“It’s not an old-fashioned if you leave out the bitters.”
So often in meditation we are encouraged to let go of the self, acknowledging the fact that the more we cling to that idea of ‘me, myself or I’ the more we tend to struggle with difficulties in life.
For example, a simple fleeting emotion such as anxiety becomes an intense “I feel anxious”, rather than a relaxed “oh look, there’s anxiety”. That’s a really big difference in terms of experience and in many ways demonstrates the broader potential of meditation. But this process of letting go is a journey of a lifetime and so it’s vital that along way we make sure we have a fully-functioning healthy and happy sense of self.
Have you ever looked in the mirror one day and felt happy, only to look in the same mirror a day later and be horrified by what you see? Although the ingredients for self-esteem obviously go far beyond the way we look, for many people, the way in which in which we appear, or the perception of how we look, is a very large piece of that puzzle. Clearly, although we may all have bad-hair days, or bald-head days, it is highly unlikely that too much will have changed in the space of 24 hours! So in these situations we are attaching our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth even, to a shifting perception which is based solely on how we feel at any given time when we pass a mirror. Is it any wonder that self-esteem is such a big issue?
The good news is that since self-esteem originates in the mind, it is something which can – and does – very much benefit from a mindful approach. Now, a lot of people think that we need to change thoughts, that if we look at ourselves in the mirror and our immediate response is negative, we need to somehow force or retrain our thinking to be positive. But there are so many problems with this approach – 24/7 vigilance, preoccupation with our own thoughts, and an obsession with a particular way of thinking are just a few. But the main difficulty is that we expend so much energy running after each fleeting thought and feeling that we don’t ever experience true peace of mind. If we’re constantly on high-alert, looking out for any negative thinking, we’re really just reminding ourselves of our negative thinking.
A slightly more useful approach might be to reflect on the Headspace blue sky animation. Remember that idea? The underlying essence of the mind, beyond thinking, is one of calm, clarity and, well, quiet confidence. These negative thoughts by comparison, however difficult or painful they might seem are, like clouds in the sky, merely passing thoughts. So, rather than trying to stop them, we just need to learn how to observe them, safe in the knowledge that self-esteem is beyond body, thought or even feeling. Instead, it is an innate aspect of mind which, much like the blue sky, is always present. It is from this perspective we can view a difficult thought as ‘oh look, a thought’, rather than ‘I hate myself, I’m never going outside again!’. Again, that’s a big difference in experience.
But it’s also worth reflecting on what we really mean when we talk about self-esteem. So often it is tied to the way we look, but is how we look really who we are? Sure, other qualities may be slightly less tangible, but are acts of kindness, generosity, gratefulness and appreciation not better measures by which to measure self-esteem – assuming we feel the need to measure it at all? When we sit to meditate and close our eyes we see that the mind is so much bigger than this body. True self-esteem is found in that expansive space, a gentle, quiet confidence that is ever-present.