Loving the self

September 16, 2014 § 9 Comments

Loving the self

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.

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§ 9 Responses to Loving the self

  • In the Stillness of Willow Hill says:

    Timely message for me today. Those raw nerves have been telling me I’m getting too close to letting go. Your post affirms my acceptance of certain feelings that keep taunting me to deny them….but alas…I have come to discomfort with an open door. Thank you, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A woman walking across a field sees a tiger and flees, the tiger chasing after. Coming to a cliff, she catches hold of a wild vine and swings over the edge. While the tiger claws at her from above she looks down to see where she will hit the ground far below if she lets go. Just then, two mice, one white and one black, begin to gnaw away at the thin vine. Seeing a luscious strawberry nearby, she reaches out with one hand and tosses it into her mouth. “How sweet!” thinks she.

      One meaning of this Zen story is that through practice, we can learn to be at ease with an open door. So, if today the discomfort is too great, then eat a strawberry. Show yourself some compassion and close the door. You can always open it later when your practice has deepened (i.e., your mind is steadier). Everyone must determine for themselves how fast to travel the path.


  • And to think that this door is wide open once we are born [and for the first years of our lives]… Good thing us artists keep that thread alive. The thread which links us to the child we were. Still – so much debris to clear out! Thank you for this inspiring post, my friend.


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