Friday, January 8, 2010

Managing to Survive

My dear friend emailed me today, and it was a lovely email. He touched my heart and opened my eyes. He was commented that he felt that he was responsible for all the hurt and suffering in his life and that if he somehow tried harder he would be a better person. He explained he did his absolute best and managed to survive.

Somehow, I think we all are managing to survive. My other dear friend lost his beloved wife and wonders if she will still be there for him when he dies. He has nightmares that she won’t be there when he dies. I have another friend who is in madly in love with a woman who won’t return his affection and he blames himself for not being able to figure out what he has done wrong.

When things go wrong in our life we have a way of shifting whatever it is that causes us pain to a place of blame. Somehow the rational brain has a way of telling us that when things don’t go our way that we are flawed or to blame for our problems.

Embarrassment, unworthiness, disgrace, and disappointment are all symptoms of emotional shame. I think we all have felt shame. It is one of the most detrimental and self-defeating poisons we can allow to enter our spirit. Shame causes us to feel unlovable, unworthy and tears us away from feeling that we deserve to be happy.

Silvan Tomkins is best known as a personality theorist and he was dedicated to the study of human emotion. He was quoted saying this, “If distress is the affect of suffering, shame is the affect of indignity, transgression and of alienation. Though terror speaks to life and death and distress makes of the world a vale of tears, yet shame strikes deepest into the heart of man. Shame is felt as inner torment, a sickness of the soul the humiliated one feels himself naked, defeated, alienated, lacking in dignity and worth."

My shame is an inner voice that tells me that I am not smart and that I always have to prove myself. I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder and have always felt I was unlike anyone else I knew. If being disorganized were a sport, I’d be a record holder. The Buddha had a mental battle of wits with his shame known as Mara. Mara is not so much unlike the Christian Satan, but Maras’s powers seduce and tangle the gullible mind. Mara’s poison arrows tempt you into believing all kinds of untruths about yourself. Don Miguel Ruiz the Toltec writer refers to it as a parasite. He wrote one of my favorite books called “The Four Agreements.”

“The Four Agreements,” teaches how to let go of any agreements of what should be and he teaches how to embrace the angel of death to change your life. The book teaches that we all live in a dream, and our individual dream at that. Our soul is tangled with our human mind. Our mind can be a trickster, a parasite, an evil sorcerer who ensnares us to feel shame, disgust, and dislike of ourselves.

Anger is another source of shame. Thich Nhat Hanh says that anger for example is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves. He once said that if we were not capable of transforming the pain within ourselves, happiness would not be possible and that many people look for happiness outside themselves, but true happiness must come from inside of us. He feels that within our consciousness, there are blocks of pain, anger, and frustration called internal formations. He also calls them knots because they tie us up internally, that feeling of anger or heat that wells from within when we feel slighted, frustrated, or wounded.

Thich Nhat Hanh said this about anger, “When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don't know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. The next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior. After a while, it becomes very difficult for us to transform, to undo the knots, and we cannot ease the constriction of this crystallized formation. The Sanskrit word for internal formation is samyojana. It means "to crystallize." Every one of us has internal formations that we need to take care of.”

What is it in our minds that create the feelings of shame? How can we transform feelings of shame into something productive? I think we have to consciously catch ourselves when we begin to feel unworthy or feelings of self-loathing creeping up. We all have seeds of self-doubt that are watered daily. We have to know whatever feelings of shame that we have come from the root seed within ourselves that we are not worthy. Self-love is the easiest concept to understand and potentially the most difficult concept to follow through to completion. I have been so wounded in the past by relationships that I find myself testing the waters sometimes to stay in control of my emotions. I know that Mara is popping up and saying, “You now Moriah, you know you will screw this up, just like always.” Reading that statement, I realize I would never let anyone else speak to me like that, so why do I speak like that to myself?

You might do as I do when I see that my shame is creeping up. I have given it a name. I call my shame Mara. I say in my head “I see you Mara, go away.” Meditation has helped me, I meditate in the form of a walking meditation, and I read, I read all sorts of books on self-love and worthiness. I surround myself with wonderful friends and let others be kind to me. I have decided that I am worth more than my ugly thoughts and feelings of unworthiness. My ugly thoughts are just that, ugly thoughts.

I do feel we need to have a strong community of people around us that consciously lift us up to be better people. It’s imperative to have friends that you can count on. You also first and foremost need to be a friend to yourself. It’s not easy. Know that you have dignity, you have worth and that you have value. Know with all that you are that you are greater than your shame, your parasite your Mara. As my mother always tells me “Believe in yourself.”

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