Wise Selfish and the People Pleasing Trap: How Speaking Up and Saying "No" Can Be Acts of Compassion April 20, 2024 13:26


 If you prefer to listen to this post, please click HERE for the audio link.

I recently read a quotation that a friend had posted on her FB page that stopped me in my tracks. I read it over and over. I took time to contemplate it. It resonated for me--and it was exactly what I needed at that time.

"Emotional availability is being present to your feelings and needs and being willing to share them, and allowing the other person to have their own feelings and responses to your needs.

It's vulnerable because we're never sure what's going to happen; we have to let other people have their own experiences in relationship to us."
This quotation was an excerpt from a longer post by EQ School, and the focus of the post was about people pleasing.
This blog article is actually two blogs in one--or, a blog with reframing added. I had posted the original article below in late March.  My intention in sharing it was to highlight one of my flaws--not setting healthy boundaries and speaking up for myself in a timely manner. I had described an incident (and a series of incidents that led up to it) in which a dear friend had helped me to recognize and to work on remedying this self-sabotaging habit. In other words, this dear friend taught me something extremely important, and I was grateful to her for giving me the courage to finally speak up.
I had taken time, thought, and effort to write and later post this blog in March. I had also shared it with my friend out of respect and transparency. We'd had a follow-up phone conversation about it, and everything seemed fine.
Everything was not fine...
My intention was not to harm or hurt my friend's feelings, but the article did. She took it to heart and was deeply bothered by it.
I looked her in the eyes and sincerely apologized to her. I listened to her point of view, and then, out of respect for her, I took the article down, removing it from view.
For weeks, I felt deep shame and regret for having written this blog. I thought I was a horrible person.
I was also conflicted and confused--because, usually, when I am in the process of making a mistake or an error in judgment, I feel it in my body. I'll have an anxiety spike, I'll feel tension in my jaw or shoulders, I'll feel an uncomfortable itchiness in my gut, or I'll feel a sense of doubt or hesitation. When I wrote this blog a few weeks ago, I didn't feel any of those things. All I felt was gratitude.  And when I reread it today, I can honestly say that I stand by every single word.
I'm not sorry for writing the blog--I am sorry that it hurt my friend's feelings.
I am a chronic people pleaser--and, unfortunately, for most of my life, I have been a kowtowing, over-accommodating, walking-on-eggshells, don't-rock-the-boat kind of person. It's embarrassing! 
I have denied my own feelings and the validity of my own experiences. I have put others' perspectives in higher esteem than my own. I have taken responsibility for the feelings of others, which is absurd!!!
I am entitled to my own viewpoints. I am allowed to share my own experiences with others, as long as I express my views with kindness, respect, and compassion.
This quotation that  I mentioned earlier was a healing balm and wake-up call for me! It pointed out that I need to work on my own emotional availability and integrity. It reinforced the importance of speaking up for myself and expressing my views--and to be careful to avoid taking responsibility for others' reactions--or from taking their reactions personally.
During the Q and A portion of a Dharma talk that I heard this morning from Sravasti Abbey, Venerable Semkye said, "Being overly sensitive to feedback is a form of self-grasping laziness."
You know what? She's right!
It's a hindrance and an obstacle that exaggerates the self-- the "I,I,I, me, me, me."
Therefore, taking everything into consideration, I have decided to make my original post visible (see below). I had a valid message to convey, I had a legitimate experience that I wanted to share, and I hope that it will be of benefit to others.
If you are reading or listening to this, know that I am choosing not to take responsibility for your reactions. 
Living in Samsara is not easy--but learning and growing from dear friends makes the journey more interesting and bearable.
Keep practicing and moving forward, peeps!
Much love to you all--
(Photo Credit: Wangphan aka Duy Anh Phan courtesy of Pixabay)
I typed "people pleasing" in the search bar of the Pixabay website, and this image jumped out at me. People pleasers get caught up in their own nets and can be blinded by the opinions and reactions of others when they disregard their own feelings and experiences. 



 If you prefer to listen to this month’s offering, please click HERE for the audio link.

“The stupid way to be selfish is seeking happiness for ourselves alone. The intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.” His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Sometimes, saying “No” is an act of compassion and wise selfishness. Women, in particular, tend to have trouble with this—we often feel pressured to take on more than we can handle in order to appease, please, and help others.

However, not standing up for ourselves and saying “No” when the situation may be too demanding or inappropriate can be detrimental to our emotional and physical well-being.

I am not a fan of suppressing, masking, or ignoring emotions. I am also not a fan of indulging, lashing out, and bombarding others with them either. Keeping feelings bottled up without acknowledging or processing them usually leads to bigger problems for me later on. Whether it’s because of a single major trauma or an accumulation of several small issues over time, my body will let me know if I’m not paying close enough attention to my emotional well-being.

For example, over the years, I have dealt with the physical consequences of frozen shoulder syndrome, Bell’s palsy, and shingles as either the direct or indirect results of not dealing with my emotions effectively.

According to HHDL, “There is nothing inherently wrong with pursuing one’s own interests. On the contrary, to do so is a natural expression of our fundamental disposition to seek happiness and to shun suffering. In fact, it is because we care for our own needs that we have the natural capacity to appreciate others’ kindness and love.”

One recent, and very mild, example that comes to mind happened recently after a Dharma teaching at TMBCC.  A kind-hearted and devoted sangha member stopped me after the teaching to introduce me to a visitor who was new to the Center.

We exchanged greetings, and he told me that he recently graduated from IU and wanted to attend a Dharma talk. My kind-hearted friend then said, “Teresa is great! She will give you her number, and you can text her if you have any questions.”

Keep in mind, this man was a complete stranger to me. As she was saying this to him, I looked this man in the eye while shaking my head and said, “No…I will not be doing that. I will not be giving you my number. You will not be texting me. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. If you have any questions while you’re here, please feel free to ask. I'll be happy to help if I can.”

He nodded his head in agreement the entire time I was talking as if to say, “I get it. It’s OK. No worries!”

Now, this response may seem logical and normal, but, believe it or not, it required time, processing, courage, and work on my part to respond in this way, mainly because this was not the first time that this kind-hearted sangha member had said this sort of thing to new visitors.

“Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, short-sighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our long-term individual interests lie in the welfare of everyone.”  HHDL

On a few previous occasions, this same kind-hearted friend had escorted strangers over to me who happened to live in Greenwood, a town which has a population of 65,000 and is an hour’s drive from Bloomington, and had told them that we could ride share, and that I would drive them to the Center. Then, she’d walk away immediately, leaving me to have an awkward conversation with people who I didn’t know.

I’m not going to lie; these rare, unexpected exchanges were extremely anxiety-producing for me. Each time, I felt pressured to do something that I did not feel safe or comfortable doing. (I’ve seen far too many Dateline episodes to know better than to drive strangers around in my car by myself.) In addition, these brief exchanges made me feel resentful and frustrated toward my Dharma friend.

During these previous incidents, I didn’t have time to react or feel anything. I was caught off guard—confused and blind-sided—and I didn’t have the wherewithal to speak up and set a healthy boundary.

In fact, somewhere out there, there is a woman who actually has my cellphone number. My kind-hearted Dharma friend had pressured me into giving it to her, and for weeks, I worried that she would text me and ask me to pick her up to take her to Bloomington. For all I know, she may have wondered if that strange lady she met at TMBCC was expecting her to reach out for a ride to B-town. This may have caused anxiety for both of us.

I can’t speak for anyone else—in fact, that was the root of this problem—someone had overstepped and had spoken for me without my permission or consent, and it took me a while to process the feelings I had about this.

I felt frustrated, not only at my kind-hearted Dharma friend for putting me in this awkward position, but also at myself for not speaking up right then and there.

“Being wise selfish means being compassionate…Compassion and discernment are mutually reinforcing.”  HHDL

Actually, it took some time for me to process these feelings, and processing for me means talking to myself in the car (so, if you happen to see me driving and I’m talking to myself, you’ll know what’s happening😉) or writing about it.

Once I take the time to contemplate, talk, or write about these feelings that surface, I’m able to settle down, think clearly, and then calmly respond to future situations more effectively.

This takes me back to something one of my graduate school professors said years ago, “Feelings aren’t good or bad; they just are.” Or, stated another way, “You have to feel the feelings before you can heal the feelings.” Taking the time to process feelings helps me to do just that!

“Where we DO have control is at the level of motivation in deploying our critical, intelligent faculties—our discernment.”  HHDL

Because this kind of situation had happened before, on at least two previous occasions, and because I had taken the time to acknowledge and process the feelings that had surfaced, this time, I was able to say “No” with conviction and confidence to this most recent visitor, and, in the presence of my kind-hearted Dharma friend. In effect, I was demonstrating discernment, I was setting a healthy boundary, and I was practicing wise selfishness (compassion).

By the way, my kind-hearted friend did reach out to me later that day via text and apologized for her impulsiveness. I accepted her apology, and all is well.

Suppressing feelings—ignoring them—masking them—pushing them down—all of these are just asking for trouble, if you ask me. I certainly don’t need another shingles outbreak or some weird, neurological episode to remind me of the importance of naming, claiming, and effectively dealing with my emotions.

Over the years, I’ve heard several Dharma teachers explain the importance of contemplating, investigating, and analyzing the teachings before accepting them as the truth. It’s essential to take time to digest and understand them before meditating on them.  

Well, this applies to experiences in everyday life as well—especially for those unexpected situations when I don’t have time to think about how I feel until later.

I love my kind-hearted Dharma friend. She means well, even though she sometimes oversteps.

I love going to TMBCC for weekly Dharma talks, and I enjoy meeting the visitors who come for teachings, too.

I especially love being able to apply what I learn both on and off the cushion.

Taking the time to process what I learn and what I feel helps me to hone my capacity for critical thinking, discernment, and compassion.


I hope the month of March has treated you well, and I hope April treats you even better.

Please check out the current Middle Moon Malas collection, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have custom design requests or if you need to have a mala restrung.

Quotes from HHDL came from the book Beyond Religion.

Photo Credit: Andrys from Pixabay 


A Beautiful Tangle: Sitting with Confusion August 5, 2020 15:18

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, please click here.

We are living in a time when we have have many opportunities to explore our relationship with confusion. We're navigating the uncertainties of our own daily lives in the middle of a global pandemic. Some of us are working from home, some are seeking new employment, some are struggling to keep food on the table or to pay bills, and we're all trying to stay safe and healthy during this challenging time.

We're also dealing with the upheaval of social protests and finally facing the consequences of systemic racism in order to move toward necessary and meaningful change.

We're gearing up for a pivotal election in November. It's certainly been a long 3 ½ years, and unfortunately, our struggles are far from over.

 Confusion gives us the space to explore, to experiment with different solutions, to ask questions, and to research. Sitting with confusion is not always easy or comfortable, but it is imperative to novel discovery and learning.

Sitting with confusion requires patience, like untangling a massive knot. Confusion IS a beautiful tangle. When you have the courage to sit with it, without expectation, without judgment, it can lead to surprising revelations and profound wisdom.

Over the past several months, I have immersed myself in studying the Tibetan language. Progress is painstakingly slow, but learning new things is great for the brain. It broadens viewpoints and perspectives; it fosters creativity and curiosity; and it has given me many opportunities to practice with confusion.

* The Importance of Feeling Stupid

Early on in my studies, I was working with two Tibetan tutors online, additional materials from the Tibetan Language Institute based in Montana, The Manual of Standard Tibetan, and a variety of YouTube videos. Inevitably, I found conflicting information, especially regarding pronunciation (there are 220 Tibetan dialects). In the beginning, having too many sources was overwhelming for me, and it just made me feel incredibly stupid and inept. Navigating contradictory information created massive confusion and self-doubt. However, I found that by sticking with my tutors until I mastered the alphabet and basic sentence structure helped me negotiate the rough waters of hopeless confusion.

Curiosity is a motivator, and it is often driven by productive confusion. This curiosity led me to ask questions, to take my time practicing and writing out each letter, to make flash cards of simple words, numbers, and phrases. It also helped me weave my way out of self-doubt and discouragement, to seek understanding while simultaneously moving beyond the realm of the familiar.


I found out the hard way that I need to study in small bursts of time rather than in lengthy marathon sessions.

A few weeks ago, one of my sessions with a tutor went way over time (over 2 hours), and by the end of the session, I was discouraged, frustrated, angry, and more confused at the end than I was at the start.

Hour-long sessions are ideal for me. I can deal with 90 minute sessions, too, but anything beyond that is too much. Setting clear boundaries with my tutor regarding time limits proved to be very helpful.

Even when I study on my own, I find that daily sessions of 15-30 minutes is just right. Finding that tipping point where productive confusion slips into hopeless confusion was useful for me. It helped me to stay focused and engaged, and it helped to avoid sabotaging my own practice.

*The Importance of Rest

Taking breaks and resting between sessions is also crucial to learning anything new and managing the discomfort of confusion.

I already understood this from a somatic perspective. In Feldenkrais lessons, we move slowly and repeat movements with thoughtful, mindful attention. Between movements, or before layering movements with variations on a theme, we rest.

The rests function as points of integration. These necessary pauses allow the nervous system to process information.

It's the same with learning a language, or anything new, really. I found that if I spent a few minutes reviewing words on flash cards, then took a break to read, go for a walk, wash dishes, or nap--when I returned to review the same set of cards, my accuracy, speed, and retention were much improved.

*Letting Go of Expectation

The most important aspect of managing confusion while learning is to let go of expectations and judgments. This is also much easier said than done :). 

Putting too much pressure on myself when I'm learning something new only invites the inner critic to tear my enthusiasm and self-esteem to shreds. Sessions that don't have an agenda or specific expectation (I'm going to memorize all the vegetables in Tibetan in 15 minutes) allow me to enjoy the exploration and discovery process. These sessions are more playful and relaxed compared to pressure-cooker sessions where I'm striving, pushing, or rushing myself. There is more ease in the effort, and the cognitive connections are stronger and more relevant.

In addition to learning something new, I'm also reinforcing the importance of being patient and compassionate with myself. And, in turn, this carries over to being more patient and compassionate with others, as well. 

* What the Heck Does This Have to Do with Meditation and Japa Practice?

Well, pretty much everything! When we come to the cushion to sit or practice japa, we learn something new about ourselves or how to relate to others in the world.

The same tips above apply to maintaining a healthy meditation practice. Confusion surfaces regularly during sessions--maybe not in the same way as they do in learning a new language. Confusion appears in finding difficulty settling in to practice. Distractions arise--both internal and external (discursive thoughts, memories, random song lyrics or commercial jingles, a ringing phone, the sound of a television in another room, your partner or spouse talking to you while you're trying to practice: "It smells like you're burning underwear").

So, things will come up during meditation. Don't let that discourage you. Instead, find time every day to practice, even if it's ten minutes.

Every meditation session will be different, so don't micromanage or squelch your practice with a specific expectation or agenda. Instead, have the courage to explore whatever arises at that time, and in that moment.

Take breaks between sessions if you meditate more than once a day. Ideally, I like to practice three times a day. I have a short sadhana session in the morning, a japa practice in the afternoon, and then a longer sadhana session in the evening.

Remember that productive confusion is a necessary part of the learning process. It stimulates curiosity, it encourages inquiry, and it opens new doorways to awareness and understanding.

 Be curious, be open, and give yourself permission to sit with confusion in your practice. Invite it to tea without an ulterior motive. Follow its loops, twists, arcs, and jagged edges to see where it might lead you.

Happy practicing and learning, everyone!

By the way, I've added several new mala designs to the MMM website recently, so if you haven't visited in a while, I invite you to view the online collection at