I woke up the other morning full of doubt. Why did I write my memoir, Finding Venerable Mother? Did anyone care; did I really make a difference? Unable to stem the tide of negative thoughts, I decided to talk a walk. As I stepped outside the front door of my condo, a flash of white caught my eye. I stooped down and there at my feet was a white envelope with my name on it. My first thought was that my neighbors were upset with me for something I did.
I scanned the 2 pages and much to my surprise, it was a personalized letter from a woman I barely knew who had written a glowing review of my book. I had met her two months ago swimming laps in our pool. We talked and for some reason, I couldn’t explain, I decided to give her a copy of my book. I had forgotten all about it.
In the letter, she wrote, “My first takeaway from your book is that healing can and does happen. Your deep dive into your psyche and your willingness to fully tell your side of the story—self-disclosure and your compassion to understand other people was also admirable.” This woman really got what I was trying to say. Bursting with pride I realized that she truly cared and I had made a difference.
Just when I was at my lowest point, the universe stepped in and encouraged me to take a second look. We all doubt ourselves at times, and for some of us that doubt goes deeper into a sense of shame—that old childhood belief that we are somehow bad or wrong. Shame feels terrible and ruins our lives, unless or until we realize that it simply doesn’t reflect the truth about who we are today.
On a recent episode of Casual Buddhism, our guest James talked about his doubt related to his practice, and the shame that he carried growing up as a gay man. He asked Venerable Dhammananda, “can I be a dedicated practitioner and follow the eight-fold path?”
Venerable Dhammananda responded that the Buddha’s teaching is so simple that people start to doubt it. The Buddha revealed “the truth” that the self that we have been clinging onto for so long, is only a shadow of ourselves, it isn’t real. “Doubting your ability is an illusion.
The keywords for me here are clinging and illusion. Why do we cling to the negative impression of ourselves and how do we uncover the deeper truth of who we are? What can we do when we are overwhelmed by self-criticism, doubt, or shame?
My simple understanding according to the Buddhist ideology is that we all suffer from negative feelings such as unworthiness, inadequacy, and doubt. The deeper truth of our essence is that we are a vast ocean of goodness and kindness. We can practice loving kindness also known as metta, and open our hearts to our potential for loving ourselves and others.
What can we do when we find ourselves trapped in negative self-talk? We can stop and breathe, acknowledge that we are doing the best that we can, and look towards our compassionate hearts to restore our confidence. Some days that’s easier said than done. As a good friend of mine says, “it’s a practice.” Next time you are in a difficult space, give yourself a gentle reminder, “I am worthy”. Or ask a friend for a hug. Amazing things happen when we are in the right frame of mind.
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