Loving the self
September 16, 2014 § 9 Comments
Many have seen a movie where the principal character is suddenly thrust into the role of pretending to be someone they’re not. Tension builds as each new plot twist has the protagonist coming ever closer to being found out. The tension that underlies this storyline is palpable evidence of a common human experience: we fear being exposed as something other than what we pretend to be.
For many this fear is something that lies only at the periphery of consciousness. For others it is the source of a daily tension that leads to anxiety disorders, depression or even addiction to ease the psychological suffering. Still others report it as that feeling of “something is wrong” that led them to a spiritual path.
In Hakuin’s painting, “Blind Men on a Bridge,” this feeling of tension is aptly portrayed as three blind men edging ever closer to falling off a bridge into the abyss below. This painting represents a Buddhist view of how anxiety may grow as we begin to release the idea of self and recognize our true nature to be emptiness.
To some, this release of self may be felt like a raw nerve exposed to the elements. Pema Chödrön, in her book, “The Places That Scare You,” describes it as a soft spot, “a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound.” Of this soft spot she writes, “It is equated, in part, with our ability to love.”
Whether experienced as a raw nerve or a vulnerable soft spot, this doorway to our true nature is something we’d rather not enter. We prefer the security of that which we know, so when the warning tensions arise that we are about to be found out, we shut the door.
We never really escape the door to emptiness. It lies immediately behind the stories we tell ourselves about who and what we are. So whenever we are confronted or questioned, the door opens a bit. Then we react by withdrawing, physically, or through emotions of anger, depression and anxiety. And when, over the course of time the tension becomes too much, we may then escape through craving and addiction.
Yet, if through mindfulness and meditation we learn to withstand the unease of leaving the door open just a bit, we can overcome our discomfort. A discomfort born out of the uncertainty of living without the icons of who and what we thought we must be.
When we leave that door open and accept our inadequacies, embarrassments, anxieties, loneliness and fear, we begin to love the self, not for whom we pretended to be, but for who we are. And in loving our self this way, we begin to love others. We see in them the same uncertainty and unease that we found in self and recognize there our common humanity.
To quote Zen Master Hakuin from his Zazen Wasan,How near the truth yet how far we seek, Like one in water crying “I thirst!” Like a child of rich birth Wandering poor on this earth, We endlessly circle the six worlds. The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion, From dark path to dark path We’ve wandered in darkness— …And if we turn inward And prove our true Nature— That true Self is no-self, Our own Self is no-self— We go beyond ego and past clever words. Then the gate to the oneness Of cause and effect Is thrown open. Not two and not three, Straight ahead runs the Way. Our form now being no-form, In going and returning we never leave home.