Practice of the Week
Trust In Yourself
Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.
Sometimes these “Slogans to Live By” can seem to contradict. This is because we are so likely to take a good thing too far, until it becomes a bad thing.
For example, this week’s slogan, “Trust in Yourself,”
and a previous slogan, “It Comes Down To: Don’t Be Stuck on Yourself,” (HERE)
point in opposite directions. The previous slogan told us not to insist on seeing everything from our own point of view, think of others, expand our lives. This one says that only you can determine what is happening in your life and what to do about it.
Slogans must be applied with delicacy. What's good medicine for one person is poison for another; what's right in one situation is wrong in another; what works today may not work tomorrow. Life is full of nuance and indeterminacy. To assess what is going on and know what to do, you must constantly adjust and refine. If you seem to be knocking your head against a wall, then it is time to take a breath and ask yourself what is going on.
In this process of creatively training your mind, where does your feedback come from? Who or what do you trust to keep you on track? This slogan tells you to trust yourself.
Others can see things about you that you don’t see, and their perspective can be a big help. There are holes in your self-perception. But even with these holes, you see more of yourself than any other person can see of you. In the final analysis, only you can evaluate and understand your own practice. It's your own sense of your life that makes your life. If you give over that responsibility, then you become a wobbly person, constantly looking to the right and to the left to see what you are supposed to be doing and thinking.
If other people's opinions of you feel diminishing or elevating, it's only because you have vacated your own opinions. No one likes to be criticized, disrespected, or judged by others in an uncomplimentary light. But when it comes to basic self-worth, only you are the judge. But judgment is a tricky thing. “Trust In Yourself”
doesn't mean allowing self-judgment. Self-judgment, as we usually experience it, is corrosive and unhelpful.
What is self-judgment anyway? If you study it, you will see that most of the time it involves comparison: one's self is unworthy compared with others, who seem to be perfectly fine. We feel our inadequacy in relation to others—we imagine how others would judge us, and we internalize those judgments. Self-judgment is a sneakily internalized function of outside forces. The self to trust in is the self that is not self-condemnatory, that loves itself and is absolutely trustworthy. It may have a negative assessment of this or that, but this is a useful, not a crushing, assessment. However negative it may be, it helps the process of learning. If you detect self-judgmentalism, ask yourself, "Who is judging whom?" Ask this question again and again until you have found a bit of ease. This slogan is not, as it might seem on the surface, promoting conventional self-reliance. It is not opening the door to self-judgment. It is gently urging us to a profound sense of inner balance, to a deeper connection with the intimacy of mind.
There's a Zen adage: "When alone, practice as if you were with others, and when with others, practice as if you were alone.” When you're with others, try not to be an actor playing the part of yourself. We use the persona we take to be our social self as an unconscious way of distancing ourselves from our truer and more intimate selves. “Trust In Yourself”
means that instead of doing that, we should try to imagine that other people are not other people, not outside our mind, not scary, and that they therefore do not require our performance. Imagine that others are actually parts of your own mind, not outside entities who need to be impressed or appeased. They are actually as intimate with you as you are with yourself. If you can situate yourself with others imaginatively in this way, you can be very relaxed and easygoing, you can be trusting and unafraid, because being with others feels like being with yourself. There's no need to be special or distinguished in any way. If your feeling is that others are you and you are they, your impulses will be socially acceptable and even kind. It is a great relief to practice like this. Social anxiety nearly disappears.
On the other hand, when you are alone, try not to sink into the usual dull subjectivity that comes when you imagine that no one is around, no one can see you, you're hiding, invisible, and so can safely be a dim-witted idiot, with the radio and television simultaneously playing as you whack mindlessly away at the keyboard of your computer or mobile device. Instead, imagine you're in the middle of a crowd, a crowd of good, kind, serious people who like you and inspire you to comport yourself with the same degree of dignity that they do. Surrounded by such people, naturally you feel at your best. You pay attention to what you are doing and you take care of things with appreciation as soon as they arise. Imagine feeling this way when you are alone, inspired and elevated by your own company!
In many ways, contemporary culture teaches us to be ashamed, embarrassed, and uncomfortable with ourselves: confused and self-clinging. It is a great achievement of consciousness, this feeling we have of being a person. Practicing this slogan may be tricky, and we can't expect it to suddenly change the long habit of how we have been feeling about ourselves, but it is a start. It will shake things up a bit. It will show us where we are stuck and how to go forward.
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This slogan is about aloneness and confidence. It gets to a core issue on the path of practice, which is the fact that each of us must travel it alone and by ourselves. Of course we may be in a community with shared traditions, but the way we each go about it is unique. Life altogether has that same quality. No matter how many friends and acquaintances we may have, we are alone at a fundamental level.
It is hard to accept this kind of existential aloneness in ourselves or in others. We want people to really know us, and we want to have some way of truly understanding others.
According to this slogan, if we want feedback as to how we are doing, we must rely on our own judgment. But it is unsettling to realize that no one else really knows what is going on with us. So we look around for confirmation. We look to others for feedback and to find clues as to how we are doing from others. Instead of looking directly at our own experience, we try to find it in what is reflected back to us from outside. But that reflection is not all that trustworthy. People are easily fooled by appearances and judge what is going on according to their own biases and preconceptions.
It is easy to become so used to looking for the approval of others that we lose confidence in our own self-knowledge. But according to this slogan, we must learn to trust what we know and not rely so heavily on others. That is the witness we must hold.
Pay attention to the loneliness of experience. Notice the difference between seeking for confirmation and direct witnessing. What makes you trust or distrust your own experience?
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