From Poison to Nectar: Distinguishing between Healthy and Harmful Pride March 28, 2023 11:52
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.
I love listening to Dr. Bertice Berry's daily stories. She started posting them every day on Facebook during the pandemic. Dr. Berry is a sociologist, a story teller, a motivational speaker, a seamstress, and a writer. Her latest book, BlackWorld, is amazing!
Most of her stories are uplifting--and even when they deal with struggles or suffering--there is usually a message of hope and encouragement embedded in the story.
The other day, she shared a story on her page called "It's OK to be Proud," and she encouraged her listeners to "look at something you've done, something you created with our own hands and heart--and marvel at it--be proud of what you made and how you made it."
Taking the time to think about what I've worked hard to create makes me feel a little uneasy. That word--"pride"--is a loaded word--and the concept behind it can be a slippery slope.
On one hand, it's healthy to have a sense of self-confidence, a clear understanding of your capabilities and skills.
However, pride in its unhealthy form is an exaggerated sense of self. It is boastful and demeaning. It takes up a lot of space and demands of others. "LOOK AT MEEEEEEE!!"
I think my discomfort with this word started when I was a kid. As long as I can remember, I have talked to myself (when I'm by myself). Admittedly, I still do this--usually when I'm in the car. It's a great way for me to process creative ideas or to work through problems and struggles.
When I was young, talking to myself was part of imaginative play, and a way to keep myself company when I was alone. One time, when I was about seven years old, I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. The door was open, and I thought I was alone, but my stepdad must have been in the hall.
I don't remember what I was saying or talking about. I do know that I was playing--making silly faces in the mirror and giggling--just being a kid and having fun.
The next morning, I went into the bathroom, and when I turned on the light, I noticed that a towel was covering the mirror. It took a second for me to register this--it was jarring to me, and it took my breath away. I remember feeling a sudden rush of shame wash over me.
I can still see that towel in my mind even now--it was an old beach towel--faded yellow, with a single sailboat floating in a pale blue ocean.
My stepdad never talked to me about it. Instead, he let the towel speak for him. It communicated a strong message: don't look at yourself--don't waste time with silly play--don't talk to yourself--you're a weirdo--you're not important--you don't matter.
He may not have intended any of these messages, but this is what his action communicated to me.
My stepdad had assumed that I was being arrogant and prideful. I can't be certain of this, but throughout my childhood, he would occasionally accuse me of being full of myself or egotistical. Often, these accusations would blindside and confuse me.
Looking back now, I can see that he was likely projecting his own lack of self esteem and pride onto me, something a seven-year-old kid would not understand...yet.
This towel gesture didn't help me. Actually, it hindered me. It had a negative impact on my own self-esteem and confidence.
I still talk to myself :) (and I am more careful about making sure I'm by myself when I do), but I don't look at myself in the mirror very often--maybe just quick glances--but that's it.
"What is the wild horse that throws one from the mountain one is ascending? Pride, which thinks oneself superior and dwells on one's good qualities." (Gems of Wisdom from the Seventh Dalai Lama)
In Buddhism (and society in general), pride is considered a poison. It is an exaggerated view of the self that clings and grasps to one's perceived abilities and achievements.
Low self esteem, surprisingly, is also an expression of pride. It, too, is an exaggeration of the self, and it comes in the form of self-deprecation--making a big deal of ourselves in a negative way.
According to Venerable Thubten Chodron, abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington, the antidote to pride is to remember our interconnectedness to others. We never achieve what we do, or understand what we know, without having help from others.
Ven. Chodron agrees with Dr. Berry--that having confidence and the ability to rejoice and delight in our good qualities are healthy and important.
In addition, being able to discriminate between healthy pride, which is rooted in confidence and honesty, from toxic pride, which is rooted in arrogance, smugness, and demeaning others, is also very important.
Ven. Chodron adds that pride "isn't a poison unless it devalues another person."
In The Power of Compassion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains that excessive pride is connected to attachment to the self. "Attachment is narrow-minded and biased. Genuine compassion is healthier; it is unbiased and based on reason."
According to HHDL, the key to developing and practicing genuine compassion is cultivating equanimity. The wisdom of equality, equanimity, and focusing on others can transform the poison of pride into a healing nectar of compassion.
Sometimes I think about that little seven-year-old girl, that long ago version of me. If I could go back in time and talk to her (my "present self" talking to my "former self," which takes the notion of talking to myself to a whole new level), I would offer her reassurance and compassion. I would tell her that it's OK to be playful and imaginative--that it's OK to look in the mirror and smile. I would take the towel off the mirror and tell her that I love her, that she is beautiful and funny and creative, and encourage her not to let anyone dull her shine. We would look into the mirror together--and make silly faces.
It's OK to be proud. It's OK to celebrate and rejoice about things that matter to you, about things that you have worked hard to create and share with others.
I left a comment on Dr. Berry's story from the other day. I told her that I make beautiful, hand-knotted malas, and that my intention is to inspire and support meaningful practice for others. I hope that my creations offer a little peace, compassion, and encouragement for others.
She responded with a heart and an "Oooooooooo Yaaaaaaaasssssss!"
What are you proud of? What have you created with your heart, hands, and mind in this precious human life?
Take a moment to marvel at it--to celebrate and rejoice....because, sometimes, it's OK to be proud.
Thanks for taking the time to read or listen today. The MMM collection is full! Please take a look at the beautiful malas and quarter malas available in the online shop. May they be of benefit to you and your practice. Rejoice and celebrate!
Photo Credit: Edrick Krozendijk, courtesy of Unsplash
Embracing the Benefits of Fall: Learning to Let Go October 29, 2022 14:06
If you would prefer to listen to this month's blog offering, please click HERE for the audio link.
This autumn season is blazing with color in Indiana. The maples and oaks are letting go of their leaves in brilliant red, orange, gold, and sepia colors. Nature is throwing a party, and everyone is invited.
While I'm enjoying this colorful season, I'm also grappling with an undercurrent of anxiety. A few factors are contributing to this mild, but steady uneasiness.
1. I have a trip of a lifetime coming up in mid November. A group of dharma friends and I will be traveling to India in a few weeks. We'll be attending an important ceremony at a monastery in South India, and then we'll be headed to Dharamshala to attend a live teaching with H.H. the Dalai Lama.
I have been fussing with the details and preparations for this trip for months: securing a visa, arranging for required vaccinations, thinking about what to pack (for two climates), downloading necessary travel apps, etc. I have been navigating feelings of anticipation and excitement as well as the worry of uncertainty.
2. This trip occurs during a time when I usually attend an important event as a vendor. Because my mala biz is online, and I don't have a brick and mortar shop, attending events like Indy Holistic Hub's Wellbeing Fest in Indianapolis helps to boost my success and sustainability, and it also allows people in the community to see and purchase my malas in person.
As a result, I've been grappling with uncertainties about my business. I've been questioning and ruminating about whether what I do is relevant. I've been worrying about where I can find those who appreciate what I do--and where they can find me, so that they can use these malas to not only benefit their own personal practice, but they can also be of benefit to others.
I've been grappling with feelings of doubt and of not feeling worthy or relevant.
3. I recently attended an event earlier this month hosted by Shades of Becoming a Mom, Inc. It was a wonderful, meaningful ceremony dedicated to women and families who had experienced pregnancy, infant, or child loss.
In preparation for this event, I had created several quarter malas made with gemstones suited for dealing with grief and healing from loss. I was grateful to sell a few of them, and I was also very grateful to be invited to participate as a vendor at this event. I met some kind-hearted, gracious people.
However, those seeds of doubt and worry surfaced again. I was comparing this event to the Wellbeing Fest from last year, which is not a fair comparison at all. The audiences and intentions of these events are completely different--and making comparisons only makes me spiral into hopelessness and dread.
4. I am still trying to overcome my conditioning to believe that being busy and productive are marks of success. I taught English at a large high school for nearly twenty years. In this environment, I was frenetically, frantically busy--too busy, really...
too busy to think
too busy to enjoy what I was doing
too busy to have time with my family
too busy to have any kind of restorative personal practices
too busy to effectively take care of myself
This level of chaotic effort was not healthy or helpful for me or anyone around me. In many ways, I felt like a useless failure during this time.
Thankfully, I transferred to a smaller school in the same district, and things did improve, at first. I wasn't as stressed, and I felt like what I was doing (teaching young people to think and write and reflect) mattered. Even though I was teaching in a smaller school, and the work environment was more healthy and supportive, it didn't take long for the commitments and pressures of teaching--the endless initiatives, the daily meetings, the constant stream of collecting data and proctoring various standardized tests--all the things that interfered rather than enhanced teaching--all of these things took over like kudzu--and I felt that stranglehold pull of stress, anxiety, and doubt once again.
About ten years ago, I transitioned to a part-time tutoring position at this same small school. Once again, things improved.
I had more time to help students one-on-one. Because this is a part-time position, I also had time to take care of myself. I had time to read, to spend time with my family, to practice yoga and Feldenkrais lessons, to travel to Bloomington for dharma talks, to create malas--and to start my mala business. For the first time, my life felt balanced.
Fall is a season of facing and celebrating change. Each year, month, day, moment is different from those that came before, and I have a choice about how to approach these constant changes.
Instead of planting seeds of doubt and worry about traveling to new, exciting places, not selling malas, missing an event that I can attend next year, I am taking inspiration from these beautiful fall leaves and giving myself permission to let go of expectations, attachments, patterns, behaviors, and thoughts that no longer serve me.
I don't need to be so busy that I can't think clearly or take care of myself and others.
I don't have to sell X number of malas or put unnecessary pressure on myself to feel as though I matter.
I don't need to do more or exert unnecessary effort in order to feel productive or relevant.
This fall season is speaking to me, and the trees in my front yard are modeling what I need to do--to let go--to rest--to restore.
They are encouraging me to recognize and acknowledge the wisdom and confidence that I already have within me--and to have faith that a new growing season is coming.
They are reminding me to trust that the right people will find me and the malas on my online shop.
They are validating that what I do matters in a quiet way--and that what I do will encourage others to find their own paths as well.
Creativity can't be forced, and endless effort is not productive. It often leads to burnout and exhaustion. This fallow time is necessary, and it's giving me more time to devote to other interests and adventures.
I am embracing change during this beautiful season. In a couple of weeks, I will be going to India. I have never been there before, and I don't have any expectations or comparisons. I am open to having an adventure with my dharma friends and receiving any benefits that may come our way.
I am leaving my worries, doubts, and neurotic musings behind. May they drift to the ground like dry leaves and drift away with the wind, or sink into brown grass and nourish the soil underneath.
I look forward to sharing more details about this trip with you soon.
In the meantime, if you feel compelled to purchase a mala from the online shop, now is actually a good time. I am more than happy to send them your way before I depart.
May you reap the benefits of this beautiful season as well, and may these words and malas be of benefit.
Bruce Lee and Butterflies: Absorbing What Is Useful June 30, 2017 17:04
I have entered my fifth decade, and yet I still occasionally struggle with self-acceptance. I wonder if I’m doing life “right,” whatever that means. Even though, on an intellectual level, I know it’s important to honor what resonates with me, when I observe others or hear them speak about their yoga or meditation practices with such confidence and authority, it can stir up questions and doubts.
This morning, I saw my favorite type of butterfly in our garden. I don’t know what it’s called. It’s not fancy or famous like the Monarch or the Tiger Swallowtail. This butterfly is very small, and it flies around in a very haphazard and erratic way—almost as if it’s surprised by its own ability to defy gravity. Its wings are white on one side, and pale blue on the other, so when it flies, it looks purple, lavender or lilac, really.
Even though it’s small, and a wobbly flyer, it’s still a butterfly, and it serves its butterfly purpose. It’s not trying to be the Monarch, the Cabbage White, or the Blue Morpho. It’s in the garden, hanging out with the lilies and hosta blooms being true to its quirky self.
I have deep admiration for people who do this, too. People who can embrace who they are unapologetically—who can “absorb what is useful,” like badass Bruce Lee, and integrate it in such a way that they still honor and maintain their own individuality. Even if they wobble or teeter a bit, they have the courage to stay on course, their course, the path that best suits them.
I tend to descend into doubt and second-guessing when I hear a yoga or meditation practitioner singing the praises of his or her own personal practice—elaborating on how great Iyengar or Ashtanga is…hot yoga…goat yoga…or some complex, esoteric sadhana found in an obscure, scholarly text.
If Ashtanga resonates with you…great. If you can achieve Samadhi by practicing yoga with hooved livestock…awesome. If reading complicated, philosophical texts resonates with you and enhances your meditation practice…fabulous. By all means, rock on with your enlightened self.
I prefer a slower, gentler practice. One lineage is not enough for me—I like variety. Diversity matters…a lot. I like reading meditation texts that are clear, concise, practical, and…well… a little funny (thank you, Brad Warner).
So, why do I feel prickly and antsy when I hear about other people’s practices? It can feel a little jarring to me—it can make me feel like my path is inadequate somehow…less than. During these moments of doubt, I offer myself tenderness and permission to question, investigate, and reflect—to explore these practices and texts objectively, whether up close or from a distance—and then decide if they’re appropriate for me or not.
I’m not a Monarch or a Tiger Swallowtail. I’m more like that nameless lilac butterfly haphazardly zipping around the yard. I’m still learning to navigate this life with ease, grace, and acceptance. I'm still figuring it out. I’m still learning to be gentle with myself, but strong enough to keep going and growing in my own way, even if I teeter and wobble a bit. I'm still learning to absorb what is useful, and to adapt and apply it to my own life in an authentic way...to be compassionate (and patient) with myself, and with others. Whether it's on the mat, on the cushion, with or without a mala, this, too, is the practice.
Using Malas and Mantras to Deal with Energy Bullies March 30, 2016 08:40
We've all had to deal with energy bullies at one time or another, and we have all been someone's energy bully as well. They can be family members, friends, colleagues, partners, and spouses. Energy bullies have difficulty being accountable for their own behavior. They are prone to blaming, complaining, judging, and playing mind games in order to protect their own egos or to manipulate others.
Being around an energy bully can deplete our own energy and erode our self-esteem.
There's good news, though. Toxic people give us opportunities to transform ourselves and grow, and using malas and mantras can help foster this transformation.
Energy bullies are especially astute at honing in on other's vulnerabilities and blind spots. That's their hook--and if you let them--they latch on and drain you of positive energy and confidence. So, how do you effectively deal with energy bullies?
1. Identify the Root Source
What is the Achilles' heel, trigger issue, or soft spot that they have targeted with you? It may be a behavior pattern, an issue that you are sensitive about, a belief, characteristic, or specific situation. Identify why and how they push your buttons.
Once you take note of who pushes your buttons and which situations elicit strong reactions or energetically drain you....PAUSE.
Give yourself permission to allow feelings of anger, resentment, fear, exhaustion, and doubt to surface. Sit with these feelings--invite them to tea for a few moments. Open your heart and make space for these feelings. Then,
3. Healthy Detachment
Let them go! Strong reactions of anger and resentment only entrench us more deeply in the toxic relationship with an energy bully. Once you've identified the source and held space for the feelings surrounding it, detach from it emotionally (THIS IS EASIER SAID THAN DONE, and IT TAKES PRACTICE).
Gently offering yourself compassion and acceptance during this process will allow you to empower yourself and bolster your strength and confidence.
4. Malas and Mantras:Tools of Empowerment
Using a mala and incorporating a mantra practice can be a very useful tool to disengage from an energy bully. This practice can act as an antidote to the source issue.
Choose a mala and a mantra that will embody the qualities that you would like to cultivate.
Need strength and protection? Call on Durga to help: Om Dum Durgayei Namaha
Need spiritual wisdom and maturity? Shiva can offer assistance: Om Nama Shivaya
If you're quick to anger and need peace, Kwan Yin can help: Namo Kwan Shi Yin Pusa
Need an all-purpose mantra for balance and equanimity? Om Hum So Hum
There are thousands of mantras to choose from, and a Google search and listening to your own intuition can help you find one that's best for you. Make time each day to chant, sing, whisper, or think this mantra while using your mala. I recommend a 40-day sadhana, or practice, if possible. Keep note of your progress in a spiritual journal or log. Before you know it, you'll reclaim your power and help prevent future energy bullies from sabotaging you.