordinarily soulful piece of music can deeply touch you, too. You remember childhood slights with vividness because it was confusing and painful to have your goodness questioned. Goodness comes first in all of us, and our world is full of proof that this is so. Confidence is the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.