My earlier blog entitled “Who Are You?” featured the infamous Cheshire Cat of Alice In Wonderland fame. Our feline friend asks a question of Alice that we ask ourselves many times in the course of a lifetime. “Who are we” at the core of our being? It can be a difficult question when we are constantly shifting and changing roles in response to changing life circumstances. I suggested in this earlier blog that as we grow older it becomes increasingly important to spend time getting to know ourselves at a deep level. It is vital to keep asking who we are in the midst of the “storm” that is constantly swirling all around us, and within us. We want to have a solid sense of ourselves, I think. The only way I know to really develop a relationship with oneself is to engage in a “reflective” practice, such as meditation, prayer, or journaling.
So, as I was following my own advice and reflecting upon who I am at this moment in time, an uncomfortable thought seemed to invade my consciousness. It occurred to me quite suddenly that I often resist quiet contemplation because I don’t in fact really like myself a lot of the time. I don’t always want to look too deeply for fear of what I might find there. Furthermore, I don’t think I’m alone in this. I know that the Dali Lama has said he is perplexed at the degree of “self” hatred he sees, particularly in the American character. As hard and judgmental as we may be in regard to others, according to his “Holiness,” it pales in comparison to how hard we are on ourselves. So, where does this come from, and what can we do about it?
My particular answer to this question, unsurprisingly, comes from Buddhist thought. I have recently been re reading some books written by the Zen teacher and Buddhist Monk Cheri Huber. She runs a monastery in Murphys California, and also a teaching center in Mountain View, California. It is Cheri’s view that negative self image is laid down very early in our childhood as we are being socialized and “conditioned” by well meaning adults. We are taught to “be this” but “not that.”..to “suppress this” but “express” that. We are mostly socialized with simple behaviorism, and this method, if you think about it is pretty negatively tinged. Consider, for example, the mother, yelling across the public swimming pool at her children in order to “control” them. ”No Johnny..no no…you are swimming too far! Be carefull of the deep end! It’s dangerous out there! Help your brother! No! No! No!…don’t fight! Does this not sound familiar? By the time we reach adulthood, those “adult” voices are the voices in our own head, telling us who to be, how to act, who we are, who we are not. I love what Cheri Huber says about our internalized “voices”. Her view is that we are all in a constant state of internal dialog with these different voices. We have the “mean voice”, the “compassionate voice”, the “critical voice”. The dialog is unrelenting, and our “mean voice “is often louder than the rest. It is Cheri’s view that these voices are best viewed as existing outside of our “true self”. They are talking to us….but they are not us. We identify the voices as us, but they are not. She calls it a case of “mistaken identity”. The inner work of discerning the voices and starting a new inner conversation based on compassion, empathy, and patience, is the crux of Cheri’s Self Acceptance practice. Cheri argues that when we can turn our attention to the voices of self love and self acceptance, we can turn down the volume on self hate. We can let “Life be in charge” as we give up our attempt to control anything.
And that…..my friend….is the secret to ending our anxiety..once and for all