This is my very first attempt at a Dharma talk. I have more to learn from you than you from me. What I would like to share with you tonight is part of my story and learnings, hoping to discover together a new step on the way to our awakening…
My talk is called “What’s getting in the way? – A mindful and compassionate view of every day challenges”
I will start with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh
“There are days when you feel it’s just not your day, and that everything is going wrong. The more you try, the worse the situation becomes. Everyone has days like that. That’s when it’s time to stop everything, go home, and to take refuge in yourself.
Rearrange everything—your feelings, your perceptions, your emotions—they’re all scattered everywhere; it’s a mess inside. Recognize and embrace each emotion… Practice mindfulness and concentration, and tidy up everything within yourself. This will help you restore your calm and peace”
Last month, I got assigned at work a project I had been asking for months … After the initial rush of adrenaline, I freaked out. “I don’t know how to do that”… Right when my family started to get excited about it, an old song started playing… “Now it will be clear that I’m a complete fraud. And I feel ashamed. Ashamed of not feeling cheerful, of not feeling or being successful. Ashamed that my family, and then my bosses and my peers, and (the rest of the world, maybe?) will realize that I am not successful. That I am, just… well… me. Not spectacular, not top of the tops, not the absolute best. Me. Just me.”
Do any of you recognize yourself in my story…?
The next morning I woke up. My stomach was collapsed. My back was tight. I felt a painful weight on my shoulders. And the day had not started. I just didn’t want to wake up…Just then, I needed to start thinking about those projects that I didn’t know how to do. And then… I stopped right there.
Tara Brach says “The two parts of genuine acceptance —seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion—are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, they enable us to fly and be free. The first, the wing of clear seeing or mindfulness… the second, the wing of compassion.”
I stopped, and the first wing started to unfold…
I contemplated my breath, body, feelings. I became conscious of my agitation. I stayed and observed what was there without pushing away or grasping. I acknowledged and stayed…
While scanning my physical signs I felt all of them unfolding… “This is fear”… I remained curious …”This is the fear that I won’t be able to do it…and it goes further to the place where I feel that I will never be able to do it because I am basically bad, a failure, and (add your own depressing quote here)”. I stayed with the fear without adding anything else to it. I observed and allowed my feelings to burst, feeling the fear to its fullest. Now the stiffness on my upper back. My chest narrowing in pain, my throat feeling dry and tight.
…Suddenly, it all started to soften…I stopped “buying” the story. Paying attention to what happened in my body also helped me to recognize a pattern. I just listened to my thoughts, only this time I stayed detached from them, as if they talked about someone else… “What’s that I really feel when I say that “I don’t know how to do it””… “I feel unsafe…” I wonder and visualize… how does unsafe feel?…”I feel like trying to float in the middle of the sea, but not knowing where I’m going”. “What’s do I really need to feel safe now?”… “I need structure”. And I, for the first time, recognized that structure gives me safety and purpose in my life. Not only does structure help give my life purpose, it can help provide the answers I need to move on.
Acceptance, lightness, and relief. That’s what I was feeling now.
In asking “what is it that I really needed to feel safe?”, I created the space for the second wing … self- compassion, to start unfolding…By recognizing and accepting that I needed structure I could allow myself to start walking a path one step at a time… Those answers provided the antidote to let the anxiety go away…
Still I continued… I went a layer below and reflected on my trigger. The biggest “a-ha” came when I recognized the shame underlying my fear of not being perceived as successful by someone else.
I stayed and let myself go through the experience as it was. I felt sadness in my chest, and recognized the hurt of my own self-judgment. The pain of trying to measure up to unrealistic expectations belonging to others. I accepted and acknowledged that “feeling successful” soothed old pains… the need to feel validated, accepted, recognized by my caregivers. I honored those old needs and let them go as part of the past.
Thich Nhat Hanh said “To be beautiful means to be yourself.You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.”
I came to see that that I could live and be. That I could put my heart and mind on my project and let the need for recognition just fly away. Not that it will fly away forever though :). It will still visit me with the rush of excitement. But it will feel so much lighter to go through it… learning to enjoy the task at hand for what it is, and not for some recognition or approval by others, one step at a time.
Now my proposal to all of us is…
What if… what if we dropped the weight of “being successful” off our shoulders…and embraced our own definition of our worth… with compassion?
Our culture makes this hard because it wants to keep us focused on an artificial and external definition of success. But we don’t have to buy into that if we are willing to make the effort to stay mindful and compassionate.
I will close with three quotes for reflection…
Antony Tjan, who failed really badly on a major internet start up back in 2000, said “I don’t want my children thinking about success in terms of winning and losing. I want them pursuing wholeness.”
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” ~ E. E. Cummings
“Be yourself: everyone else is already taken”. Oscar Wilde