I’ve just been teaching in Dublin and Hamburg and one thing that I notice over and over again, everywhere I go, is that people come to talk to me with the same problems; of feeling unworthy, feeling not good enough. And I know those feelings myself all too well.
This is where our practice begins. We begin with what we tell ourselves. The messages that we give to ourself and to acknowledge that many times in the unconsciousness of our larger culture, there are these projections of unworthyness upon us, of being less then, not worthy, not deserving and maybe even ‘not human’. Those messages can be deeply internalized over our childhood and adolescence and it takes every ounce of effort, concentration, mindfulness, to counteract this kind of oppression.
We might like to close ourselves off, to go on retreats where we feel safe from those projections and can, for a brief moment, be ourselves. These retreats are very valueble so we can see and experience that which is gone: the insecurity, the fear, having to pretend, to wear a mask. These are places where we can learn.
But these retreats can also become a bypass: we like to stay within our comfort zone where it feels safe and not go back to the outside world where it is uncomfortable, where we have to interact with people we might not like or who might disagree with us. The retreat itself can become a prison that closes us off and keeps our fears safely hidden inside.
Meditation is not about bypassing or transcending a situation to make it go away. It’s about responding with an action that leads to freedom. And our hearts know what leads to freedom. Deep inside we know the right action to take.
The Buddha’s teachings invite us to let go of this fear and to open our hearts to ourselves and to others and to accept ourselves and others just as we are, with all our faults and imperfections, without judging, with kindness and love, and not to run or hide from what is difficult.
Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. I certainly am no exception (yes, it was me who crashed Discourse the other day!). But we do not need to feel insecure or wrong on account of it. Every mistake is an invitation to learn. No child feels ashamed for falling when learning to walk; it just gets up and tries again and it never stops trying.
The only wise action we can do is to not stop trying. It is never too late to cultivate loving awareness.